The 52nd Irish Retriever Championships

Sponored by Connolly’s Red Mills premium dog food


Watching the first drive unfold from the top of the hill.

I’m still not entirely sure even now that I would be able to find my way to Corrard Shoot, the venue for this years Irish Retriever Championships. It is one of those rare gems set somewhere along the shores of Upper Lough Erne in Enniskillin that only the most determined souls will find on a cold wet day in middle winter.

We were here by the kind invitation of Mr Robert Hogg and Guns. This would be the first time Corrard Shoot had hosted the Championships and I know that a huge amount of effort and work went into preparing the ground throughout the year and continued throughout the duration of the Championships. From the moment we drove across the narrow land-bridge on that dark, cold, Friday morning on the 14th of December, the shoot’s manager Mr Ivor Glenn could not have been more welcoming or accommodating.


Left to right our Judges: Mr Les Mclean( UK), Mr Gary Wilson (Irl), Mr Keith Bedford (UK) and Mr Michael Corr ( IRL).

Our judges this year were Mr Michael Corr ( Ireland ), Mr Gary Wilson ( Ireland ), Mr Keith Bedford (England ) and Mr Les Mclean ( Scotland ).

As always this event relies on the generosity from our hosts for allowing us to attend their ground and also from donations received by the various retriever clubs throughout the country and also from long time supporter of Irish dog sports Connolly’s Red Mills.


Even numbered competitors make their way to the back of the drive.

Accessed by a land-bridge the shoot ground unfolds out into the lake. The slight rise in topography keeps the water, for the most part, at bay but leaves it nonetheless exposed to whatever extremes of weather that inevitably occur when wind and rain travel across wide expanses of water in the northern parts of Ireland in winter….and it was the weather that became the dominating factor as the competition progressed.

Extremes of weather however, are part and parcel of why our gundogs were developed the way they were and, of all the groups of gundogs, it is the retriever breeds whose roles have perhaps become the most diverse. They are companions not only of the gun on a driven shoot but also to wildfowlers and rough shooters. They must be patient enough to sit and wait for long periods of time by the peg, the foreshore or the pigeon hide; yet alert enough to be sent at a second’s notice to retrieve a wounded bird moving quickly through cover or across water. Weather and ground are the two biggest influencing factors in hunting affecting the way scent is carried and how birds work

As we left the shooting hut and made our way up the path a faint promise of daybreak lightened the horizon. An east wind, though, may have been a cautious reminder from the lake that we were here on her terms and that she would carry the ultimate decision in how events might play out in the coming days.


Tealcreek Isla, handled by Mr John Williamson.

This year 37 dogs qualified for the Championships. Of those 7 did not run. Two handlers started with two dogs, Mr Matty Lambden running FTCH Ulverton Punch and FTCH Tamrose Aragon, and Mr Gerard Murdock running Astraglen Assault of Dunamoira and Stauntonvale Terrano of Dunamoira. All dogs running were Labrador Retrievers bar one Mr John Williamson running a Golden Retriever bitch Tealcreek Isla.

I stayed with Judges Mr Michael Corr and Mr Keith Bedford who took the uneven numbered dogs for the first drive and their first round of retrieves, the competitors took their places at the top of the hill. They were well back from the line of Guns below us, who formed a wide arc spanning from the lake shore to our left and spreading out in front of a birch mixed wood across a narrow ditch and into the grass field to our right.

The even numbered dogs and handlers followed their judges, Mr Gary Wilson and Mr Les Mclean down the hill and across a bridge to our right where they lined up at the back of the drive against a hedge which offered some respite from the relentless wind.


Int FTCH Camgart Tomo, handler Mr Gary McCutcheon.

Under Irish Kennel Club rules each dog takes a single retrieve from one side of the line and then moves across to the other side. In this way judges on both sides of the line have the opportunity to see all dogs early on in the competition.

As the dogs and handlers settled themselves in line the horn blew signalling the start of the first drive and the judges gave their first instruction to their charges to remove their dog’s leads and put them away.

From our vantage point at the top of the hill we could watch the drive unfold. The spaniel men worked their dogs to the back of the wood and slowly wielded their way towards the gun line. They kept their dogs tight, quartering close and moved with precision changing the direction of the beating line as required, ensuring birds broke evenly and in small bursts rather than large flushes.


Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae returns with his first retrieve of the day….a white pheasant.

The birds flew well rising quickly through the trees to clear the hill behind the guns. Those that broke through the line untouched whistled low past the dogs at the top of the hill as they made their way to cover behind. Not a single dog moved, they remained steadfastly focused on the action down below in front of them. As the drive continued and the spaniels worked deeper into the woods from across the lake behind us, an east wind started to gain momentum. It pushed up the hill and found its way into every exposed piece of skin. Handlers started to shuffle simply in an effort to keep warm but the dogs remained resolute, they stayed quietly and stoically attuned to where the birds fell and what action would be required of them once this drive was over.

Somewhere in the distance a horn sounded, signalling the end of the drive. As the guns and spaniel men drifted away, the job of clearing the ground quickly commenced. The wide open spaces and a strong wind bringing low temperatures were going to influence the dog work greatly, something which became more apparent as the initial birds were picked and the dogs needed to find the trickier birds that might have fallen into pockets of the marshy ground at the bottom of the hill. Two dogs were lost from the uneven numbers in the first round FTCH Corrib Darcy and FTCH Copperbirch Mandela, both failing to find. Word reached us that, from the even numbered dogs, both Crosstone Trickster and Ffynongain Celt were also gone.


Int FTCH Miller McDuff with handler Mr Declan Boyle.

Second round retrieve dogs started to arrive from the other side of the line and FTCH Derryad Moss and Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord , a previous Championship winner, both completed their respective retrieves in quick succession. One bird remained to be found on our side and this proved to be the undoing of both FTCH Watergreen Jasper and last year’s winner Int FTCH Miller McDuff. Both dogs cast well to the area given and handled extremely well, holding and covering the area and hunting very efficiently but failed to find. A third dog, FTCH Watergreen Hunter was tried. His handler, Mr Tom Lowry, cast him slightly more to the right and perhaps being a slower paced dog or turning on the wind at just the right time he found the bird.


FTCH Watergreen Hunter with handler Mr Thomas Lowry.

With our ground complete and swept again we moved down the hill to the relative comfort and shelter which the hedge offered where the four judges had the opportunity to confer and compare notes before moving onto the second drive.


Reaching for sporting birds on the Lake drive.

I followed my two judges and their charges across another narrow little bridge, then through a wood where we were met again with the full force of the wind that tore across the lake. White horses whipped up against the dark grey water of the lake and already chilled from our earlier stint at the top of the hill, humans and dogs alike rounded their shoulders and turned their sides to protect themselves as best they could against the onslaught.

