NOTES FROM IRE­LAND: Re­mem­ber­ing a true coun­try­man

Ru­pert tells the touch­ing story of his old friend Stan­ley – a true coun­try­man whose day was made not by the size of the bag, but by pre­cious time spent in wild places

Sporting Shooter - - CONTENTS - WITH RU­PERT BUT­LER

He opened the back door of Scotchrath House to meet us, a con­voy of dogs rush­ing past him to make our ac­quain­tance. He was dressed in cor­duroy trousers and an old woolly sweater which hung loosely from his shoul­ders. This was my first sight of Stan­ley Foot many, many years ago, and I couldn’t help but smile. I knew im­me­di­ately that we would be friends.

Some years later, with yours truly on a place­ment year from forestry col­lege, he invited me to stay while I was do­ing a course nearby. It was around harvest time and pi­geons were on the menu. Need­less to say, my at­ten­dance was al­most non-ex­is­tent as we chose to spend many a day on ev­ery golden stub­ble within reach, at­tempt­ing to en­tice those grey masses within range. I must ad­mit that wife Phyl­lis’s culi­nary ex­ploits, to­gether with son Lionel’s tales from the coun­try­side, made my stay ex­tra spe­cial.

As the years passed we al­ways stayed in touch, prob­a­bly not as much as we would have liked, but such is life. It got to the stage where Stan­ley had to have his hips re­placed, the wear and tear of the coun­try­side to­gether with his ad­vanc­ing years hav­ing taken its toll.

Amaz­ingly, that same year Dad invited him down for a crack at some grouse, not know­ing whether or not his re­cent op­er­a­tions would de­ter such wan­der­ings. We should have known bet­ter. There were very few that loved those pur­ple mon­strosi­ties as much as Dad, but Stan­ley was one of them. Although still walk­ing with the aid of a cane, he jumped from his jeep with the en­thu­si­asm of a much younger man, a glint in his eye be­tray­ing ex­cite­ment for what was to come.

An hour or two later, af­ter wind­ing through some forestry roads, we fi­nally reached our des­ti­na­tion. The oth­ers, of which there were six, de­cided to go in one di­rec­tion while Stan­ley and my­self went the op­po­site way. Stan­ley, ever the gen­tle­man, did not want to hold up their progress. I was de­lighted to be in his com­pany on that day for sev­eral rea­sons, the main one be­ing that I loved his com­pany, and his love of those moun­tains was in­fec­tious. I was also very hun­gover, the rem­nants of a late party the night be­fore still very fresh in my head. The fact that he owned Flint, one of the best grouse dogs that I have ever seen, was also a bonus.

Ini­tially, I thought he wouldn’t make it past the first hill, not that I was much bet­ter given my state, but it’s amaz­ing how one gets a sec­ond wind once the first peak is ne­go­ti­ated. An hour or so into our walk, Flint, his lovely sleek English pointer, froze on a slight in­cline. Stan­ley was about 20 yards be­hind me, still walk­ing with the aid of a pole, his gun strapped over his shoul­der. Without too much move­ment I ush­ered him for­wards, but, be­ing Stan­ley, he told me to go and take a shot. I was hav­ing none of it. This might be his only chance, I thought, and beck­oned him on past me. Just as he passed where I was, 12 fat birds burst from the heather all around. You’ll never be­lieve what hap­pened next, be­cause I’m still amazed by it. He dropped his pole, slipped his gun from his shoul­der, and pro­ceeded to shoot prob­a­bly the best right-and-left I have ever seen, given the cir­cum­stances. To be hon­est, I was just hop­ing he would be in time to re­lease a bar­rel in their gen­eral

di­rec­tion. Turning back to me I knew by his smile that he wouldn’t mind if he never shot an­other grouse, such was his de­light, although he was slightly up­set that I hadn’t fired.

On the home­ward jour­ney I man­aged to con­nect with two sin­gle birds, the sec­ond an old cock that ran for miles be­fore alight­ing. I think he thought he was safe enough, but by then I had my sec­ond wind and I was fit as a fid­dle in those days. Stan­ley didn’t take his gun from his shoul­der again; he didn’t want to, his day was al­ready made.

Fast for­ward some years and I’m living close to the Sol­way, on the Scot­tish side. I have invited Stan­ley up for the week in the hope that we might con­nect with some pink­feet, a wigeon or two, and whatever else de­cides to cross our path. Ris­ing an hour or so be­fore dawn to stick the ket­tle on, I’m rather star­tled to hear the latch rat­tle on the back door. In walks Stan­ley with a large grin on his face. He has been out with my springer, Otto; even in his twi­light years, his en­thu­si­asm for what the morn­ing may bring is in­fec­tious. Thou­sands of pinks pass over that very morn­ing, most sev­eral gun shots high, but much to my de­light he does con­nect with two strag­glers.

Later in the morn­ing we tide-flight a small bay close to where I’m living. A large pack of wigeon alight a hun­dred or so yards out from the rushes in which we hide, be­fore be­ing pushed closer by the in­com­ing tide. We crouch ever lower, wait­ing for the right mo­ment to jump up and am­bush the whistling masses. Be­fore we get the chance, Otto bolts from our tem­po­rary hide, scat­ter­ing these de­light­ful birds back out to sea without a shot be­ing fired. I’m fu­ri­ous with my furry friend, but Stan­ley just smiles in amuse­ment, the sight of the wigeon feed­ing so close more than com­pen­sat­ing for any missed op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Stan­ley has long since gone to the happy hunt­ing grounds up above, but this de­light­ful coun­try gen­tle­man will al­ways be in my thoughts. Game shoot­ing to him wasn’t about how big the bag was, but rather the thrill of be­ing in wild places with even wilder quarry. He loved the coun­try­side with a passion that few oth­ers could ever match. I will al­ways re­mem­ber the warm wel­come that awaited any­time we went to visit, with a kitchen so full of dogs that a seat was some­times hard to come by. He will be missed al­ways by Phyl­lis, Lionel and Robin, and those of us that knew him dearly. I will al­ways be glad that Dad made that de­tour all those years ago, oth­er­wise I might never have met this spe­cial, spe­cial man.

Few loved the pur­ple moun­tains of South­ern Ire­land as much as Ru­pert’s late fa­ther, but Stan­ley was def­i­nitely one of them

An over-ea­ger springer sends the wigeon straight back out to sea

Stan­ley in his el­e­ment

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