BOOKS: Bad Hare Days

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)

Bad Hare Days by John Fitzgerald
Olympia Publishers (60 Cannon St., London, U.K. EC4N 6NP), 2008.
397 pages, paperback. $14.45 U.S., £9.99, 12.99 euros.

Northern Ireland banned hare coursing on
June 23, 2010, six years after the rest of the
United Kingdom. Ireland banned hounding deer on
June 29, 2010. The Florida Fish & Wildlife
Commission banned hounding foxes and coyotes in
so-called chase pens on September 1, 2010. Yet
opponents of pack hunting are not celebrating.

In Britain, despite strong public approval of
the Hunting Act, which officially ended most
pack hunting while leaving loopholes that allow
some to continue, present British prime minister
David Cameron took office in May 2010 with the
promise that he would seek to repeal it, to
reauthorize fox hunting, hare coursing, and
hounding deer. A free vote in Parliament on a
repeal motion is expected as early as October
2010. Only 179 of the 650 Members of Parliament
are committed against the repeal.
In Ireland, days after ending stag hunts
with dogs, environment minister John Gormley
allowed the 2010 hare coursing season to begin
two weeks earlier than usual, despite a finding
by the Irish National Parks & Wildlife Service
that Irish hares are in decline.
Pack hunting in Britain, Ireland, and
the southern U.S. is a legacy of feudal times,
when the ruling classes amused themselves between
feuds by hounding livestock predators,
crop-raiding deer and boar, and runaway serfs.
The feudal system, faltering in the Old World,
was renewed for a few generations in the
slave-holding South. Post-Emancipation, mounted
fox hunting persisted as an elite pursuit, but
the socio-economic status of most U.S. houndsmen
markedly declined.
A similar schism evolved in Britain and
Ireland, as mounted fox hunting partially split
from “lamping,” “lurching,” and hare coursing.
However, while U.S. fox hunters mostly prefer to
avoid association with backwoods coonhunters,
British and Irish fox hunters often employ
lampers, lurchers, and hare coursers to “beat
the bush” for them, and in an unspoken addenda
to the bargain, sometimes beat protesters.
John Fitzgerald, of Callan, County
Cork, first witnessed hare coursing in his early
teens, nearly 40 years ago. Discovering that he
was not alone in his revulsion at what he saw,
Fitzgerald found himself up against the class
system and the alliance of politically
influential people with out-and-out thugs when he
sought to organize anti-coursing protests.
Eventually Fitzgerald connected with the Irish
Council Against Blood Sports, but in the
interim, as a lone voice, he developed his
writing skill as a prolific author of provocative
letters to newspapers.
Coursers retaliated, beating him up and
applying pressure that eventually cost him his
job of 10 years at a farm supply store. Finding
other work, despite the efforts of coursers to
keep potential employers from hiring him,
Fitzgerald persevered–and was framed for a
string of arsons against property owned by
coursers. Fitzgerald has outspokenly opposed
violent protest throughout his involvement
against coursing. Under duress, however, he
signed a police-written confession to having
written threatening letters to coursers that
became the basis for five trials in three
years–all of which failed to convict him of
Eventually a courser with a vendetta
against fellow coursers was convicted of the
offenses of which Fitzgerald was accused.
Fitzgerald emerged from the persecution
as a strong voice not only against hounding
animals but on behalf of reform of the Irish
system of law enforcement. Focused on his first
trial, Bad Hare Days makes clear the extent to
which the struggles for animal rights and human
rights are intertwined.
The concluding chapters recall the last
campaigns of the late International Society for
Animal Rights founder Helen Jones and
photographer Vito Torelli, a contributor to
early editions of ANIMAL PEOPLE. Both were
American allies of Irish efforts against hare
coursing. Twice they brought Fitzgerald to New
York City to protest at the annual St. Patrick’s
Day parade.
Fitzgerald believes he will live to see
hare coursing banned in Ireland. He regrets that
generations of earlier opponents of coursing will
not see that day, when he will at last celebrate.

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