Tradition Gets It Very Wrong

Posted on July 1, 2010

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As a young person who grew up in the 90s I have a long standing memory of Fox and Vixen running away from a hunt before being saved by a snake. An apt metaphor for the current situation regarding hunting in Ireland at the moment perhaps. But like it or not, that memory has always stuck with me – a picture of both animals, tongues hanging, exhausted, chased into unwilling submission.

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Perhaps the BBC were trying to make a point with this episode of The Animals of Farthing Wood. Perhaps they were rather blatantly trying to instil a sense of compassion into their young viewers. It certainly worked on me.

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And while it may seem a bit of a leap, it is perhaps vital to note that ten years after this episode aired, hunting was banned in the UK.

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Hunting and stag-hunting in particular is a sore subject in Ireland at the moment. On one side you’ve got those who believe that stag-hunting is cruel and that there are more humane and dignified ways to cull the increasing numbers of animals in the countryside. On the other side, you have those who believe this call for a ban will be detrimental to their rural areas and communities, as well as removing a long held tradition.

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At the beginning of the decade, the British Government funded an investigation into the social, cultural, political and economic elements of hunting and the effects it had on those involved. Having read a large part of this report, I can vouch for the numerous interesting ideas which arise in the text.

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One of those which I found most interesting on reading is point 4.46: “About a fifth of those residents who held mixed views or an anti-hunting viewpoint tended not to discuss their opinions with others, [either] because of what they perceived as the local support for hunting[…]” To examine the language used in this phrase, it suggests that there is a certain amount of intimidation over people who might feel the need to protest against this sport. It certainly fits with reports recently heard on Joe Duffy’s Liveline programme where a woman from North County Dublin detailed the insolence she was met with when asking a hunt pack to vacate her property which they had trespassed onto, in pursuit of a stag.

About a fifth of those residents who held mixed views or an anti-hunting viewpoint tended not to discuss their opinions with others, [either] because of what they perceived as the local support for hunting[…]

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There seems to this writer, to be a huge question mark over peoples’ principles and morals on this subject. I would like to ask those who partake in stag-hunting why they do it? What thrill do they get from it? Why do they think it should continue to go ahead? Is tradition the reason and is that the only reason? The mantra that most supporters seem to be putting forward is that hunting is part of the rural identity. I am from a rural background but I disagree with hunting – does that therefore dilute my identity as a member of the rural community?

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My local hunt rides out from my area once a year. I could count on one hand how many times they’ve caught something for the last 20 years but it doesn’t seem to bother them. They come back to the pub, have a few drinks and a laugh – the lack of a capture/kill doesn’t annoy them. To look at a group like this then, why can’t the alternative of drag-hunting be considered? The scent is put down, guaranteeing a chase, whereas with the normal hunt you might not even get that. In the case of stag-hunting, why can’t drag hunting be a substitute? Perhaps other groups around Ireland are a bit more blood thirsty.

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A caller on the Liveline programme argued that hunting is part of human nature. It may have been 2000 years ago when we had hairy knuckles and dragged them along the ground but this is the 21st Century. Human Nature evolves. It has to otherwise we’d still be clubbing each other over the head and living in caves. It’s amazing to think that the Celtic Tiger instilled such notions of grandeur in our heads yet put us on a horse with a dog and we’re no better than the animals we utilise to have fun.

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Animals need to be culled – agreed. But there is a far more humane way to do it than chasing them over ditches and fields. This argument doesn’t hold up with the stag-hunters in Ireland though. The stags they chase are bred for the very purpose of chasing them down. That’s like a mother having a child in a war zone.

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The culling argument can be very simply solved (and was solved in the UK) with a more humane practice of shooting and stalking. Don’t tell me that an animal who is shot suffers more than one that has to run miles with a pack of hounds chasing it.

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The argument for tradition shouldn’t even be entertained. Tradition changes. It’s not set in stone. And just because it was done a hundred years ago does not justify its existence now or make it right. Hanging used to be the traditional method of execution. Where did that go? Burning witches at the stake used to be a tradition. I’ve been to Salem, Massachusetts. It’s a very sobering place. It’s a landmark, and a testament to the fact that tradition can get things very wrong sometimes.

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With everything else in this country falling to pieces and morals being scrapped for a quick bail out, we shouldn’t lose our common decency and compassion. There are humane alternatives to culling and there are alternatives to blood-sport hunting.

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It’s about time we, as a country in the 21st Century, take them.