The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Winter 2012 Issue

Bad Hare Days – One Man’s Fight Against a Cruel Blood Sport!

By John Fitzgerald

Reviewed by E.M. Fay

This engaging first-hand account of the long fight to end the barbaric “sport” of hare coursing in Ireland is related in a novelistic manner, partly because of the strict Irish libel laws, but the story is quite true, and truly harrowing. 

hare coarsing

Freelance journalist/writer John Fitzgerald put his life and livelihood on the line out of a deep compassion for the terrible suffering caused to harmless hares in his native Ireland   by his fellow countrymen.  While still a boy, he visited a well-to-do farmer’s house, the uncle of a schoolmate, and learned what coursing actually entailed.  He was horrified by the brutality he witnessed at his first sight of a coursing event.  Hare coursing involves the pursuit of hares on an enclosed course, usually by greyhounds, and the eventual savage death of the hare when caught.  It is thus a blood sport, like fox hunting. Coursing is competitive, with gambling on the outcome very much a part of it, and the men who participate consistently display a heartless attitude towards the suffering of the hares.

As Fitzgerald became increasingly aware of the facts, he was moved to write hundreds of letters to newspapers exposing the cruelty of hare coursing.  In doing so, he became part of a national campaign against blood sports for over thirty years.  He spoke on radio programs and joined peaceful protests.  His activism eventually caused serious negative consequences for his personal and professional life, a few of which were the unjust loss of a long-held job, hate mail and phone calls, death threats, physical assaults, false arrests, police intimidation, and five grueling court cases that took their toll on him emotionally and financially.  

Bad Hare Days unflinchingly exposes the nightmare of coursing, but it is also a beautifully written book.  Fitzgerald renders exquisite descriptions of the verdant Irish countryside and introduces us to the private life of the timid hare: the charm of the male hares’ courting ritual, and the devotion of the does to their leverets (baby hares). Yet, as he poignantly notes, “The prospect of death is never too far away.”  In the open grass, where hares seek food, they are easy prey for foxes or hawks.  Still, if this natural predation were their only problem, hares might still be thriving, but as they were rounded up and netted in large numbers to be used for coursing events, their survival was put in real jeopardy. 

In contrast to the graceful hare, Fitzgerald shows us the brutish, coarse demeanor and language of the heartless men who hunt them; their apparently unthinking, casual cruelty as they discuss the animals’ suffering left a lasting impression on him.  His language is evocative, as he likens the cry of the savaged hare to a child’s scream. 

Several esteemed Irish Senators, including two future presidents, introduced anti-coursing legislation in the 1970s, but the powerful network of coursing clubs with friends in high places – shamefully including priests and government ministers – crushed any hope of passing a bill for decades.

 The David vs. Goliath aspect of Fitzgerald’s fight makes for suspenseful reading.  Although hare coursing is now outlawed in Britain and Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland still allows it, and shockingly, invites coursing enthusiasts from other countries to enjoy the continuing cruel practice when they visit Ireland.  Dogs are typically muzzled now in coursing events, so hares are no longer torn apart when caught, but they are still mauled, injured, and tossed about by the dogs on the field.

Fitzgerald’s delight in “the sheer innocence and magical appeal of the hare” is contagious. His book will make anyone wonder how the brutal sport continues. Sign a petition against it at www.banbloodsports.com.

To see a coursing video, visit: www.tinyurl.com/7afrb6m

John Fitzgerald lives in County Kilkenny. He is the author of five other books, all dealing with Ireland’s history, and folklore.

C.A.S.H. highly recommends Bad Hare Days. Available at Amazon.com, or downloaded as a free pdf from http://banbloodsports.files.wordpress.com

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