Our trialling ground for the day, the Copeland Islands, lie roughly 2 ¼ miles off the northeast coast of N.Ireland. The little harbour port of Donaghadee,Co.Down was to be our starting point. A fifteen minute boat ride across a stretch of the Irish Sea, saw spaniels, competitors, officials and supporters land at our destination. On this particular occasion, some 50+ souls had to be ferried in four lifts to the Island; a task that proved a lot easier on our outward journey , than that of our return!
What had been a beautiful Spring day at the commencement of our day’s sport, with wonderful sunshine, gave way to heavy lashing rain that could cut to the bone, accompanied by high gale winds. The day proved to be a trying experience for both man and dog... one of those days that certainly sorts out the men from the boys!
Habitat varying from rushes to bogland to heather to heavy fern is a haven for many forms of wildlife.
With the game season closed, the plentiful supply of wild rabbits on the island allows clubs to run some early season “rabbit trials”. For this, the entire gundog fraternity of N. Ireland are deeply in debt to local man, John Agnew. John is a tremendous all-around supporter of fieldsports, and runs a very successful private shoot on the island. The rabbit population is very well supplemented with a large head of grey partridge and pheasants. In days where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to locate suitable trialling venues, the entire trialling community is deeply indebted to men like John.
Judges for the day were Mr. Dan McKeeeman (senior judge) and Mr. Damien Kelly - ably assisted by Danny O’Neill, who officiated as Chief Steward. Apart from the weather taking a turn for the worse, the day proved to be one of good quality sport, with some decent displays of spaniel hunting.
"Plenty of finds on rabbits along with some cracking snap shooting from the guns made for a really worthy event."
The island holds quite a number of water rails; a smallish wading bird that nest in rush. At the commencement of the trial proper, the senior judge informed those taking part that as and when any dog “pegged” one of these little birds, if asked to “leave and discard” on command, no further action would be taken; if on the other hand the trapped bird died, as many of this little variety are apt to do through fright and shock, if undamaged, again no action would be taken. However, if refusing to discard after “pegging”, and in the situation arising of the handler going overboard in his promptings to command the dog to discard, then elimination would follow!
The beautiful Spring weather - bright sunshine, a following light wind and nigh on perfect conditions - held until approaching lunchtime, when the proverbial heavens opened accompanied by a very strong , biting wind sweeping up off the Irish Sea.. Conditions deteriorated and remained so through the remainder of the trial. Although hardy conditions at times for the handlers, it did little in the way of dampening their enthusiasm and certainly didn’t slow the dogs down, who hunted vigorously throughout the day. Plenty of finds on rabbits along with some cracking snap shooting from the guns made for a really worthy event.
Overall, the standard, whilst not exceptionally high, was very good with every dog being given more than adequate opportunity to shine. The judges certainly were very understanding and fair. They were seen to judge the entire trial in a positive manner. Retrieves, on the whole, were not too difficult, with 20-30 yd. run outs the norm. Virtually all dogs hunted with purpose and style, and handled the rush cover easily. Very few dogs were seen to be “mouse hunting” or skirting cover, and most dogs performed with the very mimimum of handling. Standards of steadiness were high, and most dogs were capable of hunting a back wind, which seemed to follow the trial proper where ever we chose to go. No punishing hard cover had to be faced by any dogs competing. There proved to be no water retrieves; the trial steering clear of the shore line due to the high tides and winds.
Judge Damien Kelly (left) watches intently as young as young handler,|
Alan Kelly awaits a retrieve from his bitch, Ballina Grey Bessie.
A few spaniels took my eye. Among those being the eventual winning dog, Mr. T. Crothers' Swift Bill of Birdrowe (Ft.ch. Kelmscott Kostas x Birdrowe Kutie). Handled with the very mimimum of fuss, this young up and coming dog took matters comfortably in his stride, making his two runs seem a breeze. A nice patterned dog, hard hunting and with a pleasant attitude, both judges had him marked up a worthy winner. Winning on only his third outing, “Billy”, as he is known to his friends, seems well up to holding his own in Open company.
No doubt another in a long line of Birdrowe stars in the making!
Another animal to take the eye was Mr. K. Lindsay’s English springer spaniel dog, Flash Game Lad (Glancarw Rhys x Halaze Hyacinth of Glancarw). Just turned 2 years old, this was his first outing under Kennel Club rules. This dog, although lacking in experience, showed a good turn of foot with a very nice hunting pattern. Easily handled - and obviously well schooled, when gaining more experience, “Lad” will no doubt prove a very nice spaniel. Certainly one I would have liked to take home for myself!
Norman Blakeley’s black and white dog, Hattonwood Broc (Int.Ft.ch. Millshadow Aster x Merlinsbrook Evita), showed that he possessed a good degree of drive with some fast, purposeful hunting. Unfortunately, the dog made more of a retrieve than he should have; unable to be handled to the upwind side of a rabbit lying in open short grass, the judges must have had to mark this dog down. However, a very nice spaniel with a lot of style and drive and one, no doubt, that will figure in the season to come!
Very few dogs were eliminated throughout the trial. The fairly large number of c.o.m.’s (certificates of merit) awarded going some ways to proving the quality of the “also rans”.
Competitors disembark after a very hair-raising boat trip.
The trial proper was over in late afternoon. No run-off was necessary to decide the winner.
All now that was left was a treacherous looking boat ride back to dry land again. As with the initial journey out to the island, the boat had to make four runs to load and unload passengers. By this time, the weather had certainly taken a sharp nose dive with white breakers and thrashing gale winds making the homeward journey less looked forward to than normal. Battering high seas - with waves reaching 10-15 feet and deep troughs made this homeward journey for man and beast a white knuckle ride. I can’t be sure, but I could almost swear I could hear grown men praying in the stern of the boat! Buffeted for some fifteen minutes, wet through and bedraggled, passengers were more than happy to plant their feet on solid ground again!
Eventually, after some sterling boat work, all were returned to the safety of Donaghadee harbour where the Prize giving took place.
- 1st place: Mr T Crothers’s essd, Swift Bill of Birdrowe (Ft.Ch.Kelmscott Kostas x Birdrowe Kutie) Winner received the Bob Fettis Perpetual Trophy
- 2nd place: Mr S Andrews’ essb, Snowfell Susan
- 3rd place: Mr W Thompson’s essb, Birdrowe Sally (Birdrowe Butch x Irokomac Duckfly)
- 4th place: Mr P J Davitt's essd, Monalue Cherry Blossom (Ft.Ch.Steadroc Sker x Monalue Elderberry Lady)
Certificates of Merit:
- Mr J Crookshanks' essd, Evansaura Squire of Brackentwist - handled by Mr T Evans
- Mr K Lindsay's essd, Flash Game Lad
- Mr A Kelly's essb, Ballina Grey Bessie Also awarded the Guns' Award as the spaniel they most enjoyed shooting over
- Mr P McDermott's essd, Whitehope Warren
- Mr W McGaughin's essb, Ballynafie Dusty