Established in 1859, the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association (IMFHA) represents the interests of 41 foxhunting packs in Ireland. A register of each hunt, its Masters, Hunt Staff and Honorary Secretary is published each year and is maintained by the Honorary Secretary of the IMFHA. Each registered pack of foxhounds has its own defined territory or hunt country and the hunt kennels are usually situated in the heart of that country. In essence and in practice, the hunt club is bound through its Master or Joint-Masters, to the rules and decisions of the IMFHA. Before his/her appointment, a new Master must be approved by the Committee of the IMFHA.
In recent times the IMFHA has found itself dealing more and more with issues concerning conservation, national and European legislation, media relations, finance and political lobbying.
One of the earliest examples when the IMFHA had to engage in political lobbying came in the late 1970's when thousands of foxes were being indiscriminately trapped for their pelts. The healthy condition of Irish foxes created a lucrative export market for their skins. This was a cause of great concern to hunt clubs and the IMFHA. In some counties the fox population was almost totally obliterated. During this time, the IMFHA through its constituent members, closely monitored fox numbers and kept the Department of Agriculture informed.
In light of the growing demands upon the Association, the IMFHA decided in 1994 to amend its rules to permit the co-option of non-members to the Committee. Previously, the Committee was restricted to those who had at least three years experience as MFH (Master of Foxhounds). This has enabled the association to include amongst its ranks people with particular areas of expertise (legal, financial, media) to assist in looking after the interests of foxhunting.
The IMFHA maintains a close working relationship with the Department of Agriculture, liaising with the Department on a regular basis, as well as attending annual meetings to discuss any issues that may have arisen during the previous year.
The IMFHA regularly reaches out to members of the non-hunting community in a variety of ways from manning a stand at the Dublin Horse Show, to facilitating universities by providing knowledgeable speakers to attend university debates and by providing interviewees to the media in general.
The IMFHA and its members also meet with local farming organisations to ensure a good working relationship. Without the continued co-operation and support of the farming community, hunting and particularly foxhunting, would cease to exist.
The IMFHA was founded on the 4th April 1859, the objective being to form a body to govern all hunting disputes, to encourage the preservation of foxes and to deal with other matters related to foxhunting in Ireland.
An initial set of rules was adopted at a general meeting at the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin on August 26th 1891. In the century that followed, the Constitution and Powers of the IMFHA have been altered to reflect the changing environment in which hunting is conducted and to reflect best practice. It is constantly evolving to meet the new challenges which face the Association. The Constitution and Rules of the Association were revised in 1999. They outline the Duties of Members of the IMFHA, the Responsibilities of a Master or a Joint-Master and the Responsibilities of a Hunt Committee and also provide a framework for dealing with any disputes that may arise between hunts.
Each hunt club has its own constitution and rules to ensure that the committee is democratically elected and that hunt business is properly conducted. Hunt committees have the power to appoint a Master or Joint-Masters. The function of a Master or Joint-Masters is to organise and run the hunt country during the season and to part-finance the activities of the Hunt Club. He or she is both manager and benefactor. On his or her appointment as a MFH, the incumbent agrees to assign a declaration binding them to abide by the Rules of the Association and the decisions of the Committee.
This Code of Conduct is intended as a guide to both newcomers and seasoned followers of hounds. Its purpose is to assist those who participate in foxhunting to fully appreciate the important responsibilities and roles of the key team members who organise hunting. The objective of this code of practice is to help followers of the hunt, whether that be on foot, mounted or in the car, to understand and enjoy a day with hounds. Foxhunting is a highly regulated and organised sport that depends entirely upon the goodwill of the farmers over whose land we hunt.
Foxhunting takes place in public, it is observed by the public and it must be held publicly accountable for its actions. Familiarity with this Code of Hunting Practice will ensure that those who participate in hunting understand their obligation to maintain the highest standards of sportsmanship and good behavior at all times.
Foxhunting as a sport is the hunting of the fox in its wild and natural state with a pack of Registered Foxhounds. No pack of foxhounds either Registered or Associated with the IMFHA nor any Master(s), Hunt Representative or Hunt Chairman, who is a member of, or affiliated to the IMFHA, shall be allowed or shall allow his/her employees, agents or Hunt Staff to hunt a fox in any way that is inconsistent with this precept. Hunts and Masters affiliated to the IMFHA agree to be bound by the Constitution, Bye-Laws, Regulations, Code of Hunting Practices, Guidelines and Directives issued by the Committee of the IMFHA.
