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13 November 2008 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY

Running with the hare

THE hoary old subject of hare coursing continues to raise its aurally-enhanced head in these parts. In August, DUP Environment Minister Sammy Wilson, without (of course) consulting his alleged colleagues on the Executive, extended the ban imposed a number of years earlier by the British Government, comforted in no small measure no doubt by the fact that it is a pursuit mainly engaged in by rural Fenians. And there are probably unionists who would extend the ban to hurling and football given half the chance.
There is a substantial lobby in favour of banning coursing throughout the rest of the country. This is under the banner of opposition to bloodsports even though the greyhounds are muzzled and no blood is shed and hares are rarely killed.
In my experience, however, many of those ‘passionately’ opposed to hare coursing know no more about it than they do about the fishing habits of the Inuit peoples of the Arctic Circle. And many of them would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a hare and a small zebra. Few seem to know that the dogs are muzzled and almost without exception they think that the object of the sport is for the greyhound to catch the hare.

AS WELL THEN to provide a description of what actually takes place at a coursing meeting.
Two dogs are released by the ‘slipper’ when the hare enters the course and is well over 100 yards from the dogs. The dog that comes closest to the hare, causing it to ‘turn’, is awarded what in coursing parlance is called the ‘buckle’. In other words, it is a competition based on speed, not on the ability to catch the hare. The hare does sometimes get killed when hit by a dog but it is an extremely rare occurrence since the introduction of muzzling.
Coursing takes place between October and February and is forbidden during the hare’s breeding season.
Generations of my family have taken part in the sport without any of them evincing much evidence of rivalling Charles Manson in the race for Most Evil Person in the Universe. Indeed, in the part of Tipperary where the Treacys are from, coursing is as much a part of local tradition as hurling (or running the Brits and their lackeys out of the place). And coursing is noticeably strong in other republican parts of the country, including Kerry, Cork and Tyrone.
Ironically, the first person to attempt to have the British parliament ban hare coursing was Eric Heffer, a chap who once described Comrade Stalin as “the greatest of men”.
And, of course, the Nazis passed the first laws in Europe banning the use of animals in experiments. They actually used the allegedly cruel practices of kosher meat production as one of the justifications for murdering millions of Jews.
There is still a link between anti-Semitism and some animal rights campaigns in Europe today but, of course, that does not imply that all those opposed to kosher meat are anti-Semitic.

THERE is, however, a contradiction between people who become highly emotional over small furry creatures and appear indifferent (or at least inactive) on issues affecting human beings. Or worse, actively support violence against human beings they dislike for political reasons.
Take a bow, Hugh Leonard, who once said that if told he had a few days to live he would kill Gerry Adams!  Make what sense of that you can.
There are also animal rights protesters who protest against what they claim is animal cruelty by attempting to harm the greyhounds involved in coursing! But I suppose in a certain world view the hares are collaborators in the oppression of fellow beasts of the field and therefore have forfeited the right to the same concern for their health and safety.
There is also the undoubted fact that should the campaign to ban hare coursing become successful then the next target will be greyhound racing and horse racing and fishing. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) group in the United States has already begun such a campaign.
Possibly what annoys anti-sports zealots most of all is the fact that other people are doing things which they don’t like. Which is the invariable starting point and main distinguishing mark of a totalitarian personality. The initial object is to stop people doing what you don’t like them doing and it can be anything from fishing to reading particular books to voting for a particular party.
When you have accomplished that – either through the crude methods favoured by actual totalitarian regimes, or the more subtle disapproving and censorious approach favoured by your Care Bear type, backed up ideally by ‘progressive’ legislation to ban things they don’t like – then you can make them do things that you want them to in the belief that they will be much happier doing all the things which their tormentors prefer.
Anyway, the last ones to try and tell people in my family’s part of Tipperary what to do and think about things that meant something to them left in a hurry, or never left at all. Let the hare sit, as they say.

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