New Year’s Day hunt greeted in NI village by jeers and cheers

The Field Master (left) and Huntsman Master of the hunt prepare to start the North Down New Year Hunt in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
The Field Master (left) and Huntsman Master of the hunt prepare to start the North Down New Year Hunt in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

The New Year’s Day hunt in a Co Down village has been greeted by both boos from protesters and cheers from supporters.

Around 100 anti-hunt protesters gathered at Crawfordsburn on Tuesday morning, holding banners, while a larger number of hunt supporters also turned out along Main Street.

Riders pass anti-fox hunt protesters on Main Street Crawfordsburn during the North Down New Year Hunt in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Riders pass anti-fox hunt protesters on Main Street Crawfordsburn during the North Down New Year Hunt in Crawfordsburn, Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Three protesters briefly blocked the street in front of a car towing a horse trailer before being cleared by officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who maintained a presence during proceedings.

The North Down Hunt rode through the village at around 1pm to both boos as well as applause and cheers of support.

Some of the protesters shouted “shame” at the riders as they passed, with some of the riders retorting.

The huntsmen and women received refreshments at the Crawfordsburn Inn before proceeding on for the main event.

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK which has not outlawed fox hunting.

However the North Down hunt on New Year’s Day is a drag hunt where the hounds follow an artificially laid scent.

Protester Cliff Grant said there is “absolutely no need” for hunts to still be taking place in 2019.

“The huntsmen will tell you it’s a drag hunt, but very often a drag hunt will turn into a proper hunt if the hounds pick up the scent of a real fox,” he said.

“But even if it is a drag hunt, the rest of the wildlife in the countryside are absolutely terrified by the whole thing, never mind the use of the horses and the hounds as well.

“We are just here to protest, basically to call them out on it, and say: it’s 2019, there is absolutely no need for this any more in modern day society.”

Protesters also included Green Party councillor Barry McKee.

However, Crawfordsburn resident and former huntsman Eardley Liesching said the hunt is very welcome in the village.

“If you look up the street, you’ll find there are more people for the hunt than against the hunt,” he said.

“People are entitled to protest and we don’t mind, everyone is welcome in this village, but we don’t want to see traffic stopped, it is supposed to be peaceful - if they stop traffic in the middle of the street, well, there is nothing peaceful about that.

“But I support hunting and I don’t object to people objecting to it.”