I picked up ferreting as a hobby when I retired from football and soccer some years ago. I go fishing from March to September but for the autumn and winter months my sport is ferreting for rabbits.When I got interested first, I used to go out with friends of mine but then I got ferrets of my own. My great great grandfather, “Oul Joy” of Meeninard, Duagh, used to be interested in ferreting too but no one else in the family since.
I bought two ferrets from a friend of mine below in Lisnagry in Limerick. I used to go ferreting with him for five or six years. When he got married I started going to Kildorrery and Coachford in Cork and I still go ferreting there.
When you get to a location, you set up your field and set up the rabbit-runs. You can do ground burrows yourself, that is borrows out in the middle of a field where you have no ditches. What you do is put out your purse nets outside the burrows and put in your ferrets into the burrows. Then the ferrets start chasing the rabbits and you hear a thumping sound inside in the burrow and you know the rabbits are on their way out. The rabbits run into the nets then and are caught. But you have to have a second man with you if the burrows are in a ditch. You use field nets then because the rabbit won’t leave the ditch if there is cover. You let the ferrets into the ditch after the rabbits. It’s only when the growth on the ditch has died down that the rabbit will come out in the open, so you need another man to hunt him out if there are bushes and weeds growing.
Sometimes a rabbit can get “locked up” on a rabbit in the burrow, that is, he sees the rabbit and doesn’t move! In that case I have locators on the ferret which can give me his depth from a foot to eight feet. I can trace where he is in the ground and can then dig down to find him. I can put down a spike through the ground and you can hear the ferret sniffing up through the hole and then you know where he is. Nine times out of ten the ferrets will come back to you.
The ferrets eat mince meat which I get from our local butcher, Dick Behan. They drink water as well. They are very easy to keep and some people keep them as pets around the house! They are kept in cages but when you let them out they will generally stay around the yard.
The ferrets live around ten or twelve years. They can get disease but they can be immunised by medication by the local vets in Listowel, Pierce and Treacy.
Ferrets are native Irish animals and it’s their nature to kill rabbits and the like. Some people cut their teeth so that they can’t kill but I wouldn’t do that. They get on well with dogs. I have a terrier here and he plays away with them, but a cat could be aggressive to them.
As far as I know I am the only one in the parish who has ferrets. The Clancys of Ballybunion and Tommy Lyons in Listowel keep ferrets but it’s rare enough to have them. It is an old Irish custom. They are great for hunting rats and mice also.
My children have given names like Jack and Jill and Millie and Molly to some of the ferrets!