Once again from,somewhere far away, a horn  sounded signalling the start of the second drive. In my mind this was a particularly hard drive for dogs to endure. Not only because of the relentless wind and cold but because of the unusual direction from where the birds came from.  They flew from behind us where they followed the shoreline rising to clear the woods at the end. One bird fell with a splash just ten meters in front of where we stood and this proved too much for FTCH Cherrymount Anorchist.


Lettergreen Razzel watches the second drive while in line.

It was from this drive that, in judge Michael Corr’s opinion, the retrieve of the day took place. Dog No. 30, a black labrador bitch named FTCH Carrickview Holly, owned and handled by Mr Tadgh Kelly came to the line for her third retrieve of the day. A pheasant had been brought down out in the water but with the strong wind it had drifted out along the shoreline behind a bank of reeds. She took the cast along the shoreline, pushing through the area where birds had been picked before her and when asked took a clean left cast into the water in front of the reeds. She swam out against the foam caps pushed up by the east wind until asked, then responded promptly to her handler where he needed to push her back into the reeds to find the bird. It’s hard to portray how difficult it is to work a dog at a distance in water with the distraction of wind noise and cold, but she took each instruction as given and, against a high chop and frigid water temperatures, she stuck to the task, picked up the scent and brought the bird to hand.

Three other dogs that also caught the judges attention on the first day were Highwalk Galway handled by Mr Tony Rodgers, Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe handled by Mr John Barr jnr and FTCH Tamrose Aragon handled by Mr Matty Lambden, they all stood out for their excellent clean handling and game finding abilities.

The light which the day might have promised at dawn never came, and by late afternoon, when each of the fourteen dogs remaining had completed four retrieves we returned to the cosy little shooting hut where a warm coffee was much appreciated in an effort to thaw numb fingers and toes.


Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord.

The start of the second day saw eleven dogs brought forward to the line:

No. 3 – Tealcreek Isla                                                 Handler Mr John Williamson

No. 4 – Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord                      Handler Mr Billy Lundy

No. 7 – Luna Ruff                                                       Handler Mr Eamon Murphy

No. 9 – Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae            Handler Mr Richard Johnston

No. 15 – Astraglen Assault of Dunamoira                  Handler Mr Gerard Murdock

No. 17 – Listooder Great                                             Handler Mr Daniel McKelvey

No. 21 – Highwalk Galway                                         Handler Mr Tony Rogers

No. 23 – FTCH Tamrose Aragon                                Handler Mr Matty Lambden

No. 27 – Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe            Handler Mr John Barr jnr

No. 30 – FTCH Carrickview Holly                             Handler Mr Tadgh Kelly

No. 31 – FTCH Rosenallis Enzo                                 Handler Mr Jim Carnegie.



Judges confer after the end of the first drive on day 2.

A yellow storm warning was in force. We were thankful the wind had dropped off but the low cloud brought a steady rain that alternated throughout the day from heavy to very heavy….it was wet!!

The first drive was situated in a field that fell away to the lake on our left and a long mixed deciduous wood in front. Two guns were placed in the field with the remaining guns placed along a narrow track that cut along the base of the woods.


Listooder Great gets ready to cast for Mr Daniel Mc Kelvey.

After been thoroughly tested the previous day with long periods of steadiness in line the start of the day offered a series of quick shots and prompt retrieves as the dogs worked throughout the drive. Here retrieving, while acknowledging the fall of a second bird, was tested. The warmer temperatures and increased moisture no doubt played a significant role in aiding scenting ability and very little separated the dogs as we ended the sixth round of retrieves and headed to the beet crop where everyone knew the final cut would be made.


Dogs and handlers remain stoic as the rain persisted through day 2.

So, after two days of testing dogs, where the weather played as much a part as the ground in how retrieves played out, we were down to our final seven dogs:

Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord                      Handler Mr Billy Lundy

Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae            Handler Mr Richard Johnston

Highwalk Galway                                           Handler Mr Tony Rodgers

FTCH Tamrose Aragon                                  Handler Mr Matty Lambden

Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe              Handler Mr John Barr Jnr

FTCH Carrickview Holly                               Handler Mr Tadgh Kelly

FTCH Rosenallis Enzo                                   Handler Mr Jim Carnegie



The final seven in line.

One yellow labrador and six blacks spread out across the top of the game crop. Hard weather, no matter how prepared one is for it, takes its toll, it wears you down, numbs the senses. We expect a lot from our dogs and, although I would say the ground was not testing in relation to cover, it brought different challenges where weather and wide open spaces proved the undoing of some quality dogs. It was a trial of endurance for dogs and handlers and the ones that came out on top in the end showed tenacity, an ability to remain steady under high pressure situations, superior handling, casting and game-finding abilities.

After a further two rounds of retrieves where we lost one further dog, FTCH Tamrose Aragon, the judges were satisfied they had a result.


Tadgh Kelly relieves FTCH Carrickview Holly of her retrieve near the end of the day.

The final 6 dogs took their obligatory water retrieve and we returned to the shooting hut where the presentation took place.

Championship Chairman, Mr Damian Newman addressed a packed and steamy shooting hut. He thanked the markers, stewards, number changers and also Mr Gary McCutcheon for the loan of his quad over the two days. Thanks and appreciation was also extended to the clubs for donations towards the cost of running a Championships and to Connolly’s Red Mills for their generous sponsorship.

The Chairman then invited the judges to say a few words and Mr Keith Bedford stepped forward to speak on behalf of his fellow judges. He said he was honoured to be asked to judge at such a prestigious event. He thanked the shoot owners and commended the keeper on the amount of work he did over the two days, assisting them in any way he could. He spoke of how well the guns shot under such testing conditions throughout the Championships and re-iterated the quality of dog work he witnessed over the two days.  Keith took his seat back with his fellow judges and the Chairman commenced the presentation.

First Place and Judges Choice         No. 27 – Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe                                                                                  Handler/Owner Mr John Barr jnr.

Trophies received by the winner:  Redmills Perpetual Trophy

Winners Trophy- sponsored by Mr Albert Titterington

The Knight Frank Ganly Walters Perpetual Cup

The Barbara Eustace Duckett Memorial Trophy

The Maude Perpetual Challenge Cup.


Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe displaying fit for function during her first retrieve on day 1.

She also won:        The Fred McGuirk Perpetual Cup as the highest placed bitch.

Irish Countrysports and Countrylife Perpetual Trophy for Guns Choice.

The Cromlix Perpetual Trophy for the best Labrador Retriever in the                                       Championship.

Second Place                                          No. 9 – Trefaldwyn Kribensis of Shadowbrae                                                                                   Handler/Owner Mr Richard Johnston.

Trophies Received:                                 The Auckland Perpetual Trophy

2nd Place Trophy

Mr Johnston was also awarded:          The Ballyfrema Cup as breeder of the winning                                                                                dog/bitch.

The Sam Jennett Raughlin Trophy as Breeder of the                                                                     winner of The Irish Retriever Championships                                                                                 presented by Mrs Lillian Jennett.

