Many of those who happen upon this site will be familiar with Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey from his two volume contribution collaboration with Lord Walsingham to the Badminton Library (published in 1889 by Longmans, Green and Co., see earlier references made on this site). Of particular interest in this series to the snipe hunter is the volume subtitled “Moor and Marsh”, which has a very nice treatment of snipe shooting of that time, and still of great interest today. But I digress…
I managed to obtain a copy of “The Fowler in Ireland” by Payne-Gallwey, published in 1882 by John van Voorst in London, and have been slowly working my way through the book. As you might imagine, found myself jumping straight to “Chapter XI, Snipe and Woodcock”. Not at all what I imagined it might be based on previous readings of Payne-Gallwey, this entertaining chapter reads more of a list of sporting logs, noting behavior of local birds, birds bagged, etc. almost in the spirit of J.J. Pringle. Despite the Victorian publishing date, this book tends toward the matter-of-fact versus the romantic that seemed prevalent in sporting literature of the day:
“Many districts are nevertheless still very good for Snipe in Ireland, and the indefatigable walkers, who know the country, now and then add up a large total in the season ; though a sensational number in a day in very unusual. Bags from ten to fifteen couple are not unfrequent, and from twenty to forty and even fifty couple in a day not unheard of in well-protected and suitable land.”
Also included are letters between sportsmen, describing availability, conditions, bags, etc. In particular, I love this inclusion:
“Cork, May 30th, 1881
“Several years since a bet was made by a friend of mine that my brother and I would shoot more Snipe in a day than any two others that could be named, each party to select the country they wished to shoot over, and both to shoot on the same day. A day earlier in the month of November was fixed. My brother and I went to the neighborhood of Dunmanway (the day was very mild and fine, and shot over dogs), and bagged fifty-nine and a half couple (119 birds).
I got thirty-seven and a half, and my brother, who could not walk well, twenty-two couple. The other party did not kill so many, and we won the bet. This was a good bag for two guns, but nothing wonderful, and I have heard of much larger being made.
W. H. Townsend”
Perhaps not a sporting masterwork, the book is nonetheless charming in it’s discussion of the practical matters of snipe shooting in Ireland, from these letters describing a days shooting, daily logbooks describing the bag, descriptions of common, jack, Sabine’s and double snipe, etc. And from a historical perspective, Payne-Gallwey includes a very interesting discussion of the practice of snaring snipe (or woodcock) with a “springe”. As “a picture is worth a thousand words”, I am including this taken from the chapter.
An unusual book for our time, complete with everything from snaring of snipe, to shooting ducks with a punt gun to netting plovers, it offers a wonderful lens into the sporting past.