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Former Judge condemns coursing as "legal torture"
23 February 2012

Retired judge, Michael Patwell, has condemned the cruelty of hare coursing, commenting that hares are "terrified and tortured in a most cruel way". Writing in the Evening Echo this week, Mr Patwell said that "civilisation still has a way to go" as long as "a poor timid animal can still be taken out of its habitat, confined, hunted, terrified and often brutally killed".

A judge for over 21 years, Michael Patwell presided over the infamous 1994 blooding case involving the son of greyhound trainer, Ger McKenna, in Tipperary. Video footage (filmed by Donal McIntyre for a BBC documentary about greyhound racing - see below) showing greyhounds being blooded with live rabbits at a private training track, was shown in court. Judge Patwell sentenced Owen McKenna Junior and the other defendants to prison terms.

In his Evening Echo column on Tuesday, Mr Patwell describes hare coursing as "the legal torture of poor timid creatures" and states that:

The Irish Council Against Blood Sports thanks Michael Patwell for speaking out against hare coursing cruelty. We hope many more follow his example and join calls for the activity to be outlawed.

Read the full text of the article below. Find out more about Michael Patwell at

"Pattwell's Verdict"
Evening Echo, February 21st 2012

We are but a week away from the end of the hare-coursing season. Unfortunately for the poor hares we are in a Leap Year, which means that the legal torture of these poor timid creatures can go on for a day longer than in other years. The Irish hare is a protected species under The Wildlife Act, 1976 but is classified as a game species and may therefore be trapped or sold under license during the open season (end of September to the end of February). The license must be obtained from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and it usually allows for the netting by each club of about 75 hares. After the coursing event, the hares are supposed to be transported back to where they were netted and re-released into the wild. Yet one hears reports of hares, having survived a coursing meeting, being passed on to another club to be used again.

In 1993, the government, responding to public concern over the cruel killing of hares during coursing meetings and under political pressure, required the Irish Coursing Club (who control the sport) to change the rules to require that greyhounds are muzzled at enclosed coursing meetings. To be facetious for a moment, nobody figured out how to tell the hares that the dogs are muzzled. Greyhounds used in open coursing still, however, remain unmuzzled.

Remember the Lisbon Treaty? You know, the one we voted to reject but not being satisfied with the result the Government ran the referendum again. Anti blood sport campaigners and animal lovers generally, if they had read Article 13 of The Lisbon treaty, could, initially, have been quite overjoyed, until, that is, they read the sting in the tail. Article 13 reads:

In formulating and implementing the Union's agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage. The saving words for coursing fans are, of course, ….respecting the..cultural traditions of the Member States.

There is no doubt that coursing is a cultural tradition. Arrian, the Greek philosopher, wrote the oldest documented description of hare coursing about the year 180 AD. That certainly establishes the antiquity and heredity of the sport. Since 180 AD, however, very many other practices, common then, have been regulated and banned as human beings evolved and civilisation progressed. We don't cut the heads off convicted criminals anymore; slavery has been legally abolished (whether factually so is another matter); we don't send little children up chimneys to clean them anymore; women can no longer be regarded as chattels. Yet a poor timid animal can still be taken out of its habitat, confined, hunted, terrified and often brutally killed because it has been done for 2,000 years. It seems to me that civilisation still has a way to go.

There are between seventy-five and eighty coursing clubs in Ireland. In the weeks before each meeting, members of the clubs go into the countryside to collect hares in a process known as "netting". This involves shouting, yelling and making loud noises to herd hares into nets that have been strategically placed. The hares are then put into boxes for transport to the coursing venue. This netting and handling is cruel in itself and often results in these timid and delicate creatures dying or suffering severe injury.

The hares then have to be trained. Releasing a wild animal into a coursing field would produce, what coursing supporters would see as, very poor "sport" because the hare wouldn't know where to run. Before the coursing event, therefore, they are put through training sessions to get them familiar with the field and to teach them to run up the centre in order to provide "good coursing".

During these training weeks the hares are kept herded together in an enclosure. This adds considerably to the stress suffered by them. Being naturally solitary creatures, in captivity they are very prone to disease, which can spread more easily when they are kept together in an enclosure.

