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How The Pharoah of Galway got his name.

Capt. Kneesup

Capt. Kneesup


Before he went on his annual holiday, The Tissue had promised to tell you how the Pharoah of Galway came to be known as such. Perhaps he delayed relaying the tale because it isn’t so much an amusing tale of Irish shenanigans, but rather the story of how a good idea often needs more than enthusiasm. To place it into context however, I need to give you some history. If you doubt any of it, I urge you to check it out by clicking the appropriate links, as I do not exaggerate when I tell you, that the truth is often stranger than fiction.

The O’Tool family, as many of the shooting fraternity will know, has historically produced some of the most notorious poachers in Galway. Padraig O’Tool, for example, was thought to be responsible for the fire that destroyed Glinsk Castle in 1829, having fallen asleep with a lit pipe in the stables of the Burke‘s family home. The drink that bought about his near-coma, had been purchased with the money he received from the sale of an eight pointer and a couple of hares bought down by his longdog, Nile.

On another occasion, Liam O’Tool, who was head-gardener at Eyrecourt Castle was rumoured to have netted ten brace of pheasant from a neighbouring estate, six partridge from his own and a woodcock with a catapult, all before midnight! He was considered a good gardener, and the estate abounded with vegetables and had a set of glasshouses that produced a huge variety of fresh and rare fruits. This work he did during the day, and by night, he treated the castle’s grounds as his personal larder for his wife, her twin sister, their mother and sixteen children some of whom were rumoured to be by the same sire, but different dams. The Eyre’s and Eyrecourt fell upon hard times and the O’Tools found themselves once more adrift, relying solely on their wits and skills with net, snare and trap. (Incidentally, the staircase from Eyrecourt was purchased by William Randolph Hearst, but never installed in any house, but lies to this day in some Detroit museum’s repository). Liam’s best dog was called Cleopatra – and you might now sense a theme within the naming of their dogs.

The family history of the O’Tools contained the extraordinary and often sneered-at suggestion, that the family had emanated from Egyptian royal pharaonic bloodlines. According to tradition and legend, a branch of the Pharoah’s line was expelled from Egypt during an uprising, and sailing west settled initially in Spain before travelling to Ireland and then on to the west coast of Scotland. Nobody took this nonsense seriously, assuming it to be the Irish simply dancing the jig of life.

Surprisingly, however, research in the late 1950s, suggested that the originator of the ancient text was The History of Egypt, written in 300BC by an Egypto-Greek historian called Manetho. Using Manetho’s text, it was established that the fleeing pharaonic couple were Ankhesenamun, daughter of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, and wife of Tutankhamen and that the husband was a pharaoh himself – Aye or sometimes Ay. Little is known of Aye, some suggesting he was the father of Tutankhamen and married Ankhesenamun after his son’s death.

Aye ruled only briefly before religious struggle brought him into conflict with the Egyptian people and he and his court were forced into exile, taking enough ships to bring 1,000 of their followers and plentiful supplies out of Egypt and across the Mediterranean. It is thought that Aye landed first in Spain, where they lived for several generations (their son Hiber giving his name there to Iberia). From there, and after a couple of hundred years, they made their way to Ireland.

And so to modern times. Our Irish correspondent, Peter O’Tool’s father Seamus, had been sent to Malta on business, and where Peter thus spent his early youth. Unsurprisingly, almost from his first steps, Peter could be found in Malta’s highlands hunting rabbits, sometimes lamping at night, sometimes simply taking them with his whippet, Tut. One day, another boy turned up with a strange-looking dog and proudly declared him to be “The best Pharoah Hound in Malta!”

Kelb tal-Fenek The Pharoah Hound

In that bold statement lay Peter’s future. Struck by the extraordinary looks of the dog, and their hunting capacity, Peter decided there and then that he would invest every penny of whatever money he could make from his chosen profession of tipping horses to breeding the perfect Pharoah Hound.

The rest, as they say, is history. To date, The Pharoah Hound still remains largely unknown outside of Malta, and Rabbits in Ireland and England remain, in the main, safely asleep.

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