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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ban Hare Coursing in Ireland!

July 7, 2009 - Tuesday 


Battling Bloodsports and Protecting Wildlife

The protection of animals may not be the most important cause on earth, but it is a legitimate one and a cause close to the hearts of many people. It can be a challenging one too, as I have discovered.

It can bring us into conflict with some very powerful, menacing, and even dangerous forces in society.

I know that animal protection campaigners worldwide will identify in some measure with my own experience, as conveyed in Bad Hare Days, of taking a vigorous public stand against those who kill or abuse animals for “sport”.

-John Fitzgerald

The publisher’s blurb

Bad Hare Days by John Fitzgerald

In Ireland the 'humble hare' has been the subject of great controversy.
After years of an abusive sport, which resulted in its child-like death
screams being heard regularly throughout Ireland, a result was achieved.
For those few dedicated people trying desperately to save the gentle
creature from the horrors of the cruel sport of hare coursing, the
struggle was painful and fought against great odds. The author writes
about one of the 'world's most barbaric blood sports' continuing during
a deadly period for the hares, the 1980s.
His own peaceful and non-violent action and that of, initially, a few
others' did arouse the public and achieve what at first appeared to be a
hard-won benefit to the hare. But the hare's troubles were - and are -
far from over. Though it can no longer be torn apart by greyhounds, now
muzzled, it can still be mauled, injured, and tossed about like a rag
doll on the coursing field.
In addition to highlighting the hare's sad plight, this is also a
campaigner's story. The author recounts vividly the ups and downs of his
own fight against cruelty. He paid a major price in suffering as a
result of being persecuted for his beliefs. The gentle hare, apart from
its use and abuse in coursing, has now become an endangered species in
Ireland, and this book reinforces its right to be protected.

About the Author

John Fitzgerald is a free-lance journalist and writer living in Callan, County Kilkenny, Ireland. Before taking up these twin pursuits, he had worked for almost a decade in a farmers' Co-operative, during which time he wrote hundreds of letters to newspapers exposing cruelty to animals in general, but hare coursing in particular, as part of a national campaign against blood sports in Ireland.
He has been involved for almost three decades in Ireland's anti-hare coursing movement and the present book focuses on a tumultuous phase in the campaign that had a devastating immediate and long-term impact on his life.
John Fitzgerald has contributed articles to a number of national and provincial Irish newspapers and to the popular Ireland's Own magazine.
He is also the author of four previous books, all dealing with aspects of his native county's heritage, history, and folklore: Kilkenny – People Places Faces, Kilkenny – A Blast from the Past, Callan in the Rare Old Times, and Callan through the Mists of Time.

(From website of Olympia Publishers: )


Review by Harriet Egan (blogger)

A book I heartily recommend is Bad Hare Days by John Fitzgerald. It’s the memoir of a dedicated animal protection activist.

The theme is so topical, and certainly one familiar to animal lovers worldwide…an animal rights cause is taken up by people who have different ideas about how to tackle the issue…while some favour peaceful legal means such as letter-writing to the media and protest pickets, others resort to “direction action” methods that entail acting outside the law.

But the author of this book gets blamed for the activities of “underground” activist groups despite having no dealings at all with them.

You don’t mess with those fellows! Irish anti-blood sports campaigner John Fitzgerald is thus warned by an elderly “wise man”, who is referring to hare coursing clubs in Ireland…but the teenager shrugs it off, his youthful enthusiasm holding sway.

After visiting a hare-coursing event, at which he sees hares being ripped to pieces in front of a cheering crowd, he joins an animal protection group. He begins writing letters to newspapers about the subject and picketing coursing fixtures.

But he soon finds himself up against the might of Ireland’s blood sport fraternity. He learns to his personal cost that politicians, wealthy business people, and high-ranking members of Ireland’s police force, are among the most ardent hare coursing fans.

John Fitzgerald is bullied in the workplace, in the streets of his hometown, and assaulted by coursing fans at work. Then the campaign costs him his livelihood.

But more direful challenges lie ahead: The anti-coursing campaign takes an unexpected turn with the “exporting” of the British-based Animal Liberation Front to Ireland. The ALF is blamed for a nationwide wave of incidents in which hares are released from coursing compounds and baiting venues sabotaged.

Tensions between pro and anti coursing factions erupt into fighting on the picket lines. Police swoop on the homes of known anti-coursing campaigners, believing that these might be implicated in the sabotage. John Fitzgerald is among those targeted. His home is ransacked. He is subjected to lengthy interrogations.

