Stag hunting: When the saints come marching

  • 13 August 2007
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As the clock ticks to Minister John Gormley's decision on whether or not to permit another season of stag hunting in Ireland, I would like to remind him and his government colleagues that some of the greatest human beings of all time have taken a stand on behalf of deer persecuted and cruelly abused for sport.


Saint Eustace in the second century AD was a Pagan Roman General who was as equally committed to stag hunting as he was to tracking down enemies of the empire and torturing them.

While out hunting one day, he was in full flight and eagerly anticipating yet another kill. But there was no kill that day. Between the antlers of the terrified stag that lay prostrate before him and his hounds, he beheld a vision of God…and heard the words: “Why are you persecuting me?” Eustace gave up both his persecution of Christians and stag hunting and became a revered saint dedicated to the way of compassion and decent living.

Our own Saint Aidan of Ferns, who died in 626 AD, had his own encounter with stag hunters. While studying a religious text in a hermitage in Connaught, he was distracted by the baying of hounds and the excited shouts of hunters.

He emerged from his rustic hideaway to behold a scene of terror and mayhem. The serenity and blessed peace of his retreat was marred by the spectacle of a stag, panting, wheezing, and covered in blood, cowering in fear from an encircling pack of savage dogs. The horrendous cruelty and malevolence of the scene unfolding before him aroused his all embracing compassion for God's creatures. According to the saint's testimony, he then performed a miracle…he made the stag invisible, thus saving it from the hunt.

Those of us who believe that Irish stags should be protected from cruelty are not calling for a miracle. We don't expect the Minister for the Environment to make stags invisible or to undergo any spiritual metamorphosis.

We are just asking him not to renew a license that permits the hunting of our majestic deer with packs of hounds. We are asking him to protect an animal that in Irish tradition and folklore was beloved of the Saints in Heaven.

Call me superstitious and a religious nut if you like…but I believe that Minister Gormley will receive his just reward if he bans stag hunting in Ireland…when the saints come marching in!