In the case of Masters and Joint-Masters, their responsibility extends to the conduct of Hunt Staff, the management of the Hunt Kennels and the care of hounds. It is the Masters' obligation to ensure that hounds are kenneled in safe, clean, adequate kennels and that hounds are well fed, regularly exercised and properly handled in the hunting field. Masters of Foxhounds or their appointed agents are solely responsible for conducting the day's hunting and are bound by the strict rules and instructions of the Irish Masters of Foxhounds Association. Their authority and responsibility is absolute and their instructions must always be cheerfully obeyed. The field should remember that the hunt staff is accountable only to the Master on the day or his appointee. At no time should a member of the Field instruct or interfere with the job of either a Professional or Honorary member of the Hunt Staff in the hunting field, in kennels or in the hunt country. Prior to appointment, it should be made clear to a new member of the hunt staff who is employing him/her and to whom he/she reports and takes direction. Prior to each hunting day the farmers or landowners within the area to be hunted will be notified. Such canvassing ensures the minimum of disruption to farm livestock or the normal activities on a farm. Normally one of the Masters or a member of the Hunt Staff or an Area Manager does such canvassing. It is the responsibility of the Master to ensure that appropriate procedures are in place to deal with any last minutes changes of a hunt meet that may arise due to a local funeral, severe weather or some other unforeseen circumstances. The Master or Joint-Masters should ensure that there is adequate means of communications in place between the field and the Hunt repair crew on a hunting day. Should the Master or Joint-Masters need to leave the hunting field early, then they must ensure that there is a clear delegation of authority.
Because the hunt meets by arrangement and is recognisable and therefore accountable, mounted followers enjoy access to large areas of countryside denied to other people. When following hounds mounted, you must:
(a) Conform to local standards of behaviour. Make yourself familiar with whatever local conventions or traditions need to be observed by hunt followers. For example some hunts do not allow lorries to park at the meet and horses are asked to unbox some distance away. Other hunts require that you park on one side of the road only.
(b) Have a brush and shovel in your horsebox to tidy up any dung or straw when unboxing.
(c) Ensure that your personal turnout is neat, clean and safe and that your tack and horse are clean and presentable.
(d) Have your subscription paid before you go hunting. "Cap" must also be paid on each hunting day. Have the correct "cap" ready for the Hunt Secretary.
(e) Ensure that you are not causing an obstruction to roads, gateways or public amenity areas. When parking your horsebox, ensure that you have permission to park there. Be sensitive to the fact that not everyone enjoys the presence of a hunt nor the evidence it may leave behind.
(f) It is important to be punctual at the meet. If you are late, under no circumstances try and follow hounds across country and join the hunt on the road at the next available opportunity.
(g) Make a sincere attempt not to cause damage to farm boundaries or hunt fences. If you break a fence or cause or notice damage of any kind, report it immediately to the Master on the day or the Hunt repair crew.
(h) Leave gates the way you find them. If in doubt close any and all gates behind you. If there is any doubt contact the farmer or farm manager to find out the correct disposition.
(i) Go slowly through or around livestock to prevent disturbing them. Never cross a planted field. Go around the headland.
(j) Above all, obey the Master and the Field Master.
(k) Keep QUIET when hounds are drawing a covert or hunting. Learn to watch and listen so that you can understand what is going on.
(l) Exercise due care and courtesy to all road users. When on the road keep to the left and do not hold up traffic.
(m) Always turn your horse's head towards hounds and in this way your horse is less likely to kick one!
Car followers are welcome but they must also obey the rules.
a) Do not interrupt the flow of traffic. Courtesy must be shown to every road user and pedestrian.
b) Do not obstruct gateways or driveways or enter into private residences, farmland or open country unless you are sure that proper permission has been obtained.
c) Be careful not to obstruct a farm gateway where the hounds or field might emerge onto a road.
d) Avoid turning at the driveway into a private residence.
e) Keep together as much as possible and try to avoid heading the fox or getting between hounds and their line.
f) Exercise due care and courtesy to all other road users. Do not double park or hold up traffic.
g) If hounds or horses are nearby, stop in a safe, legal place and SWITCH OFF your engine, exhaust fumes mask scent and irritate hounds' noses.
h) Please do all you can to help the hunt. When you leave your vehicle, follow the code for foot followers.
Foot followers can be very helpful to the hunt both during a day's hunting and at other times. Please remember:
a) If you leave the road, you become a guest on the farmer's land and you should behave accordingly.
b) Do not get into such a position as to head the fox as to do so is to spoil your own and everyone else's sport.
c) Be as quiet as possible.
d) If you see the fox, let it get well past you before signaling the huntsman with a holloa, holding up your cap or a white handkerchief.
e) Leave gates the way you found them. Be ready to open or close gates for the Hunt Staff and Masters. Report any damage or loose stock you see to the Master or Hunt repair crew.
f) Above all ENJOY YOUR HUNTING! Some General Comments Accidental trespass cannot always be avoided but the wishes for all landowners, no matter how small, must be respected. Every effort must be made to prevent hounds and followers from hunting a fox into a "built-up" area or straying onto places where they are not welcome. Animal rights activists can be extremely irritating and may even break the law. Hunt followers must resist the temptation to retaliate in kind no matter what the provocation.
Many people use the countryside, some of which have no interest in hunting. We must make every effort not to offend these people in any way. Common courtesy, in the form of a simple 'please', 'thank you,' or 'smile' costs nothing. Politeness and a pleasant manner will go far to ensure the future of foxhunting. Finally but most importantly, please remember at all times that foxhunting depends upon the goodwill and generosity of farmers and landowners. To be invited onto their land is a great privilege and we must never do anything to abuse this great privilege.