The militant activism then escalates into what has all the hallmarks of a terror campaign when hay barns owned by coursing officials are torched.

As a high profile anti-coursing campaigner, the author is accused, wrongly, of involvement in “terrorism”…though it turns out that the barn burning spree has been the work, not of the “ALF”, but of coursing fans embroiled in bitter infighting over ownership of captured hares and other grievances.

The author then has to fight to clear his name…while still battling blood sports.

Against a background of ferocious bullying and intimidation, tension-racked court hearings, further sabotage of coursing fields and blazing hay barns, John Fitzgerald treads a bitter and lonely path that leads to justice.

In a book that grips your attention the whole way through, the author describes in a compelling, highly readable style his sometimes frightening…and occasionally humorous…battle of wits with the power of the State, and his struggle to end hare coursing in Ireland.

Anyone with the remotest interest in subjects ranging from animal rights, animal welfare, blood sports, activism generally, environmental politics, the rights and wrongs of policing, or the psychology of bullying, will find this book an exhilarating read.


        Review by Chris Morris (writer)

John Fitzgerald is a freelance journalist living in County Kilkenny, Ireland. He is an avid campaigner against blood sports and is well known throughout Ireland for his stance on hare-coursing
This memoir opens with the fourteen year old Fitzgerald walking through the “church field”, enjoying a break from his studies, when he hears loud voices in the distance.

Curious to find out what is happening, he walks in the direction of the voices and sees a group of men and boys combing the church field…“like I’d seen on television when they are searching for a missing person”. When he gets closer to the group he feels un-nerved by the expressions on their faces.
Fitzgerald takes refuge in an abandoned church in the “church field” and looks through the fuchsia bush that covers the opening, where one imagines there was once a Harry Clarke religious stained glass window. Hysterical voices echo around the old church as he watches the leader of the group holding aloft a badly injured hare.

The leader passes the trembling hare to a boy, around the same age as Fitzgerald, and tells him to “stiff” it. When the boy fails to kill the hare the leader snatches it from him and proceeds to batter the hare against the church wall…“in a mounting frenzy of excitement until another man taps him on the shoulder and tells him it’s dead now you’re ok.”
When the group, led by their alcohol-swigging leader, walk off with the dead hare, Fitzgerald examines the scene and sees the hare’s blood splashed on the church wall and on blades of grass.

The image of the blood on blades of grass reminds one of the poem: I see his blood upon the Rose, composed by the Irish Roman Catholic poet, Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916). One is also reminded of St Francis of Assai who loved and revered birds, bees and all of the animal kingdom. On the feast of St Francis, adults and children bring their pets to be blessed by the priest at a special mass.
As he walks home, shaken by what he experienced, Fitzgerald meets an old man and tells him what he had witnessed in the church field. The old man advises him: “You’ll say nothing, not a word. You’ll only get yourself into trouble.”
When he leaves school and starts work, still haunted by the memories of what he witnessed in the church field when he was fourteen years old, Fitzgerald starts to write letters to the national papers, highlighting the cruelty of hare-coursing. 

One day the parish priest, Fr. Aloysius, visits Fitzgerald in his place of work and asks him to stop writing letters to the papers.  He tells Fitzgerald his letters have caused great distress to Fr. Carrigan, who had been a curate in the parish for many years.

Fr Carrigan, Fitzgerald reminds the reader, used the pulpit at Sunday mass to appeal for volunteers to help in the netting of hares: “He would follow the final blessing with a favourable reference to hare-coursing or a rallying call.”

One would be forgiven for thinking Fr Aloysius’ visit to Fitzgerald’s place of work on that day was a kind of warm up act because within an hour a man smelling of whiskey enters Fitzgerald’s place of work. He verbally abuses Fitzgerald and then physically attacks him for writing letters to the papers about hare-coursing.

This does not deter Fitzgerald. If anything, it makes him more determined: besides writing to the national papers, he goes on local and national radio highlighting hare-coursing as a barbaric form of entertainment.
Early one morning there is a loud knock on Fitzgerald’s front door: “Standing on the footpath outside the door were five tall men in suits. They looked like men dressed up for a wedding.”

The leader of the men introduces himself as Detective Sergeant Michael McEvoy of the Garda Special Branch: “…We’re here to search this kip”, he said, as he pushed his way into the house. The Special Branch men raided the house and when they found a leaflet from the Animal liberation Front, McEvoy chortled “Hip hip! We’ve nailed him!”
Fitzgerald gives a graphic account of his arrest and interrogation. McEvoy and Garda Collier sit behind a desk in the barren investigation room and Fitzgerald is ordered to sit on a high stool. From time to time, McEvoy circles around Fitzgerald using all kinds of threats to try and extract a confession from him.

