THE Limerick Diocese has defended the blessing by a priest of the newly opened coursing field at Glin, pointing out that the request came from within the local community and that there were “robust practices in place” for the welfare of animals.
The statement from the Limerick Diocese comes just days after the Irish Council against Blood Sports (ICABS) complained to Bishop Brendan Leahy about the blessing, arguing it was a “gross misuse of a blessing and should not be permitted”.
The organisation at the same time called on Pope Francis to act to prevent clergy becoming involved in what they called Ireland’s “cruel hare coursing” practices.
The controversy has arisen less than a fortnight after Glin Coursing Club celebrated a landmark achievement in its 110-year-old history: the holding of the first-ever meet on grounds owned by the club.
The two-day meeting was attended by up to 2,000 people, from the local area and from around the country, and dignitaries included leading figures from the Irish Coursing Club and Bord na gCon. And there was general jubilation that the club, with some 40 members, had achieved its long-held dream of owning its own field, bought and developed at a cost of over €300,000.
Retired priest, Fr Madigan, conducted the blessing
But ICABS have lashed out at this action, arguing that it was in direct contravention of the official catechism of the Catholic Church which states that it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer and die needlessly.
It was even more inappropriate, they said, given the fact the coursing meeting coincided with World Animal Week and with the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
But John Barrett, secretary of Glin Coursing Club, repudiated the ICABS action and was angry that they had singled out retired priest, Fr Madigan, for censure.
“It is very unfair to a retired man,” he said. Fr Madigan, “a country man like ourselves”, had stepped in to do the blessing in the absence of the parish priest, he said.
“He blessed the people, the dogs, the hares and all who work in the field,” Mr Barrett pointed out.
And he also rejected the ICABS claims of cruelty.
“The cruelty is gone out of coursing,” he said.
At the Glin meeting, 85 hares were prepared and 85 were left back into the wild on Sunday evening, he said. He also pointed out that the Glin meeting was held under the Government’s own regulations, was supervised by a wildlife officer and had vets in attendance.
The Catholic Diocese in its response said they had discussed the matter with Fr Madigan “who performed this blessing of the venue for its safe use by all patrons” .
“We are, of course, very cognisant of the concerns of anti-blood sports groups,” the spokesman said and they had contacted the Irish Coursing Club, who had reassured them that robust animal welfare practices had applied at the Glin meeting.
“They also stressed to us that the blessing of the venue was a priority for the organisers, as it is with all new venues opened countrywide,” the diocesan spokesman said.
“In the context of Church teaching on how we treat animals, we are pleased to hear of the welfare practices in place at the venue. We pray for the continued safe use of the venue by all who attend and travel to and from it over the years ahead,” he added.
“Coursing is an integral part of life for many in Glin and surrounding areas and the recent opening of the new venue was a significant day for the local community, which funded and developed the facility,” the spokesman concluded.
The new coursing field is located at Ballinagoul, about two miles outside Glin.
Last April, the club launched its fundraising campaign to pay for the 30-acre site and its development and raised some €100,000 in one week alone through the sale of five-year shares.
A third of the land bank was sold on and the remaining twenty or so acres have been fenced off and sheds and a hare compound built.