Animal Farm

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alk about a dirty trick. I learned, during a trip to Dublin two weeks ago, how hunters get birds to fly over a field so they can shoot them.

It was during a clay pigeon shooting lesson at Luttrellstown Castle, a gorgeous estate about 15 minutes outside Dublin.

Paddy, the castle's good-natured groundskeeper and shooting instructor, explained how it works.

"You see we feed 'em here, in a cage," he said, pointing to the field that spread out before us.

"We get 'em when they're young and it takes about two months for them to be ready. Everyday we take them over there," he said, pointing to woods to our right, "and they stay there in the woods each day until it's time for feeding. We train them using a whistle, which is a signal that it's time to eat, and they fly back over the field to the cage."

So, on the day of the sporting event, the birds are sent to the woods as usual, but what they don't know is that hunters with guns are gathering in the field and some, or most, of the feathered creatures won't make it back to the cage for their dinners when the whistle calls.

It sounded cruel to me but then, I am not a big fan of hunting for sport.

We were about to shoot pieces of clay, a much more humane form of recreation, to be sure.

Along with me, as guests of Luttrellstown, was the editor of the Chicago Sun Times, a travel writer from Toronto and a fellow trade reporter from New York.

Paddy gave us ear protectors, showed us how to hold the gun, how to slowly pull the trigger and where to position the barrel to have the best chance at hitting the flying object.

I took three shots. Paddy said I was coming close. On the fourth shot, I hit the target. (Not bad following a pint of Guinness.)

This was my first visit to Ireland and it was a memorable one.

While we were out on the castle grounds enjoying a fresh snowfall, headlines in the Dublin newspapers screamed The Plague Is Here, and Foot and Mouth Reaches the North, and Farmers Fear the Worst, etc., as the dreaded hoof-and-mouth disease appeared to be spreading quickly from England to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and to some points on the Continent.

Farms all over went into lockdown mode, the movement of animals was halted, cattle and sheep markets were abandoned and many thousands of pigs, sheep and lambs in Britain were being slaughtered and then incinerated.

The St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin was canceled so as to prevent farmers and others from inadvertently spreading the disease, which can be transmitted on clothing and vehicles.

Nature trails, forests and zoos were closed.

The outbreak was the talk of Dublin, and there was a sense of impending financial ruin as family farmers figured the value of their herds and what their loss would mean to families and the local and national economies.

But on the isolated and peaceful grounds of Luttrellstown Castle all was quiet, except for the birds in the trees.

Donna Tunney is executive editor of Travel Weekly, TWcrossroads and Travel Management Daily.

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