Hunting was an elite social pastime accessible to both men and women, of the correct social class, throughout the period 1860-1914. Female involvement in this sport preceded their widespread involvement in other sports and pastimes such as tennis and cycling. This article explores the contradictions inherent in women’s involvement in this masculine sport. The sport demanded that participants display contemporary masculine characteristics of bravery, strength, and independence, and yet it was open to both married and unmarried women of the gentry and ascendancy class in Ireland. The sport was a dangerous one, and considerable skill was demanded of all participants. However, daughters of hunting families were not persuaded against joining the hunt, and were instead encouraged to display the necessary skill and competitiveness to ride a horse side-saddle cross-country at speed; jumping stone walls and banks along the way. It was the norm for women to wear adapted dress modelled on masculine hunting attire, however this dress did not diminish their perceived femininity, and was perceived by some in hunting circles as the most alluring form of female dress. The article explores the numbers of women involved in the sport during the period utilising both contemporary fiction and directories. It also provides a case study of one woman’s experience as she partook of the hunt while also battling long term ill health; challenging the contemporary notion of women as inherently weak and unable for rigorous physical activity.
Keywords: Sport, The hunt, Nineteenth century, Irish ascendancy, Gentry Dress, Women, Gender, Health
How to Cite:
O'Riordan, M., (2021) “‘We … galloped hard and straight over some big stone gaps’: Freedom of the Hunt for Elite Women in Ireland, 1860-1914”, Studies in Arts and Humanities 7(1), p.18-34. doi: https://doi.org/10.18193/sah.v7i1.200