If you’re making plans to travel to Ireland to foxhunt for the first time, perhaps I could offer a little advice.
As a descendant of a long line of horse-loving County “Kilkenny-ans,” privy to priceless stories told by my infamous grandfather, Sean Patrick McMahon, who followed his own hounds well into his 90s, as well as my own Irish riding experiences, I’ve achieved some insight into the differences between the Gaelic and English foxhunting language.
To begin with, don’t be fooled into thinking this is the same kind of ‘chasing you’ve been enjoying in Virginia. Or Massachusetts. Or Illinois. Or even Nevada.
And, should anyone tell you hunting on the Auld Sod is similar to hunting in the States, you’ll want to check how fast their nose grows.
Before accepting a leg up, first-time foxhunters in Ireland would be well advised to take note of certain disparities in the Irish/American sports.
First and foremost, you must understand that, while foxhunting may be just a sport in America, in Ireland it’s a religion. And well it should be, since prayer is an integral part of following hounds over there.
Which, however, in no way requires the Irish to be 100 percent truthful describing their beloved pastime to “furriners,” meaning anyone born and bred outside what Sean Patrick referred to as “the loveliest island the Lord ever created for horse and hound.”
But, not necessarily for the rider.
Since uninformed visitors commonly misinterpret Irish “huntspeak,” they’re all too frequently left unprepared for the genuine Gaelic foxhunting experience.
Following their first outing with an Irish pack, however, which often includes a crash course in the vernacular, visitors quickly learn to refer to the “regional dialect” or “creative colloquialism” of Irish “huntspeak.”
Some, however, once they regain consciousness, simply refer to it as bald-faced prevarication.
In its most imaginative form, of course.
Hence, before actually mounting up and riding out across the Irish countryside, I sincerely advise visitors to familiarize themselves with the literal Gaelic meaning of a few familiar foxhunting phrases, thus learning to decipher what they mean from what they say.
So here we go with “Irish huntspeak 101″:
MFH Welcome: “Faith and we’re all so very pleased you could join us this grand afternoon. You’ve told us you’re experienced foxhunters, and we welcome you to join us in finding sport in some of our most challenging country.”
Translation: We’ll be collecting the capping fee up front. Dealing with your estate could prove too complicated.
MFH description of the country: “We have a grand sweep of meadows and woodland, with a dozen or so well-placed panels.”
Translation: Give or take 150 post and rails, stone walls, barbed-wire pastures, seven-foot banks and ditches that can swallow a horse and rider whole.
Guest horse description: “This handsome, big gelding has a bit of age on him, but he knows his job and has his own unique style of covering our countryside.”
Translation: He has more miles than an Edsel and moves like a rhino among the gazelles.
Another guest horse description: “The old mare carries her head a bit high, but don’t let it concern you a bit.”
Translation: You won’t be able to see where you’re going. Ever. But, from the looks of the way you sit, that could be a blessing.
Yet another guest horse description: “Oh, you’ll need no spurs on that fine, wee mare. She has enough lovely forward movement on her own.”
Translation: You’ll need a seatbelt at a check.
And my favorite guest horse description: “This horse is a little keen in the field. He takes a little hold on a run and has been known–on rare occasion–to get a wee strong over fences.
Translation: I hope you’re a daredevil–or at least a steeplechase jockey.
The MFH on where you can ride in the field: “As a guest, you are welcome to ride toward the front, but, please be so kind as to note when the pack is working, for I confess I will be a bit cross if you happen to interfere with my staff or my hounds.”
Translation: They’ll have to send you home in a box.
His special invitation: “And, faith, I’d be honored, sir, to have the joint master of the Skittlegrits Hounds from America join me up nearest the action.”
Translation: If I were a cat, you’d be my hairball.
The MFH on your attire: “Ah, madam, how vibrant you are today. And would those lovely hues be your traditional hunt colors?”
Translation: It looks like a pi