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April 9 2011 7 09 /04 /April /2011 14:36

Campaigners for humane treatment of animals have lost a valued friend with the recent passing at age 84 of Richard Power, a profoundly spiritual man who played a special part in advancing the cause of animal protection in Ireland. He had resided at Boherload House, Ballyneety, in County Limerick.


Richard was the last surviving founder member of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports, an organization he helped to initiate in 1966, along with such well known people as comedienne Maureen Potter, and actors Desmond Perry and John Cowey, household names in their day who starred in RTE’s series Tolka Row and The Riordans respectively.


Richard was born in Monaleen, Casteltroy, Co. Limerick in 1927 of Patrick and Nora Power, nee Noonan. He was educated at Monaleen National School before attending the Jesuit-run Crescent College, and later Mungret College, a boarding school also managed by the Jesuits.

From an early age Richard developed a keen sense of appreciation of the need to treat animals humanely.

He was inspired in his own personal acts of compassion towards animals by Christian teaching. In the weeks leading up to the feast days of saints who emphasized the importance of kindness to animals, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Aidan of Ferns, and Saint Eustace, he would never fail to contact fellow campaigners to remind them of these great exemplars of compassion and ethical behavior in our dealings with the animal kingdom.


In essays for animal welfare magazines, and in correspondence with the newspapers, he drew attention to early Synods and Councils of the Christian Church that denounced animal cruelty. Richard underlined in his writings that while God gave dominion of his creatures to man, our dominance over them is not absolute; that it requires respect for the integrity of creation.


He contributed articles to The Ark, the publication of the UK-based Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare, a society whose scholarly and educational approach to counteracting animal cruelty he embraced with enthusiasm.


When an Irish branch of the  society was formed, Richard assisted with the writing of an excellent booklet setting out how the Christian saints exemplified kindness to “the brute creation” and detailing words from scripture pertinent to man’s relationship with animals. He welcomed publication of the updated Catechism of the Catholic Church with its clear teachings on ill-treatment of non-human sentient beings.


Another influence to which he attributed his concern for animal welfare was the pioneering work of Richard Martin, the 19th century MP for Galway who sought to have the blood sports of bull baiting and bear baiting banned, and whose parliamentary crusade led to the formation of the world’s first society to protect animals from cruelty.


As a dairy and dry stock farmer, Richard worked with animals all his life. In his latter years, he fed foxes that strayed unto his farm, a practice he happily defended to those who questioned his kindness to an animal often portrayed as the wily rogue of the countryside.


Richard’s tolerance of the fox went back to his early manhood.  He had accompanied his wife Carmel to a number of hunt meets. One afternoon in the mid 1950s he was observing a hunt in full flight from his vantage point on a hill close to the family farm. He saw the fox run outside the farm boundary, making a speedy U-turn in its bid to elude the pursuing pack of hounds.


But the exhausted creature slowed down and the dogs caught up with it, tearing it to piece. What disturbed Richard about the incident was that the fox in question had been released from a sack for the hunt. He also recoiled from the spectacle of the hunt followers smearing the fox’s blood on their faces.


While mindful of the welfare of lambs and poultry, Richard concluded that foxhunts often posed a greater risk to livestock and farm property than the fox itself, and produced a wealth of evidence in support of this contention.

He attended his first coursing meeting at the age of nine. He recalled that he always felt something was “wrong or inappropriate” at these events, but kept his doubts to himself initially.


In the 1950s, nobody was prepared to speak out against blood sports in Ireland, or to voice even the mildest criticism of activities deemed to be hallowed traditions of the Irish countryside. Watching hares being chased down and savaged by greyhounds upset him, and he found support for this practice difficult to fathom.


One incident that remained fixed in his mind was hearing a coursing club official advising a dispatcher to turn his back to the crowd when finishing off a dying hare, as this might, according to the official, turn some people off the sport. Richard was haunted by the child-like screams of the hares, and baffled as to why nobody he met, or conversed with; in those early days was prepared to openly challenge the cruelty.


But in 1966, he attended a meeting of like-minded people who felt that an organization was needed to give expression to the view that the terrorizing or cruel killing of animals in the name of sport was unethical and objectionable in a civilized society. Hence the formation of the Irish Council Against Blood Sports.


Richard was a valued adviser to ICABS from day one, and whenever a campaigner wondered what a particular saint, bishop, or religious historian had to say about any issue relating to animal welfare or blood sports, he was the man to ask. If he didn’t have the exact information to hand, availing of his phenomenal memory, he knew where to find it.


He was in celebratory mood the day he noticed that a fox effigy had been included in the crib of the Dominican church in Limerick. This set him on the research trail and he re-discovered the story of how, according to legend, a fox had saved the Holy Family by throwing Herod’s bloodhounds off the scent.


In the run-up to the June 2010 parliamentary debate on stag hunting, Richard reminded campaigners and TDs (members of the Irish Parliament) alike that Saint Eustace had been an avid stag hunter prior to being converted to Christianity, after which the future saint renounced both persecution of Christians and the hunting of stags with hounds. And Richard loved reciting the story of how Saint Patrick rescued a fawn from a deer hunt in the Sixth century.


Richard was a loving father to his sons Martin and Pat and his daughters Mary and Cora, who survive him, and a friend to his grandson, sister and members of his extended family. His solicitude manifested in a determination to continue helping out on the farm in the years following his own retirement.


He assisted with the feeding of livestock and other farm chores, and drove a tractor in all seasons, even after a complicated quadruple by-pass operation that would have slowed down or deterred the most committed farmer in Ireland.


The grievous sense of loss felt by campaigners for animal protection will surely be offset by the gain to the world beyond this one of Richard’s passing.


I have no doubt but that he is now in the best of company “somewhere up there” and that Heaven’s gates opened wide to welcome this true friend of the animals.


-John Fitzgerald


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