The coursing field is typically about 370 metres (400 yards) long. A hare is released from one end and given a 90m start before the greyhounds are released to pursue it up the field to the "escapes" at the far end. Typically the dogs catch up with the hare about 50m from the escapes. The first dog to turn the hare wins.

The objective of coursing is to test and judge the athletic ability of the dogs rather than to kill the hare which, being a very agile creature, weaves, turns and dodges skilfully to avoid them. Greyhounds are much bigger and faster. A hare is usually about 3.5 kg in weight whilst a greyhound can be between 30 and 40 kg. With two dogs chasing one hare, the hare is a mere one twentieth of the size of the combined size of the chasing dogs. A hare can reach speeds of up to 40 - 45 km/h. At maximum acceleration, a greyhound reaches a full speed of 70 km/h (within 30 metres from release,) travelling at almost 20 metres per second for the first 250 metres of a race. With odds like those the wonder is that so many hares do make it to the 'escapes".

Thankfully its agility gives the hare an important and often crucial advantage as it seeks, usually successfully, to escape. During the course, however, the hare is literally fighting for its life. Even though the dogs are muzzled, they still can kill the hare by mauling it into the ground or tossing its delicate body into the air. In fact, this often happens.

I have seen a report that suggests that during the course of a coursing season at least 400 hares are killed or so seriously injured that they have to be put down. That figure may be anti-blood-sport propaganda. When I enquired the Irish Coursing Club said, "In the 2010/11 season 5734 hares were captured for the purpose of Park Coursing and 5671 of these were released back into the wild, under the supervision of officers from the National Parks & Wildlife. Of the 63 hares that did not make it, some would have died of natural causes whilst in captivity, some would have been hit by the greyhounds and a decision was made to put them down and a few would have been killed outright."

The national coursing meeting in Clonmel is considered the most important event in the coursing calendar. It is said to attract up to 10,000 spectators and is claimed by its organisers to be worth many millions for the local economy.

At least Article 13 of The Lisbon Treaty, which effectively means our Constitution, recognises that animals are "sentient beings". The best meaning for the word 'sentient' I could find is 'having the power of perception by the senses', that is, be able to perceive or feel things. Nothing but words! Entirely meaningless to the poor creature dying a horrible death so that a few humans, supposed to be sentient creatures too, can have a few moments of sport.

Whether it is 400 or 50, or some number in between, it is too many. Remember too all the hares that survive despite having been terrified and tortured in a most cruel way, all in the name of sport.

PREVIOUSLY: Judge wrecks coursing party
(Animal Watch, Summer 2000)

District Court Judge, Michael Patwell, lashed out against live hare coursing at Middleton District Court in August, when the Rathcormac Coursing Club made an application for a late night licence for their 50th anniversary dinner-dance celebration.

Judge Patwell refused to recognise the “celebration”, planned for November, as a special event, stating that “half the people in Rathcormac wouldn’t even know the dinner-dance was taking place.”

Describing coursing as “two big dogs chasing a tiny little animal” this was not Judge Patwell’s first time to express his abhorrence of the blood sport.

In 1992, when an application for a late night extension was made by publicans in Clonmel for the National Live Hare Coursing Finals (who described it as an “historic event”), Judge Patwell retorted that “it may well be an historic event, but it involved the killing of innocent animals.”

He went on to say that “he personally did not like it, but would grant the exemption orders because of the legal position.”

Judge Patwell also presided over the infamous greyhound blooding with live rabbits case in Tipperary in 1994, when he sentenced five people, including the 23-year-old son of leading greyhound trainer, Owen McKenna, to three months imprisonment, describing their crime as "horrible savagery."


Contact all your local TDs now. Tell them you are one of the majority who want coursing banned. Remind them that coursing is already illegal in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Urge them to respect the wishes of the majority of the electorate and back the anti-coursing bill being introduced by Maureen O'Sullivan, TD and Clare Daly, TD.

Find out the names of your TDs and their email addresses.

If you prefer to post a letter to your TDs, address your correspondence to:
Dáil Éireann
Leinster House
Kildare Street
Dublin 2.

How to eliminate the hare from coursing

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Greyhound blooding in Ireland

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