Stag escapes from Meath hunters by swimming river


THE WARD Union Hunt said yesterday that its stag hunt in Co Meath passed off successfully with the stag eventually escaping by swimming across the river Boyne.

The Ward Union, the only remaining stag hunt in Ireland, has been the subject of much controversy in recent years and has clashed with Minister for the Environment John Gormley over its licence

The leader of the Green Party has said he is personally opposed to hunting but that, in his role as Minister, he must consider applications for hunting licences.

The Ward Union mounted a High Court challenge last February to what it claimed were over-restrictive terms.

Yesterday, some 50 huntsmen and huntswomen on horseback, in addition to some Ward Union staff, participated in the chase, accompanied by a pack of hounds.

The hunt was monitored by two members from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in addition to a veterinary surgeon.

The licence under which the hunt operates was granted by Mr Gormley in September. In all there are 34 conditions attached.

One stipulation requires the deer to travel for a distance of at least two kilometres, or for a time span of 30 minutes, before the hounds are released.

In addition, the deer must not be confronted with the hounds at close quarters.

The hunt is required to withdraw to a distance of at least 150m in those instances.

At the time, the licence was issued, Mr Gormley said that the conditions were included to protect the stag from undue stress.

However, the licence restored the right of the hunt to allow its pack to pick up the scent of the deer.

Christy Reynolds, of the Ward Union, said the hunt had been a success and that the stag had escaped by going into the Boyne.

He said that the new licensing arrangement was working well.

Last year, the union said that onerous conditions attached to the licence, especially in relation to the hounds, made it impossible for it to hunt.

That formed the basis of the court case it took last February.

The previous year, in 2006, the hunt caused controversy, and led to calls for a ban, when a stag chased by hounds jumped into a primary school in Kildalkey and scared children.