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Northern Ireland: Foxhunting legal but cracking under direct action

While there are laws against hunting with hounds across most of the UK, there is one place where the sport continues legally: Northern Ireland. However, it is also home to an active hunt saboteur group, and they’ve shared good news in recent months.

On 29 November 2022, the Hunt Saboteurs Association announced that the Killultagh Old Rock and Chichester Hunt had folded. Hunt Saboteurs NI told Protect the Wild that the pack had called it a day at the start of the 2022/23 season, with the Antrim Guardian having reported the news on 18 October. The Killultagh Old Rock and Chichester Hunt was the oldest extant pack across the entirety of Ireland, and its end comes as a bellwether for the pastime on the island.

A few months later, Hunt Saboteurs NI said that another hunt appeared on the brink of collapse. It posted on 14 January that it had spent the day at the kennels of the North Down Hunt “and again they never left”. And the group went on to say:

“it’s looking very promising that 2 hunts this year in NI have gone to the wall”

There are only a handful remaining hunts in the north of Ireland. That makes the end of every single pack an important moment for wildlife lovers across the nation.

North Down Hunt kennels
The North Down Hunt’s Kennels, via Robert Ashby/Geograph.

Violence doesn’t deter

Over the years, Hunt Saboteurs NI have reported a number of violent incidents involving the North Down Hunt. In 2014, for example, it said the hunt assaulted three members of its group. And in 2016, it reported that the group “met with a vicious and sustained attack from a hunt supporter”. It later released footage of the incident, showing a man on a quad bike attacking sabs with a bar, after a court acquitted the man. In 2018, footage showed someone allegedly involved with the hunt chasing then attacking sabs with a hammer. And, finally, a post from January 2022 said one sab escaped serious injury after they were dragged over a fence by an aggressive rider.

However, it seems years of violence have done nothing to save the hunt. Hunt Saboteurs NI told Protect the Wild:

“The North Down Hunt… were out once over the Xmas period. Well, if you count the 7th Jan as Xmas – and they didn’t have hounds out so no hunting. They haven’t been out one Saturday this season. This is because of the heat we have put on them. The publicity that we have had on these has people in their numbers leaving.”

This included the hunt not holding a Boxing Day Hunt in 2022, normally the biggest day in the hunting calendar.

The sab group’s message was reinforced on 21 January, when once again the North Down Hunt appeared not to leave its kennels. Nonetheless, it is yet to publicly announce its disbanding.

“Cracked under the pressure”

Protect the Wild asked Hunt Saboteurs NI what has led to the North Down Hunt’s dragged-out demise. It said:

“here are a few reasons for them folding but the main reason is us, we have hounded them (excuse the pun). They have cracked under the pressure.”

That’s not the end of the good news, though, as Hunt Saboteurs NI said another hunt may be on the rocks:

“We were also at another hunt and they say that within 2 years they will be gone.”

Though it did not name the hunt in question.

Hunts across the UK have folded and amalgamated due to the pressure of sabs. And it seems that even when legal, hunting is buckling under the pressure of sustained direct action.