Third Place                                             No. 21 – Highwalk Galway                                                                                                                     Handler/Owner Mr Tony Rodgers

Winner of                                                The Robert O’Farrell Triple Crown Perpetual Trophy

Fourth Place                                          No. 30 – FTCH Carrickview Holly                                                                                                         Handler/Owner Mr Tadhg Kelly

Winner of                                               The Barra Flynn Memorial Perpetual Trophy.

Diploma of Honour                           No. 4 – Int FTCH Drumgoose Warlord                                                                                                Handler/Owner Mr Billy Lundy

Diploma of Honour                           No. 31 – FTCH Rosenallis Enzo                                                                                                            Handler/Owner Mr Jim Carnegie.

Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe , winner of the Championships at just two and a half years old!!. I had watched her on the first morning of the Championships take a 150 yard retrieve in a single cast, from the top of that very cold hill down through a band of dead grass, across a drain, over a fence and promptly find the  bird she was sent for. She had done enough to leave an impression on the judges the first day and continued to shine through in atrocious conditions on the second day displaying game sense beyond her years. Surely a bright future ahead of her. Well done to her owner Mr John Barr jnr and her breeder Mr Richard Johnston.


Shimnavale Jasmine of Drumnamoe returns with her final retrieve of the Championships.

Until next year….enjoy the rest of your season, be safe.

51st Irish Retriever Championships 2017


Sponsored by Connolly’s Red Mills Premium Dog Food


Mr Declan Boyle casts Int FTCH Miller MCDuff on Day 2 of the Championships, Photo credit Mary Murray

Mr Declan Boyle with INT FTCH MILLER MCDUFF wins the 51st Irish Kennel Club Retriever Championships

For my uninitiated readers….every year the top field trial retrievers and their handlers in the country come together at an epic two day event to find the Best of the Best among the Retriever elite.

The dogs that are eligible to qualify for this event will have been on a relentless trialling campaign which stretches from January to mid-February then recommencing again in September through to the cut off in early December. By the beginning of December qualifying stakes are completed and at that point a draw is done to decide the running order of the qualified dogs.


Judges and Shoot Captain at the start of Day one, from Left to right : Mr Kevin Doughty (UK), Mr Mike Tallamy (UK), Mr Pat Hearne (IRL), Mr Ashley Donnan (IRL), John Geoghegan Redmills rep and Mr Harry Nash ( Shelton Shoot Captain). Photo credit Jan Evans.

The purpose of field trials has always been to ensure that when bringing breeding stock forward you are choosing dogs that will hopefully pass on traits that are compatible with the work that is required of a specific breed or group of dogs. Although I am not a trialler, I am a strong advocate of preserving good working gundogs and feel the importance of preserving field trials and to a lesser degree working tests as an invaluable tool and benchmark for the future of preserving all round good working quality in Gundogs.


Int FTCH Dromgoose Warlord winner of the Championchips in 2016. Photo credit Mary Murray

The 51st Irish Retriever Championships was held at Shelton Abbey Shoot Co. Wicklow on December 29th and 30th 2017 by the kind permission of Mr Harry Nash and the Shelton Syndicate and Gamekeeper Mr Philip Gregory.

Judges for this year’s competition were Mr Pat Hearne (Ireland), Mr Ashley Donnan (Ireland), Mr Kevin Doughty (UK) and Mr Mike Tallamy (UK).

The shoot has long been a supporter of both Retriever and Spaniel field trials and has hosted the Championships for both categories of Gundogs over the years. This would be the first time however, that Shelton would be the sole host for both days having shared it with neighbouring Ballyarthur estate in the past.


Competitors head to take their places at The Oaks drive for the start of the Championships. Photo Credit Jan Evans.

As acreage goes Shelton is not a massively sprawling estate. The shoot has been developed within Irish forestry ground (Coillte) that surrounds the ancient Abbey. The gamekeeper and syndicate have taken full advantage of the natural landscape and currently its signature drive, known as The Oaks, is most likely producing some of the highest, fastest and most sporting birds in the country. Running from the boundary wall at the back of the Abbey for about two kilometres the valley rises steeply to display the most magnificent stand of mature Irish Oak trees.  The impact this stand of trees makes is made all the more impressive by the wide flat spread of ground below it, of what is known as the tailings, (a legacy of the past when ore was mined here).Just to stand back and watch the magic unfold from the back of the tailings as the birds break in small controlled clusters from the very top of the majestic Oak treeline is truly one of the gratifying sights on a cold winters day.


Meet up was at the shoot clubhouse before sunrise, where competitors collected their armbands, official photos were taken and then before we set off the Championship Chairman, Mr Michael Corr introduced the Judges. He thanked Mr Harry Nash, The Syndicate (who were shooting on Day one), and gamekeeper Philip for all their help and support in the run up to organising this event. He welcomed Mr John Geoghegan  and Mr Ger Foley who were representing the sponsors Connolly’s Red Mills. He expressed gratitude to Red Mills for their continued support and urged everyone to support our sponsors by buying the Red Mills products. Red Mills ENGAGE is widely used by field trial competitors throughout the country. Finally wishing everybody an enjoyable two days we set off in convoy down through the abbey gates and onto the tailings for the start of the first drive.


Competitors, Judges, Officials and spectators gather before heading off. Photo Credit Jan Evans.

Thirty-nine dogs had qualified. There were eight withdrawals. Four  handlers had qualified two Dogs – Mr Matty Lambden with Ulverton Punch and FTCH Tamrose Argon; Mr Billy Lundy with INT FTCH The Newcam Boss and INT FTCH Drumgoose Warlord; Mr Declan Boyle with INT FTCH Miller Mc Duff  and Highwalk Kerry; Mr Sean Diamond with Copperbirch Mandela and Ardnahoe Fine Design. All of the dogs qualified were Labrador Retrievers bar two. These were two Golden Retrievers, both littermates bred by Mr Mike Hamilton – Tealcreek Isla owned and handled by Mr John Williamson and FTCH Tealcreek Aran owned and handled by Mrs Rita Corr.


Mrs Rita Corr with FTCH Tealcreek Aran.


The morning was bright and sunny but a yellow weather warning was in place threatening snow for later in the day.  This was certainly borne out by the biting North West wind that blew down the valley.

In the initial stages of the trial the dogs were split into odd and even numbers. This is normal practice in most trials with competitors moving from one side to the other as they move through their individual retrieves so that by the end of the first round of retrieves every dog will have been seen by all four judges.

And so at just after the horn blew to indicate the start of the drive on the First Oaks.

For the beginning of the day I followed the uneven numbered dogs with Judges Mr Pat Hearne and Mr Mike Tallamy. They lined up their sixteen charges near the back of the tailings behind the last four Guns. From this particular vantage point dogs and handlers would be treated to a full visual of the birds breaking cover from the very top of the treeline.