One sees Fitzgerald in the same terrifying environment as the hare caught in the net in the church field. McEvoy tells Fitzgerald, as he is about to take his fingerprints, “I can break every one of your fingers if you don’t co-operate.”
McEvoy continues to circle Fitzgerald trying to get him to sign a false confession. When he refuses to sign the already prepared statement, McEvoy tells Fitzgerald he will have his very ill father brought down to the station and interrogated. It is this threat that breaks the strong willed Fitzgerald and he signs the false confession.

Within three months Fitzgerald is arrested for the second time. This time the Special Branch’s interrogation tactics don’t have the same terrifying effects on him. Though he is held in Garda custody for forty-eight hours, the Special Branch fail to break him down or frighten him into signing a false confession, so they take him to court, using the original signed “confession” as evidence.

Fitzgerald describes how the jury is selected for his trial; this in itself makes interesting reading.  The jury try to restrain their giggles as the prosecuting barrister, “…in his refined, Anglo-Irish accent…” reads aloud to the court the foul language and obscene expletives from a letter Fitzgerald is accused of writing to members of the hare-coursing fraternity. 

This court scene’s dark comedy lends light relief to an otherwise tragic, gruesome story.

Fitzgerald goes to the funeral mass for Masher Whelan; leader of the group in the church field on the day the fourteen year-old Fitzgerald witnessed the brutal killing of the hare.

Having read of the brutality this man acted out on vulnerable helpless creatures, I can’t help thinking a more appropriate name for him would have been “Basher” Whelan.

When five priests and two cannons parade from the sacristy to the altar, “…someone in the congregation joked that the big guns had been wheeled in to give Masher a mighty send off…”

As he watches the altar boy swinging the thurible of incense over the coffin, Fitzgerald gets flashbacks to that time in the church field when he watched Masher Whelan swinging the helpless, terrified hare and bashing it against the abandoned church wall.
This is a splendidly crafted work. Fitzgerald’s writing skill captures the reader’s attention in the way he describes, in vivid imagery, each event as though it is happening as one reads. 

The religious imagery in the opening chapter is all the more daunting when one remembers that the abandoned church in the church field was once a sacred building.

This abandoned church once displayed the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, symbolised by the lighted sanctuary lamp.

Though the names in this memoir have been changed, I feel this does not detract from its authenticity.

It is to be hoped this memoir will inspire its readers to do what they can to have hare coursing outlawed in Ireland: a land of breathless beauty…and dark shadows of obscene cruelty to animals?


Review of Bad Hare Days…

There have been very few books that have made me lock myself into the bathroom, bolting the door to ensure I simply could not be interrupted. None, in fact, until Bad Hare Days. Oblivious to the demands of life outside, I read on spell-bound, horrified yet enthralled, by this incredible true-life story.

As a young man John Fitzgerald’s accidental witnessing of the secretive and brutal killing of a wild hare led to his revulsion of the cruelty inherent within the traditional Irish sport of hare coursing. His campaign to educate the Irish public and politicians about such cruelty was entirely understandable, 100% legal, and motivated by compassion.

Until the publication of this book, few would have believed the depths of hatred and vilification that such a campaign could provoke, in a supposedly modern society. Most disturbing of all, was the prolonged harassment of the author by Ireland’s now notorious Garda Siochana, or national police force. The sordid role of the Gardai in these events was disturbingly similar to that of a secret police force, tasked with the harassment or suppression of political dissidents.

Repeatedly arrested at dawn, and taken to locations kept largely secret from his family and friends, the author endured the most appalling psychological interrogation techniques, all aimed at securing false confessions, and implicating others. The use of such blatantly unethical and illegal techniques has deeply stained the honour of the Gardai.

The author is to be commended for surviving these prolonged interrogations, with his resolve intact to continue his campaign against animal cruelty. Bad Hare Days provides a vital warning for social activists of any persuasion about what might lie in wait for them, should their campaigns become more than a minor irritation to the powerful.

By publishing his gripping story, John Fitzgerald has cast a spotlight upon a profoundly rotten core of our society. Such corruption severely undermines public confidence in Ireland’s justice system, and must be rooted out.

