The Disappearance of the Fox From Co. Antrim

Published in the journal ‘The Irish Naturalist’ in 1900, by Robert Patterson, F.Z.S.

By the kindness of the Earl of Antrim I have been permitted to examine an old “” Court Leet “” Book for the Manor of Glenarm, and I have been much struck by the evidence therein of the great numbers of Foxes that formerly existed in Co. Antrim. Thinking that the information might be of interest to readers of the Irish Naturalist, I have been at some pains to decipher the faded-and often nearly illegible-writing, and now give a summary of the results.

The “Manor of Glenarm” extended from the town of Larne to Glendun River – practically what is known now as the Baronies of Upper and Lower Glenarm – a narrow strip on the extreme east of Co. Antrim, about 22 miles long by about 6 miles average breadth. The Courts were held twice a year, in spring and autumn, and the records in this volume begin in 1765 and end in 1812. Passing over entries of purely antiquarian and ornithological interest, we come upon innumerable records such as the following :- 17th day of November, 1765.

“We psent the Sum of one pound four shills to be Levyed off the inhabitants of the parish of Ardilenish and paid to Daniel McVicar for killing twelve foxes of prey.

“We psent the Sum of one pound twelve shills to be Levyed off the inhabitants of parish of Laid and paid to Daniel Mc Vicar for killing sixteen foxes of prey.

“We psent the Sum of two Shillings to be Levyed off the inhabitants of the parish of Carncastle and paid to Thomas Palmer for killing one old fox.”

Thus two shillings a head was the reward, whether the animal was a fox of prey ,”or merely an “old fox””.

The following is the number of Foxes “”presented”” and paid for in the different years ;-
1765 – 42 Foxes.
1766 – 51 Foxes.
1767 – 46 Foxes.
1768 – 57 Foxes.
1769 – 52 Foxes.
1770 -70 Foxes.
1771 – 51 Foxes.
1772 – 29 Foxes.
1773 – 67 Foxes.
1774, ..53 Foxes.
1775, ..46 Foxes.
1776, ..4 Foxes.
1777) ..54 Foxes.
1778, ..22 Foxes.
1779, ..76 Foxes.
1780 – 32 Foxes.
1781 – 26 Foxes.

“”1st day of May, 1782. We the Grand Jury of the Barony of Glenarmare determined for the future not to allow any money for killing foxes, as they are paid for at the Assizes, the Bailiffs are ordered to let this our Resolution be known to the Country.””
“”14th day of May, 1783. As wee understant that the Grand Jurey at last Assises would not pay for anny Foxes, now the Jurey of Glenarm means to Continue the Premium as formerly and that the Bailifs should inform the Country of the same.””
1783, ..15 Foxes.
1784, ..30 Foxes.
1785, ..43 Foxes.
1786, ..34 Foxes.
1787, ..34 Foxes.
1788, ..7 Foxes.

The sudden drop in numbers here seems to have been caused by a misunderstanding as to the responsibility for payment, for on 2nd May, 1792, we find the following ;-
“”Whereas several people have lately been disappointed at the Assizes in not getting any thing for Killing Foxes- Resolved by the Grand Jury now present, That all persons Killing Foxes in this Barony in future, on Presenting them at the Courts Leet as usual, will be paid an English Half Crown for each.””
This seems to have had the desired effect, for at the next Court, only six months later, we find 57 Foxes were paid for!
1793, ..52 Foxes.
1794, ..70 Foxes.
After paying £8 15 shillings for Foxes in one year, the Grand Jury must have thought the amount too large, for at the same Court, held on 12th November, 1794, we read: “”We agree only to Pay the sum of two shillings and two pence for Each fox and to be levied e Parrishes they are killed in.””

The people resented this reduction by only producing 7 Foxes in 1795
1796 – 36 Foxes
1797 – 25 Foxes
1798 – 21 Foxes
1799 – 8 Foxes
1800 – 30 Foxes
1801 – 31 Foxes
1802 – 20 Foxes
1803 – 33 Foxes
1805 – 14 Foxes
1806 – 30 Foxes
1807 – 13 Foxes
1808 – 5 Foxes
1810 – 20 Foxes
1811 – 26 Foxes
1812 – 13 Foxes

Thus in 47 years we get the enormous total of 1,462 Foxes produced at the Court Leets for this small portion of Co. Antrim only, for which the ‘Manor of Glenarm’ paid the sum of £159 4 shillings and 6 pence.
Coming to more recent years, Thompson in his ‘Natural History of Ireland’ vol. 4, page 12 says: “”The fox is still found in suitable localities throughout the island, whenever it can remain in spite of man.”” But he does not mention any occurrences in Co. Antrim, although he records the killing of 400 Foxes in Co. Down between 1827 and 1851.
The B.N.F.C. “”Guide to Belfast”” published in 1874, says Foxes “”seem to be rapidly decreasing before the gamekeeper’s gun and the shepherd’s trap.””

Lord Antrim informs me that the only Fox he ever heard of in the two Baronies was killed in his deer park about the year 1870. It was running with a rabbit trap on one of its legs, and a wood-cutter killed it with a stick. The skin was preserved. Lord Antrim is convinced there is not now a single Fox in the two Baronies, nor has there been any since the 1870 capture. Even this one is supposed to have been ‘turned out’ by the late Mr. Chaine, for hunting purposes. Mr. Sheals, the well-known Belfast taxidermist, informs me he cannot remember having received any Foxes from Co. Antrim.

Finally, in the whole of Ulster there is not one pack of Fox-hounds, although there are two packs of Harriers, to satisfy the hunting proclivities of the Northern gentry, who would doubtless hunt Foxes if there were any Foxes to hunt.

Robert Patterson, Malone Park, Belfast. 1900.