Uneven numbered dogs line up behind the Gunline. Photo credit Jan Evans

This is a long drive, not easy if you have a dog slightly on edge and as the drive progressed and the beating line moved along through the trees above us the birds landed in nearer and nearer. We lost one dog at this point when a hen bird fluttered into the brambles near the end of the line, Unfortunately 2 others were lost on the even side of the line during this drive, Not long after a winged cock bird tumbled to the ground about 70 meters out, found his legs and ran for cover. Number 3 dog Int FTCH Miller McDuff being first dog up was immediately sent by Judge Mr Pat Hearne. Handler Declan Boyle cast him straight out to the initial fall and then with a quick right cast McDuff took up the scent trail ,disappeared into the thick bramble line and returned promptly with the wounded bird.


Int FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose owned by mr John Barr jnr. Photo credit Mary Murray

Finally the horn sounded to signal the end of the drive. I’m sure there were many in line that let go and breathed deeply as they put their leads on their dogs. Now the task of retrieving began as our teams of dedicated markers communicated with judges and one by one dogs came to the line.


Mr Declan Mc Carthy with FTCH Watergreen Jasper. Photo credit Mary Murray

Two dogs were lost on our side in this round of retrieves. Both dogs worked well, entered cover when asked and hunted well but as is the nature of trialling to stay in or out of a trial, particularly in the early stages, can be as simple as turning your dog to the left or right and coming on the scent or lie of the bird.

There is one part of the Oaks where the ground is free from cover. It is a wide grassy area about the size of a football pitch. It looks easy but to cast a dog from one side of it to the other after they have watched birds fall run and maybe even pick from before makes a long cast decidedly more difficult. So here a dog’s ability to push through old falls would be put to the test, also the risk of picking the wrong bird if a dog should pull onto stronger scent than where you want them to go increases the further the dog goes away from you. We lost another dog here as a result of pulling onto the wrong bird at the last second.


Ms Ciara Behan lines her dog Quarrypool Charley across the Tailings. Photo credit Mary Murray

Meanwhile word was filtering through to our side of the line that dog number 3 Int FTCH Miller McDuff  had just completed his second retrieve having scaled a cliff face, up through brambles to bring back a duck from the base of a holly tree; he was certainly blazing a trail for others to follow so early in the competition.


Int FTCh Miller McDuff coming down the cliff face after his second retrieve of the day. Photo credit Jan Evans.

Once the judges were happy that the ground was cleared from this particular drive, we waited for the Guns to return and followed them further down the valley to the Fourth Oaks.

This drive is equally as challenging, the birds here break from the trees at a tight angle, offering more snap shooting that long visuals. It is a tighter drive, with the guns being double backed, with more cover than open area and a few cliff faces to add to the interest.

Again the field was split and dogs sat in line. It is a shorter drive and all remaining dogs remained steady until the final horn sounded…


Judge Mr Mike Tallamy with competitors Mr John Behan and his dog Quarrypool Paradise and Mr Jim Carnegie with Rosenalis Enzo. Photo credit Mary Murray

With more cover dogs have to be allowed to work on their own more and their handlers have to trust them to do so. I felt the judges allowed ample time once the dog entered cover to hunt without putting pressure on the handlers to call up their dogs too quickly. Alas a few more dogs were lost here failing to find in some very thick unrelenting cover.Several dogs were really impressive here; number 14 FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood…was sent for a retrieve where a previous dog had failed…. A cock bird had fallen about 60 meters down the track past the boundary gate of the shoot. It is an area of no man’s land between Shelton and its neighbour, Ballyarthur estate. The bird to be searched for had fallen behind a bank of laurel along a nice looking track but behind the laurel the ground falls away steeply to the river below. Handler David Latham cast his dog down the track then stopped him promptly before casting him left into the laurel and then we waited. At one point down at the bottom of the valley we could hear the flutter of wings then all again went quiet….then up out of the laurels the dog appeared carrying the wounded bird.


FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood waits to be sent by his handler Mr David Latham. Photo credit Mary Murray

Quite a number of dogs impressed in this round, all being sent for retrieves from the path up through relentless bramble to find birds among the undergrowth… No.28 FTCH Tamrose Aragon, No.29 Quarrypool Charley, No.30 Tealcreek Isla, No.34 Watergreen Hunter and No.36 Lettergreen Razzle were among those catching the eye of the judges.


Mr Sean Nolan, Mr Gary mcCutcheon and Mr David Latham watching the action on the 4th Oaks. Photo credit Mary Murray.

We worked through one more drive before light finally got the better of us and then we retired for day 1.

Call-backs for day 2 were:

36 Lettergreen Razzel handler Mr Sean Nolan

39 Drumgoose Oscar handler Mr Colin Montgomery

3 Int FTCH MillerMcDuff handler Mr Declan Boyle

14 Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood handler Mr David Latham

16 Ulverton Punch handler Mr Matty Lambden

19 Int FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose handler Mr John Barr (Jnr)

23 FTCH Skerryview Alisha at Annaloughan handler Mr Peter Colville

27 FTCH Copperbirch Mandela handler Mr Sean Diamond

28 FTCH Tamrose Aragon handler Mr Matty Lambden

29 Quarrypool Charley handler Ms Ciara Behan

30 Tealcreek Isla handler Mr John Williamson

32 Int FTCH Camgart Tomo handler Mr Gary Mc Cutcheon

33 Lassy Moonlight Sky handler Mr Alan Harper

34 FTCH Watergreen Hunter handler Mr Thomas Lowry


Competitors and Dogs remaining for the second day. Photo credit Jan Evans.

The second day saw temperatures rise considerably with the harsh north east wind dropping off. This should make scenting conditions good as warmer air along with warmer noses is generally a sweet combination something that would certainly need to come into play as the remaining dogs would be tested to the limits in regards to ability to both face and work in cover out of sight of their respective handlers.

The drives known as ‘ The Snuff Box ‘ and ‘The Upper Staffords’ are not for the fainthearted.


Waiting in line during the Snuffbox drive. Photo credit Mary Murray

Both are relatively sheltered by a high sided valley. The Snuff box is currently in its second season as an area of felled plantation so patchy bramble growth is starting to take hold of the rough uneven ground. The Upper Staffords, next door, has not yet been harvested but it being forestry ground has been left to grow wildly and unkempt for many years. There is enough light beneath the spread of conifers to have enabled more bramble and bracken to grow. The wood is cut through by a series of parallel paths and a stream.

And so as the horn sounded to indicate the start of the Snuffbox drive on the second day all eyes were on the 14 remaining dogs and handlers as they waited and watched for the birds to break cover.



Even numbered dogs waiting in line at The Snuffbox. Photo credit Jan Evans

The even numbered dogs here were faced with long retrieves across the wide open area of felled plantation while the uneven numbered dogs were taken to retrieve from the thicker scrubby ground where the foresters had left huge piles of broken tree branches mixed with last summer’s bracken growth and of course brambles….lots of them. All of the dogs that I watched in this round of retrieves really handled the ground very well, never backed off cover and again the judges were very understanding in allowing ample time for dogs to work their way through thick cover.


