Olympia Publishers (60 Cannon St., London, U.K. EC4N 6NP), 2008.
397 pages, paperback. $14.45 U.S., £9.99, 12.99 euros.
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
Northern Ireland banned hare coursing on June 23, 2010, six years after the rest of the United Kingdom. Ireland banned hounding deer on June 29, 2010.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission banned hounding foxes and coyotes in so-called chase pens on September 1, 2010.
Yet opponents of pack hunting are still not celebrating.
In Britain, despite strong public approval of the Hunting Act, which officially ended most pack hunting while leaving loopholes that allow some to continue, British prime minister David Cameron took office in May 2010 with the promise that he would seek to repeal it, to reauthorize fox hunting, hare coursing, and hounding deer. A free vote in Parliament on a repeal motion is expected as early as October 2010. Only 179 of the 650 Members of Parliament are committed against the repeal.
In Ireland, days after ending stag hunts with dogs, environment minister John Gormley allowed the 2010 hare coursing season to begin two weeks earlier than usual, despite a finding by the Irish National Parks & Wildlife Service that Irish hares are in decline.
Legacy of feudal times
Pack hunting in Britain, Ireland, and the southern U.S. is a legacy of feudal times, when the ruling classes amused themselves between feuds by hounding livestock predators, crop-raiding deer and boar, and runaway serfs.
The feudal system, faltering in the Old World, was renewed for a few generations in the slave-holding South. Post-Emancipation, mounted fox hunting persisted as an elite pursuit, but the socio-economic status of most U.S. houndsmen markedly declined.
A similar schism evolved in Britain and Ireland, as mounted fox hunting partially split from lamping, lurching, and hare coursing.
However, while U.S. fox hunters mostly prefer to avoid association with backwoods coonhunters, British and Irish fox hunters often employ lampers, lurchers, and hare coursers to beat the bush for them, and in an unspoken addenda to the bargain, sometimes beat protesters.
John Fitzgerald, of Callan, County Cork, first witnessed hare coursing in his early teens, nearly 40 years ago. Discovering that he was not alone in his revulsion at what he saw, Fitzgerald found himself up against the class system and the alliance of politically influential people with out-and-out thugs when he sought to organize anti-coursing protests.
Eventually Fitzgerald connected with the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, but in the interim, as a lone voice, he developed his writing skill as a prolific author of provocative letters to newspapers.
Coursers retaliated, beating him up and applying pressure that eventually cost him his job of 10 years at a farm supply store. Finding other work, despite the efforts of coursers to keep potential employers from hiring him, Fitzgerald persevered and was framed for a string of arsons against property owned by coursers.
Fitzgerald has outspokenly opposed violent protest throughout his involvement against coursing. Under duress, however, he signed a police-written confession to having written threatening letters to coursers that became the basis for five trials in three years all of which failed to convict him of anything.
Courser with vendetta eventually convicted
Eventually a courser with a vendetta against fellow coursers was convicted of the offenses of which Fitzgerald was accused.
Fitzgerald emerged from the persecution as a strong voice not only against hounding animals but on behalf of reform of the Irish system of law enforcement. Focused on his first trial, Bad Hare Days makes clear the extent to which the struggles for animal rights and human rights are intertwined.
The concluding chapters recall the last campaigns of the late International Society for Animal Rights founder Helen Jones and photographer Vito Torelli. Both were American allies of Irish efforts against hare coursing. Twice they brought Fitzgerald to New York City to protest at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Fitzgerald believes he will live to see hare coursing banned in Ireland. He regrets that generations of earlier opponents of coursing will not see that day, when he will at last celebrate.