(From review by Andrew Knight BSc, BVMS, CertAW, MRCVS, FOCAE

Fellow, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics)

Bad Hare Days can be acquired from Borders UK, Waterstone UK, Fishpond (Australia), (Ireland), among other book outlets, and from Amazon UK at

July 6, 2009 - Monday 

Ban Hare Coursing in Ireland!
Category: Pets and Animals

Hare Coursing in Ireland…

Please Help the Campaign to End this Cruelty in the Name of “Sport”!

Hare coursing in Ireland consists of terrorising hares (better known as Jack Rabbits in North America) by setting trained and “blooded” greyhounds in pursuit of them in a large, wired-off enclosure.

The so-called “sport” revolves around forcing captive hares to run for their lives in the enclosures…each hare being pursued by two greyhounds. Every coursing event has about eighty “courses”, with that many hares being baited by pairs of greyhounds.

The aim is to see which greyhound will be the first to “turn” the hare…to divert it from its straight run to an escape hatch at the opposite end of the enclosure.

The dog that causes the hare to run sideways is declared the winner. If the hare manages to reach the escape hatch, it survives to run again, later in the day at the same coursing event…or at another coursing fixture elsewhere in Ireland. But many hares do not make it to the escape hatch, instead getting struck or mauled by the greyhounds.

Though the dogs at official coursing events are muzzled, they still routinely kill or injure the hares. It is regular sight to see hares being tossed into the air by the competing dogs. Because it is a brittle boned creature, the hare cannot recover from the wounds and bone breakages inflicted.

Gamblers, greyhound owners, hunters, and other coursing fans laugh and applaud as the hares are forced to perform for their amusement.

Coursing involves playing a kind of “Russian Roulette” with the hares…a hare might escape death or injury…or might not. That element of uncertainty is what seemingly “turns on” the fans. But the hare that survives today may come to grief later when re-coursed.

In parts of Ireland where hares are scarce, and insufficient numbers are available for coursing, the ones captured are used repeatedly until their luck runs out.

At pre-coursing “trials” (dress rehearsals for the official events) at which no rules apply and the public is kept away, un-muzzled greyhounds are unleashed against hares, resulting in live tug-of-war spectacles in which the animals are literally torn asunder.

The hare’s plight begins even before coursing day. Its suffering commences about a month before the day it is taken to the coursing (baiting) venue to be coursed. This is when the coursing clubs scour the countryside in search of hares for their baiting sessions.

They use large nets to capture the animals. Many hares are injured while being netted. This renders them unsuitable for coursing. These injured hares are commonly used in a training method called “blooding”, a viciously cruel practise in which hares and rabbits, and occasionally cats, are fed live to greyhounds to give them a taste for blood and thus boost their performance in the coursing arena.

There are seventy-eight coursing clubs in Ireland, all committed to this organised cruelty to animals masquerading as “sport”. Approximately 10,000 hares are coursed each year, with an unknown number of these being killed, mauled, or injured in the process.

Independent marketing surveys show that a majority (75%) of the Irish people oppose hare coursing and want it banned, as Britain has already outlawed it. Yet the government, yielding to pressure from the powerful coursing clubs, permits this barbarism to continue.

Not only are coursing clubs allowed to abuse this beautiful and inoffensive creature… they actively encourage visitors to Ireland to attend their sickening events and promote hare coursing as a “tourist attraction”.

They attract like-minded people from nations where the blood sport is banned or does not exist, in much the same way that bullfight organisers promote their form of animal cruelty.

I have been involved for more than three decades in the campaign to have the innocent hare protected in Ireland. I have written a book, Bad Hare Days, a memoir focusing on the ups and downs of that campaign, and how campaigners as well as the hares have suffered at the hands of the coursing fraternity. Those who inflict pain and suffering on animals are more than capable, I have discovered, of subjecting their fellow human beings to bullying and violence.

I have also, in the book, recalled the small triumphs along the seemingly never-ending path to success…the milestones that hopefully point the way towards the end of the hare’s sad plight.

I hope the book will bring closer the day when this nightmarish cruelty is banned from our beautiful countryside. I believe it is a stain on our image as a nation and, like all forms of “sport hunting”, an affront to civilised values.

To watch a brief film showing what happens at Irish hare coursing events, click on this link:

To appeal to the Irish Government to ban hare coursing, email your message to Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Mr. John Gormley

Bad Hare Days
(the book) can be acquired from Borders UK, Waterstone UK, (Ireland), or from Amazon UK at

Thanking you for your attention,

John Fitzgerald


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