FTCH Copperbirch Mandela owned by Mr Sean Diamond in the last 14 dogs. Photo credit Mary Murray


We moved onto Upper Staffords. It is the Holy Grail test for a dog to truly face cover….

I have worked my own dogs on this ground and in this cover for over 11 years so fully appreciate every obstacle faced by all of these dogs on this day however I think when Dog number 3 was brought to the line to find a bird that three previous dogs had failed on none of us watching expected to witness what unfolded.

The bird had been marked as having fallen above the second parallel path behind the gun line in a dense; I would say almost impenetrable bed of bramble. In fact in any other circumstances you would say it was a job for a spaniel as they can get under cover when a retriever can’t get through it. Between the path and where the dog would be cast from ran a stream, again overgrown with bramble and bracken on both sides….easy here to knock a dog off its original line and indeed that is what had happened three dogs previous to McDuff.


Int FTCH Miller McDuff returns through bramble and bracken after a phenomenol retrieve. Photo credit Mary Murray

Declan Boyle cast his dog, on a line directly towards the heaviest bunch of bramble and Miller McDuff took it on. He disappeared beneath the cover and all we could see for many moments was the movement of the briar leaves as he pushed his way through. He got over the stream; still we had no visual on the dog just the movement and sound of bracken and briars being pushed aside as he made his way up the valley side. When He appeared at the Upper path Declan stopped his dog and directed him into the next patch of brambles where the bird had fallen. Again we watched in trepidation as the bramble leaves moved and twitched…up, up, up he went then a moment of snuffling and the movement of cover told us all he was on his way back. There was one fraction of a second that he tried to make his way through and we all glimpsed his prize. He had the bird….Miller McDuff had shown us all in one magical moment what he was made of and that this was his time.


FTCH Watergreen Hunter owned by Mr Thomas Lowry one of the final eight.

The final judges’ huddle brought us down to 8 dogs:

3 Int FTCH Miller McDuff

14 FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood

19 Int FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose

23 FTCH Skerryview Alisha at Annloughan

28 Tamrose Aragon

30 Tealcreek Isla

34 FTCH Watergreen Hunter

36 Lettergreen Razzel



Mr Sean Nolan, one of the final eight dogs casts Lettergreen Razzel.

Well done to these final eight dogs, they really were tested to the limits in the two days and showed us some fantastic dog work on very challenging ground.


Tealcreek Isla owned by Mr John Williamson, also one of the final eight. Photo credit Jan Evans.

After the 6th round of retrieves these dogs were called to water to decide the placings.


Mr Matty Lambden with FTCH Tamrose Aragon, one of the final eight dogs. Photo credit Mary Murray

In the late afternoon a full house gathered in the Shoot Clubhouse and there was an excited buzz as everyone appreciated and tucked into tables laden with sandwiches, tea, coffee and soup all very generously laid on by our host Mr. Harry Nash

Chairman Mr Michael Corr first stood and thanked everyone involved in the running and organising of such an event-  the committee, the stewards and in particular Lady Waterford, our Treasurer for her many years of service to the committee. Michael then went onto thank the Shelton syndicate who shot on day one and the six Guns who shot so well on day two. He thanked Gamekeeper Mr Philip Gregory and His wife Michelle without whose amazing support the event would not have happened. Thanks, was also extended again to Mr Harry Nash. Harry offered endless help, not only during the two days but throughout the year, going above and beyond what was expected to ensure that the event ran smoothly and was enjoyed by everyone.



COM Mr Peter Colville with FTCH Skerryview Alisha At Annaloughan recieves his award from Mr Harry Nash. Photo credit Jan Evans.



COM Mr John Barr JNR with Int FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose. Photo credit Jan Evans


COM Mr John Williamson with Tealcreek Isla. Photo credit Jan Evans



COM Mr Thomas Lowry with FTCH Watergreen Hunter. Photo credit Jan Evans.


Thanks from our Chairman was also extended to our very generous sponsors Red Mills who supplied all competitors with goodie bags and jackets for the Judges and winning handlers.

Harry Nash was invited to say a few words he said, “it was a great pleasure to host the Championships over the two days, the second day in particular providing a lot of action”. Harry also thanked Robert Irwin for his help and assistance throughout the two days.

Michael then asked head Judge Mr Pat Hearne to speak. Pat opened by saying what an honour it was to judge the Championships at Shelton Abbey. To watch dogs work over very different ground over the two days and he felt, in particular that day two showed dogs performing at their best.

Michael then invited our overseas judges to speak. Mr Kevin Doughty said that he was impressed by the dogs’ ability to face and work cover so well over the two days. Mr Mike Tallamy spoke of what an honour it was to be invited to judge such a prestigious event and thanked everyone for their warm hospitality and sportsmanship over the two days.


  1. Int FTCH Miller Mcduff owner/ handler Mr Declan Boyle
  2. Lettergreen Razzel owner/ handler Mr Sean Nolan
  3. FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood owner Mrs Stefanie Latham handler Mr David Latham
  4. FTCH Tamrose Argon owner/handler Mr Matty Lambden

COM INT FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose owner/handler Mr John Barr Jnr

COM FTCH Skerryview Alisha at Annloughan owner/handler Mr Peter Colville

COM Tealcreek Isla owner/handler Mr John Williamson

COM FTCH Watergreen Hunter owner/handler Mr Tom Lowry


4th place Mr Matty Lambden with FTCH Tamrose Aragon. Photo credit Jan Evans


3rd place Mr David Latham withFTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood. Photo credit Jan Evans.



2nd place Mr Sean Nolan with Lettergreen Razzel. Photo credit Jan Evans



Winner of the 51st Irish Retriever Championships Mr Declan Boyle with Int FTCH Miller McDuff and Judges Mr Pat Hearne and mr Mike Tallamy.


Special awards went to:


The Fred Mc Guirk Perpetual Cup for the highest placed bitch was awarded to

Mr John Barr (Jnr).

The Sam Jennet Raughlin Perpetual Trophy for the breeder of the winner of the Irish Retriever Championship was presented to Mr Declan Boyle on behalf of the breeder Mr W.R.C. Haughey.

The Ballyfrema Perpetual Cup for the breeder of the highest placed Irish Bred dog/bitch in the IKC Championship was presented to Mr Declan Boyle on behalf of the breeder Mr W.R.C. Haughey

The Irish Country Sports & Country Life Perpetual Trophy for Guns Choice was awarded to Mr Declan Boyle


Chester. Of all my Chesapeakes he was my Husband’s dog. They worked well together. Des just had a better way of handling him than me. For me, Chester was almost too much dog; I lived on my nerves when we worked together on the shoots . He was a big numbers dog; happiest when standing covering multiple guns and clearing everything that fell within his eye line without the hindrance or aid of another dog to impede his progress.

