Farmer and campaigner against blood sports

 

Richard Power:RICHARD POWER, who has died aged 84, was the last surviving founder member of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports (ICABS).

With like-minded people such as comedienne Maureen Potter and actors John Cowley and Desmond Perry, he founded the organisation in 1966, remaining an active member until his death.

In the run-up to last year’s Dáil debate on stag hunting, he reminded campaigners and TDs alike that St Eustace had been an avid stag hunter prior to his conversion to Christianity, after which the future saint renounced both the persecution of Christians and the hunting of stags with hounds.

A story he enjoyed recounting was of how St Patrick rescued a fawn from a deer hunt in the sixth century.

Born in Monaleen, Castletroy, Co Limerick, in 1927, he was the son of Patrick Power and his wife Nora (née Noonan).

Educated locally and by the Jesuits at the Crescent (now Mungret) College, from 1955 he farmed at Boherlode, Ballyneety, Co Limerick.

He attended his first coursing meeting when he was nine. He recalled that he always felt there was something “wrong or inappropriate” about these events, but kept his reservations to himself.

One incident that remained fixed in his mind was hearing a coursing club official advising a dispatcher to turn his back to the crowd while finishing off a dying hare, in order not to give the sport a bad reputation.

His wife was from a hunting background, and he accompanied her to a number of hunt meets in the mid-1950s. One afternoon he observed a hunt in full flight from a vantage point on a hill close to the family farm. He saw the fox run outside the farm boundary, making a speedy U-turn in a bid to elude the pursuing pack of hounds.

But the exhausted creature slowed down and the dogs caught up with it, tearing it to pieces. What disturbed him about the incident was that the particular fox had been released from a sack for the hunt – a “bagman”, in hunting jargon. And he was equally disturbed by the practice of hunt followers smearing the fox’s blood on their faces.

In the 1950s, however, tradition held sway to the extent that few people in Ireland were prepared to speak out against blood sports. And it was a tradition that enjoyed some clerical backing.

An encounter with a “dog-collared” huntsman prompted him to study church history. Subsequently, in magazine articles, and in correspondence with newspapers, he drew attention to early synods and councils of the Christian church that denounced animal cruelty.

He emphasised that while God gave dominion of his creatures to man, man’s dominance over them is not absolute; the integrity of creation had to be respected.

It was his belief that blood sports enthusiasts reject drag hunting as an alternative to hunting live quarry because it fails to “satisfy the desire to punish a fellow creature, the desire to put death in the place of life”.

As a farmer he worked with animals all his life. In his latter years he fed foxes that strayed on to his farm, a practice he happily defended to those who questioned his kindness to an animal often portrayed as a dangerous pest.

And, while mindful of the welfare of lambs and poultry, he argued that foxhunts often posed a greater threat to livestock and farm property than the fox itself.

In retirement he continued to help out with the feeding of livestock and other farm chores, driving a tractor in all seasons even after a quadruple bypass operation.

Deeply religious, he attended the Tridentine Mass at St Patrick’s Church in Limerick every Sunday, and was a devoted member of the Third Order of St Dominic (Lay Dominicans).

Predeceased by his wife Carmel (née Conway) in 2001, he is survived by his sons Martin and Pat and daughters Mary and Cora.

Richard Power: born 1927; died March 22nd, 2011