Woodcock Shoots in Killannin

Michael O'Connor (Oughterard Newsletter February 2011)


Woodcock Shoots 1940-1950

I’ll never forget the one-day woodcock shoots in Killannin in the late forties and right through the fifties. They were organised by Jeffrey Palmer a prominent businessman and owner of the once famous Palmer’s Flour Mills in Galway city. He was really dedicated to these shoots, so much so that he made them annual events. There were held in winter, usually in November or early December. The gamekeepers were Pat Owen and Peter Johnny and they had the responsibility of keeping the area free of poachers during the off season. They also had to ensure that an ample supply of birds were available at all times.

The role of the “beaters”

The beaters who took centre stage were recruited locally. Most of them, including myself were just teenagers who were doing the job just for the money. They had the most difficult part of the event by far. They had to trudge through the undergrowth against all kinds of obstacles – briers, blackthorn bushes, whitethorn, holly bushes and of course the ground itself. This was usually soggy, covered by water, with many deep holes concealed by rotted grass, known as sedge. As one stood on these areas, down they went which meant that all wellingtons were filled with water. This  often happened very early on in the shoot, which meant that the wearer had to walk in that wet boot all day. Each beater carried a heavy stick, to beat the bushes and as a help for walking on this very uneven ground. Each beater had a rallying call. It was – “Hi Cock Shee e e” repeated many times. “Hi cock to the right, hi cock to the left, hi cock to ahead”, these orders were shouted to the gun men who walked on nice, dry ground as they opened fire at the sight of a bird. There would be around twenty beaters and about ten guns. The idea was for the beaters to make as much noise as possible, to frighten the birds and force them to rise from their comfortable abode. After a volley of shots there was  normally a huge cheer from the beaters – delighted that their work was paying off. As each area was completed we would move to fresh ground and continue until all the   desired areas were covered. By this time it would be nearly dark as the days are short at this time of year.

But in the case of the beaters the falling darkness was our reprieve from further slogging. We certainly had our fill of this terrible treatment. To look at us we were a sad sight. Our trousers were in tatters, our jackets were in tatters, our overcoats were in tatters, and our wellingtons were full of water. Our caps too came in for some terrible pulling and dragging as we strove to keep our heads on. Every part of our bodies ached with bruises, cuts and thousands of pricks of all kinds of thorns. Unbelievable! People often remarked about our condition, after doing one of these shoots. Most agreed it was madness, but at that time money was very scarce, we had no jobs, so the lure of money was there and it was hard to resist, especially ten shilling notes.

Entertainment on the shoot

It wasn’t all so gloomy; there were some very interesting people there too. Many were great tellers of jokes and so full of wit and humour, especially Pat Owen who was never stuck for a funny story. So all of these wonderful people helped to keep our spirits up and even brought a bit of entertainment into our otherwise drab and painful experience.

After completing each shoot, nearly everybody swore that never again would they take part in a shoot. No – never again! But come next year the temptation was there again. The lure of the money was as strong as ever. And you could hear the words, “ah hell despite the suffering involved – that ten shilling note is a bonus”.

Michael O’Connor



This page was added on 04/02/2011.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Michael,

    Some great articles here. You seem to be a man with great knowledge of the local history. I am in fact a descendent of the Ougtherard O’Connors (we may be cousins) – your namesake Michael O’Connor (Farmer from Burnthouse, Kilannin) was my great great grandfather. He married Catherine Darcy in 1895 and had my greatgrandfather Stephen a few years later. Stephen joined the army and moved to India, where he married an Anglo-Indian lady, and they had my grandfather Stephen Michael O’Connor in 1928. When the British Empire was coming to an end, my grandfather moved back to England with his mother and her new husband and kids in 1946. Stephen married Kathleen Angus and had my mother Susan Dawn O’Connor in 1954 (and seven others children).

    So I am trying to find out more about the family origins. Just a long-shot, but if you know any more about this particualr branch of the O’Connors, I would be really happy to hear it.

    Best regards,

    Rowland Corentin

    By Rowland (02/10/2018)

    The following extraordinary shooting took place in three days on the property of James Martin Esq, Ross within ten miles of this town:- Partridge, 77 brace; Rabbits, 176 couple; Woodcock, 52 couple; Hares 5 brace.

    Source: The Galway Vindicator, January 11th 1843 – Britishnewspaperarchives|findmypast.ie

    Jim Fahy                                                                            on 20/10/2014


    By Jim Fahy (20/10/2014)
  • Michael you always tell an interesting story


    By John Emberson (09/05/2014)
  • Michael has given a gruesome account of his days on the “Shoot”. Having done this a couple of times I can understand. The following is a story relative to the same shoot: On one occasion, a local man from Rosscahill went to the townland of Boleyvaunaun which adjoins Ross wood on the day of the shoot. He had in his possession a single barrel shotgun. He set himself on a wall a short distance from the boundary of the wood where one of the shooting party had taken up position. The member of the shooting party was not a good shot and any of the birds that he missed, the local man, being a good shot, took them down. This led to an argument between them. The member of the shooting party was told that he was outside the boundary of the wood and did not have valid argument. When they both cooled down the local man was asked if he would sell his birds which he was only too willing to do! When the birds were being counted that evening, no doubt this man was holding his head high! (As heard from the lips of the man himself – W.M. RIP) To clarify the names of the Head Beaters: “Peter Johnny” was Peter O’Connor, Michael’s uncle. “Pat Owen” was Pat Halloran, son of Owen Halloran, Doon. Peter O’Connor was the person in charge of the beaters and when Mr. Palmer was not satisfied with how they were marking their area he would shout for Peter. The name “O’Connor” would be heard ringing throughout the wood! Simple times! Jim Fahy March 8th 2014

    By Jim Fahy (08/03/2014)

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