The winter of 2008/2009 , here in Ireland, was a long one.

In October the rains came. The temperate winds from the west  came in from the Atlantic raising the water levels that coincided with the high tides of the Autumn equinox. Dublin flooded, Cork city was impassable and the whole of central Ireland became marooned as the river Shannon burst her banks and shed her load farther and wider into the lands that ran the course of her length. Then the winds changed and down from the northeast came the cold drafts  of Siberia. And so, as the days shortened and winter deepened Ireland lay frozen in one of the coldest hardest winters that I can remember.

It was a morning in early January 2009 that my Husband, Des, set off loaded with gun and dog. He was to meet up with friends in the midlands hoping to get lucky with decoying the flood plains which that had formed along the the far reaches of the Shannon and her tributaries.The northeast freeze up still held most of the country in an icy grip. The winds that persistantly blew in from Siberia that winter had brought in their wake unprecedented numbers of migrating birds… and whites, teal , tufties and mallard, all pushed further south and in greater numbers to the more temperate climate that Ireland offered.


They picked their spot, the wind seemed favorable enough to keep the birds low but moving and in a position ,they hoped( as that is the word wildfowlers live by), that seemed like a good sheltered spot to draw in teal and tufties to feed.

Under the cover of darkness they spread their decoys  in an enticing pattern. Then the four guns settled down spread about the reeds that edged the field, that was once a summer meadow but was now knee to thigh deep in cold frigid water.

It is the waiting that is the toughest part of wildfowling, when you have nothing to take your mind off the creeping cold that rises from the bottom of your boots and creeps to every corner of your body. As the purple dawn emerged from the bottom of the sky  each man peered hopefully for a glimpse of a silhouette against the lightening skyline. Four guns and one dog, a Chesapeake, named Chester.


I know for sure that for him on that morning he most likely breathed deeply the scents of what was about to unfold and felt utterly confident that those four guns no matter how far apart they spread themselves could be covered by him alone.

It was not long before the lightening sky and biting wind forced the birds to move in search of feeding and better shelter from the relentless cold. The men had chosen wisely. The flooded field lay in the bend of the river where the birds were apt to cut across over the reeds to a narrow tributary further south.

The guns were patient biding their time until the birds came within range and one by one they fell. The shots did not deter the birds and they kept coming and falling. All the time methodically sought out and found by Chester as he worked the reeds in the chest deep water. There were long spells where he had to stand waiting on the raised clump of rushy turf behind Des as the cold water lapped around his body but his attention never wavered and his reward was another hunt , another retrieve of warm game all of which were brought back to Des.

He gained the undying respect of not only my husband that morning but also of his three hunting companions. Each and every shot bird that was found by the chesapeake was brought tenderly to hand before turning his attention to the angry grey January skies again waiting for the next one to fall.

Shannon 10-01-2009

January 2009 River Shannon with Chester.


Chester had many vices, ( not least was his knack of singing while waiting for a drive to start),but  once he was given the go ahead to start working he did so with such drive, focus and energy that never let up until every bird he could possibly retrieve was delivered safely back to hand. In all his years retrieving there was never a single toothmark on a bird that he returned with. He remained respectful of his quarry to the end. That is what he thrived on and where his passion lay.

His knowledge of the birds he hunted was uncanny; one of those few dogs I’ve seen that had the ability to differentiate, in air , which birds were hit in a drive of hundreds and which ones lived to go on for another  day. He never gave up on a wounded bird no matter how far it travelled, he would follow the line to where it touched the ground then pick up it’s trail to where it inevitably dug into cover.

For a dog that was precious about entering cover at a working test in the quest for a green dummy I watched in wonder many’s a time as he belly crawled under and through bramble patches that would have tested a cocker spaniel to get that bird that he knew was in there. But so too was he clever enough to figure out that if cover had an exit point it was quicker to skip around the back and look for an easier path through. He had no interest in unwounded game, learning quickly that they took too much energy and time to hunt but in a contest of wills between diving duck and the Chessie he was always the more determined not to fail.

Shelton was his last love, he loved the freedom it gave him to hunt unhindered without being inhibited by tight drives.

And so it will be His final resting place. When the time is right we will bring His ashes and scatter them across the tailings for one final hunt through the bushes, brambles and the river that he came to know so well.


Chester at Shelton with Des.




Rest In Peace Penrose Nomad

5/3/2002 – 21/9/ 2017.


The Hunt….

Our Breed standard calls for a Chesapeake to be .. ‘equally proficient in land and water’…. and although their reputation as a strong tenacious swimmer may be legendary their skills as a competent upland game dog are often underestimated…..the following tale might sway your opinion….


Through the old stone wall piers and onto the lane, the dogs wandering just ahead of me , we were just short of where my friend Joe and his lab Solo were seated, when Uisce dived into the ditch on the right and up the other side of the sheep wire fence rose a  wounded cock pheasant.

His wing beats were laboured, going too fast for the speed and level of flight he was at, and very quickly the effort was too much and I watched him drop down and run the fence line towards the gate into the field beside the rushy bottoms. The banked hedge meant that his path was not visible to either dog.

Uisce was still buried in the cover, so I took Bertie to the corner of the field where a stile made the stock fence  safer to cross and sent him back along the fence line where I had seen the bird drop and run. He took a good line and when he hit the point where I had seen the bird drop  his lowered head and quickening pace told me he had found the trail.And so the hunt was on….

Half way down the field , just past the gate that turns into Foley’s field he pulled up abruptly and a frustrated bark told me this was most likely the point  where the bird could  have stalled but stock fence topped with barbed wire pulled tight along a hawthorn hedge was preventing my dog from  progressing any further. I caught up with him quickly, and brought him back fifty meters to where the fence was not so tight to the ground, guided him under and  then from there he retracked back to where he left the point of scent inside the fence….

Again the bird broke cover and into flight, this time though Bertie was determined no hedge or fence was going to hold him back either and he busted through the hawthorn keeping pace underneath the bird as they headed off across the field  towards the maize crop that bordered the narrow wood. Uisce had caught up with me by this time and we both watched from the gateway as the drama  continued to unfold across the field.

Just short of the crop the bird dropped to the ground but continued to run with Bertie closing in  on every stride. One last quick dip to the right by that wily bird threw Bertie off balance and he tumbled head over heels across the boggy bottom  ground and the bird was away again.

If the bird made cover now , it would be a much more difficult task to find him as the dog would have to sift through the combination of scents coming from the several birds that no doubt had begun to gather in the crop at the end of the drive.

Uisce had him marked and I sent her in pursuit…off across the field she went at full gallop. The bird reached the crop and disappeared but the Chessies were literally on his tailfeathers as the crop swallowed all three.The chase continued through the crop as maize  was thrashed by two forty kilogram Chessies intent on keeping pace with the agile bird.

Then everything stopped and within a few seconds the crop parted and Uisce emerged with the wounded pheasant held securely in her mouth and a very tired Bertie in her wake. Head up she saw me and picked up her pace where the bird was delivered safely to hand.

We made our way back to where Joe and Solo waited…Joe rose from his seated position took the bird from me and with no words spoken shook my hand and acknowledged both dogs with a quiet salute. We gathered up our game carriers, called to our dogs and as the winter sun dipped below the level of the treeline we headed for home.



This thing called ” waterfreaking “….



I have a dog that loves to swim.

Her need for water goes way beyond the normal frolics that most dogs get up to when you throw a tennis ball in the water. She enters water regardless of the need to retrieve anything; most times it will be to swim parallel to shore as we mere mortals walk the beach or towpath.

Every now and then, however, she will throw her left paw up to create a little splash and then she will toss her head back in pure ecstasy. Her eyes will glaze over as if hypnotized by the water splash. She will let out an excited yip, turn in circles and as she repeats the process she will turn away from the shore or the riverbank and swim out towards the open water;  sometimes so far away that if you didn’t know any better you would think it was a seal bobbing up and down beyond the line where the waves break….

She is a strong swimmer; stronger than any of my other Chessies, ( including the males); so if allowed, this process can easily run on for the duration of our ‘walk’.

And I have often allowed her to do so but not in the early days, when she was younger; in those days this thing called ‘waterfreaking’…freaked me out far more than her!!

The most frustrating aspect of waterfreaking, ( and I use this term in the losest of its meanings as, in my humble opinion, the dogs involved are in no way , shape or form ‘freaked’ by water),  is our inability to immediately correct a behaviour which , comparatively speaking, is no different from a young dog running freely chasing birds and butterflies and oblivious to all sense of danger or direction from their owner.

And in our ignorance and frustration we let the behaviour slide into an entrenched pattern . And anyone who knows Chesapeakes will know that once a Chessie develops a habit for a pattern of behaviour  that stubborn streak is most unwilling to relinquish something which, to them, is so much more fun than being told what to do.

We may be advised incorrectly that our young dogs antics are simply a young puppy learning to swim…so we let it continue in the hope they will grow out of it. It won’t happen.

We may think from their antics that they are panicking in water and so may take a softly, softly approach and encourage them in soft soothing tones that everything will be alright. It doesn’t work.

We may even try to put some sort of control over where and how they enter water by only allowing them to retrieve from ACROSS water and not FROM water. This method is bound for failure in the initial stages at least…..

And all the time this most frustrating of Chessie quirks becomes more and more embedded.

To fix it…

Firstly, well I’m afraid , you are going to have to be prepared to get wet. If not full immersion at the very least you will require waders !! As the most important thing your Chessie has to realise is that you have as much control of them in water as on land.

Secondly find yourself a good trainer, one who believes in you and your dog.

The good news is that more than any other behaviour that might befall a Chessie, this is one of the easiest to get a handle on, if you recognise it for what it is.

You see one of the great things about Chessies is that they like to be rewarded for a job well done and with a dog who waterfreaks the motivation to work in water is there from the outset in their pure passion for the stuff you are asking them to retrieve from.

Once the holy grail of Chessie training is applied..that is fairness, consistancy and control…I promise you it will be worth it as the dogs that generally are gifted with waterfreaking tendencies really are in the elite league when it comes to swimming.

With the help and guidance of a good trainer, in my case, Mr Ronnie Farrelly of Tealwood kennels, Uisce has developed into the strong, controlled and confident swimmer I always knew she could be. Two weeks ago she competed in a working test where four of her six retreieves were from or across water and she finished second in Open/ Unclassified.




Just one more Hunt….by Mary Murray


A poem dedicated to a dog who lived for the hunt….Chester now aged 14 years and pictured today on most likely his final day out


Just one more Hunt,

That’s all I seek,

Before these aging legs grow weak.


One more time to raise my clouding eye

As the whosh of wingbeats fill the sky.

My body is old but my heart has the will

to track that blood trail up the hill.


And through the cover where I know

Those clever pheasants always go.

I’ll try my best to bag a Duck

From the tailings pond with all that muck.


My gait may be unsteady

And my strength is fast draining

but I will Hunt to the end

With each breath remaining.


The last Hunt is over

I was up to the task and I thank you, my Master ,

‘cos all that I ask…

Is to follow my calling where the high pheasants fall and to Hunt with my heart

And give it my all…..




To retrieve a Duck….

Duck rising off the Tailings at Shelton

Duck rising off the Tailings at Shelton

We came to the river again for the Duck Drive, just as the late winter sun dipped below the tree line at the top of the valley.

October 2015 will not be remembered for crisp clear mornings bright with frost , it will be remembered instead for record rainfall and temperatures more akin to late summer than early winter. When November 1st arrived at Shelton, although it stayed dry, the unseasonably mild weather had left all gamekeepers with the unwanted headache of trying to keep birds within boundaries when the hedgerows were still laden with natural feeding.

The first frosts hadn’t come,  leaving the brambles still green and difficult for both us and the dogs to push through. So by the time we took up our spot on the gravel island at the fork in the river most of the dogs were tired from three heavy pheasant drives and the river was not in a gentle kind of mood.


Full from the heavy rains that fell earlier in the week it would be foolhardy to treat the Avoca, that day, with anything but the utmost respect.

I am always cautious with the dogs I work on the river drive. Young dogs come along only when steady and are kept on lead to watch the older dogs work. I learned my lesson many years ago when I foolishly sent Chester in to this very river on a very lightly wounded duck and watched in horror as the current took both him and the duck round the bend and out of sight. Thankfully, it ended well when he got the duck, found the bank down by the prison and made his way back; but I know it could have ended equally as badly.

Today I had Winnie and Bertie, both experienced dogs in relation to waterwork . We watched as the duck came over the tailings and flew up and across the river. Some were caught by the guns at this stage and from that moment until the end of the drive, thirty  minutes later, the dogs were in constant motion.


They  worked well with the current , swimming out and turning into it as the birds came downstream to them and then going with the current until it carried them back into their own depth where they brought the birds back to me. They also pushed through the current and retrieved birds that fell on the far bank; occasionally they had an easy run up the gravel island to pick a bird from the stones.

The horn blew, to signal the end of the drive. We had filled two game carriers in that short period of time but there was one final retrieve I needed and as Bertie was the younger and fitter of the pair the task fell to him.


Halfway across the widest and fastest flowing part of the river a piece of deadwood rose from the water, strung with all sorts of debris that had got caught up in its branches now it held a drake mallard captive. The bird had been carried downriver during the drive while the dogs were working on other retrieves so they had no idea it was there and the bits of debris flapping like flags in the current masked any sign of the bird from the island where we stood.




I cast Bertie on a line above the deadwood, aiming him for the far bank, anticipating the current would pull him in line with the branches by the time he reached mid-river. He entered the water and felt that familiar pull of the river as it gripped him determinedly and pulled him downstream; with each powerful stroke, though, he was moving nearer the branches but also being pulled sideways by the current. Every stroke was  a battle to simply stay on course. Mid river and the current had carried him to where I expected him to be, Bertie was now below the deadwood . I blew hard on my whistle hoping  to get his attention above the roar of the water and asked him to hunt. It worked, he lifted his head clear of the water and searched using both nose and eyes, he caught the scent and  locked onto the flapping debris, pumped those shoulders harder than before to drive into the current and slowly, slowly work his way towards those branches. With one final drive he reached his head forward and pulled the duck from where the branches held it tightly, then he let go of all effort and allowed the current to carry him downriver to where it sweeps past the shallow end of the island. There he found his footing, pulled himself clear of the water and  with bird in mouth he gave  one final shake and made his way back to  where Winnie and I waited…



There are plenty of times my dogs and I mess up during the season and I value these as lessons to be  learned and move on from . But every once in a while it all comes together, like the day on the river,and because  these moments come along so infrequently I choose, instead to hold onto them…they are the days to be treasured for times when I can reach my hand down in search of a brown head and rub a pair of soft brown ears as I retell the story of Bertie’s blind duck retrieve again and again and again..



Hope you had a great season everyone from Me and the Brown Bunch.xx




The dreams of an old dog.


What does my old dog, Chester, dream of ?

He dreams of a place where the mountain streams cut so deep and sharp into the granite bed that the sun never reached the bottom of the valley floors in deepest darkest Winter; where each breath hung in the air half caught between  freezing  and the damp bone soaking cold; where the brambles laced so tightly through the bracken and the felled plantation making each  search for a bird  a push through thorns or a fall though a mosaic of twisted branches. He dreams of a place called Ballycooge.

We had followed the guns deep into the plantation. It was nearing the end of the season, birds were harder to find now;they were fitter, wiser and when they broke cover strong wingbeats quickly brought them higher and further from shooting range. Big bags, though, were not the target at this time of year and certainly the Guns we had that day were skilled and competent sportsmen , selective in their choice of target.

Our picking up team was sparse,for eight guns there were three of us with a dog each. This suited Chester , the fewer the number of dogs and the harder he had to work the more he relished it. He was a pain in the ass to hold on a tight drive, but on a drive where he had sole command he never doubted his capabilities of retrieving each and every bird that fell behind the guns, (…as Handler and Dog we had many arguments about this but I had to concede  he was usually right).

Donal stayed behind the three guns that took their places at the bottom of the felled plantation. I covered the waterlogged field with Chester where the remaining guns spread out across  in a two hundred metre line and Tom, in his eightieth year, was to stay on the lane and cover the duck pond. We were confident that all areas and angles were covered. This wasn’t a tight drive, it was boundary shooting at its best and with the cover that surrounded the gun line and our lack of dogs, birds would be picked as they fell. What birds were here we had no way of knowing. The Guns were reaching their bag limit for the day so it was more of a try out type drive with possibilities for next season; twenty birds max would see happy Guns and tired enough dogs.

The horn blew to indicate the start of the drive. The beaters slowly making their way across the top of the felled plantation high above the gunline from left to right. All eyes and ears focussed on that line of sillhouettes as they made their way through the cover. Chester was on lead beside me shaking and whining in anticipation of what might come.

The first shots rang out from our left as a few birds broke over the plantation. That was enough for the duck to lift off the pond to our right at the end of the field. They rose in a circle over the pond before scattering across the field over the Guns in front of us.

Things were relatively manageable at this stage. Two wounded duck were retrieved and quickly dispatched; three more collected from behind the guns. As the beating line drew level with the hedge dividing the plantation from the field the first few pheasant drifted over our Guns in the field. They fell in an arc behind the guns, were quickly collected by Chester and added to our game carrier.

Everything was still relatively controlled. Birds were breaking nicely, giving the guns ample time to reload and the dogs a chance to settle….then just as the first heavy flush of pheasant flew over the guns in the field the duck came back for a fly by….

They flew, they fell, they tumbled some stone dead some wounded…All along the gun line, behind them in the thick heavy mud, some in the gorse bank to the right by the pond, some in the stream behind us . I was sinking knee deep in peat and unable to move as Chester pulled himself through the muck across the field . Every gun along the line was given his full and undivided attention, playing to his strengths of marking and memory he returned with each bird before taking off again without direction from me to find that other bird he saw going down somewhere along the gun line .

When it became clear that the Guns in the plantation were going to have a quiet stand Donal peeped his head through the gap in the hedge and with a grin asked if I needed assistance. I  still stood , trapped, knee deep in the water logged field , my game carrier was full; I had started to gather a second pile and my dog was still crossing the length of the field keeping up with the birds as they fell.

When the horn signalled the end of the drive we had filled two game-carriers and Chester had by then turned his attention to hunting out the more difficult birds, the ones that had drifted into the woods up behind the stream. His pace had steadied but not slowed; he was now more focussed on those single retrieves that required testing the cover for the specific scent that wounded game leave.

There was no doubt that his skills as a raw hunting dog were phenomenol. It was easy to see, watching him, why the market hunters of old developed a dog with an unquenchable appetite for hunting and finding large numbers of game. He was exciting to watch and absolutely uncanny in his ability to find birds in all sorts of cover either on land or water…

In many ways I regret Chester may have suffered through my ignorance in lack of training…but then sometimes I also wonder whether the level of training I put into my current batch of Chessies may somehow blunt that natural flair that makes a Chessie a Chessie and not a Lab….

Chester aka Ir Ch UK Ch Int Ch Penrose Nomad is now retired to the fireside and approaching his 14th year….He still dreams of winter

Early season pheasant breast in buttermilk marinade.

The marinade is from Nevin Maguire’s Christmas collection which he uses for Turkey, with some modifications 🙂



Pheasant is a lean meat but the early season birds even more  so, I find very little pickings on the legs and as such  tend to work with the breast. The remainder of the bird can be used to make stock base for soup.This an easy to prepare simple recipe that keeps moisture in the meat as much as possible.

Take one brace of pheasant  remove, wash and prepare the breasts, keep the skin if possible. Place in a bowl and prepare the marinade

For the marinade use 500mls of buttermilk or enough to completely cover 4 pheasant breasts.

Finely chop one orange, leaving the rind on.

3 cloves of garlic, peeled but not chopped.

season generously with salt and pepper and I also add a good scattering of thai 5 spice.

Pour the marinade over the breasts, cover the bowl with cling-film and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours.

When ready for cooking remove from fridge and wipe off the buttermilk using paper towel.

In his turkey recipe Nevin uses harissa butter to coat the meat but I used some Blackberry chutney which I bought from a lady who had a stall at the Nevin Maguire cookery night.

Once covered in chutney, wrap each breast streaky bacon , pie dish and cover with tin foil.

Bake in a preheated oven about 180 celcius for about 25 minutes.