Irish Wolfhound Times
(Irish Wolfhound Database and Breed Information Exchange)
Edward C. Ash, Irish Wolfhound in
The Practical Dog Book, 1930
This remarkable dog, the Irish Wolfhound,
is a breed produced by the skilful breeding of Great Dane and Deerhound. I doubt
if any other breed has had so much false claim and entirely imaginary history
attached to it. The Irish Wolfhound has no relationship to Ireland, nor has
it even, as far as it is possible to discover, the appearance of the Irish dog.
All evidence suggests that the historical Irish dog was a large, heavily built,
smooth Greyhound, somewhat similar in appearance to the Great Dane.
Certainly, Ireland was noted for
its Greyhounds. Historical references to the breed are not uncommon. In 1335,
Reginald, a huntsman in Edward III.'s employ, was sent to Ireland with a staff
of boys to bring some of the dogs to England. In 1545, four Greyhounds were
sent from Ireland to England by order of the government, and Henry VIII. was
reported in danger of being disappointed, because Irish dogs promised to him
by a Spanish nobleman had not been sent. In 1571, Campion informs us that wolves
were to be found in Ireland, and to hunt them Greyhounds were used (bigger of
bone and limb than a colt), and that the Greyhounds and the men were of great
stature. In 1658 we have further reference to dogs in Ireland used to hunt the
wolves, but this time the word 'Greyhound' is not used, but it is stated that
they were 'commonly named Wolfdogs.' In 1732 we learn that such dogs were numerous
in Ireland, and that they were of the make of a Greyhound.
Thirty years later the breed is reported
by Harris to be rare, and he suggests that so often had they be sent as presents
to monarchs that few had been left in the country (!) In 1774, Goldsmith, after
giving the story that his mother had been saved by an 'Irish Wolfhound' by the
name of Bran from a ravenous wolf (she happened to meet in the road), adds that
he had seen about a dozen of these dogs. He gives the following information:
They were large dogs, as tall as
yearling calves, and were built very much like the 'Great Dane'. They were whit
in colour, and their skins were thinner than the skins of dogs generally!
By 1790 very few of the Irish Wolfdog
breed were to be found in Ireland, for on good authority it was reported that
only eight such dogs existed, and that these eight were in one kennel - that
of Lord Altamount. An illustration of one of Lord Altamount's dogs, made in
1794, shows a very large smooth-haired white dog, which might be considered
a cross between a Slowhound and a Greyhound. Bewick, that same year, mentions
the breed to be rare, and adds that the French naturalist, Buffon, considered
the 'Great Dane' to be a variety of 'Irish Greyhound'. In 1792 Gmelin mentions
the Irish Greyhound in his work as 'canis cursorius hibernicus', nearly as large
as a Mastiff, having an arched body, and a narrow, projecting snout.
We now get to 1803, when Taplin writes
of their extreme rarity, and that he is doubtful if, even in the remotest parts
of Ireland, any of the pure breed would be found. He writes that the name 'Irish
Greyhound' had, because of disuse, been 'buried in oblivion', and that the dogs
of the breed that might yet remain were known as 'Danes', and that 'Danes' Irish
Wolfhounds were very similar to each other, and were, doubtlessly, of the same
Perhaps the next reference of any
importance is from Thomas Bell's 'Natural History', in which we read that the
breed of Irish Wolfhound or Irish Greyhound was no longer to be found pure in
Ireland. I have given this evidence somewhat in detail, because it constantly
refers to 'Great Danes', or to the 'Greyhound', and on one or more occasion
to the smooth skin. Never once do we find a reference to a rough coat, and I
think, even without the additional evidence with which I deal later, everything
points to a smooth-skinned 'Great Dane' being the type of Irish Wolfhound in
the earlier times.
In a 'Natural History' of 1815 we
find the Irish Wolfhound entered in a class of dogs with short, pendant ears,
long legs, and bodies 'which comprehend'. It is described as an 'Irish Greyhound,
a variety once very frequent in Ireland, and used in pursuing the wolf'.
It was not until the year 1841 that
the story of the Irish Wolfhound started anew. Indeed, we might say that in
that year commenced the history of the present breed. For it was that year that
in the 'Irish Penny Magazine' appeared an article by a Mr. H.G. Richardson on
the Irish Wolfhound. On the top of the page is an illustration of two large
dogs, one reclining, both covered with untidy open coats and soft curly hair.
In the article, Richardson suggests that the breed then existed. But he informs
us that he is unable to distinguish any difference between the Irish dog and
the Scottish dog, nor between the Irish and the Welsh dog, except that Irish
dogs were thicker, and not so high on the leg! He informs us that the old breed
of Irish dogs had been most assiduously kept in existence by 'constantly crossing
the old pure breed' with the 'Scottish and Welsh dogs', thus reminding us of
the story of the never wearing-out bat, that had had two or more new handles
at various times and one or two new blades! He informs us also that another
pure strain was kept by a Mr. Rowan, 'the breeder of Great Danes'. It is evident
that he was anxious to recover the old breed. He has found history, imaginary
story; he had the weak, unsupportable, unsubstantial claims; only one thing
was wanted - the dog! But to find the pure old breed was by no means easy, for
it no longer existed.
He falls back on the Scottish Deerhound.
He writes that when Scotland was peopled from Ireland, 'he feels sure' that
the Irish would take their Irish Wolfhounds with them! Ancient folklore was
sought and revived, and the animal hero, whatever it might be, was stated to
have been an Irish Wolfhound.
In 1862 Captain Graham returned from
India and entered the field. He had kept rough Greyhounds in India, and he set
to rebuild the Irish Wolfhound, and in order to do so kept the Scottish Deerhound.
He was an indefatigable worker. I think at first he felt that the breed existed,
and that some of the cross-bred dogs of Ireland would yet show sufficient trace
of the ancient breed to act as a basis on which the old breed might be built
afresh. He sent a sketch of the ideal dog to a friend.
Through his instrumentality, in 1879
a class for the breed was arranged at Dublin for 'The Nearest Approach to the
Old Irish Original Wolfhound', a class which he, Captain Graham, had agreed
to judge. The results were disappointing. None of the old breed were there.
The dogs exhibited differed widely and did not show the type that Captain Graham
had expected. He gave the first prize to what he stated was a Deerhound of unusual
size, named Brian, which, he reported, 'wanted nothing more than bone and substance
to be our ideal of an Irish Wolfhound'. In this way, it was decided what was
actually required: A Deerhound with more bone and substance!
In 1885 the club was formed. The
hard working, enthusiastic Captain Graham was its first president; indeed, he
was responsible for its inauguration. The claims of 'the ancient breed' were
laughed at. The illustrations of the true breed did not give a favourable impression.
'The Field' criticised the claims and illustrations, and Captain Graham replied
in a letter, which is, to my mind, a very important one. He wrote that the members
of the Irish Wolfhound Club *hoped* to produce a dog that 'shall have the stature
and power of the Great Dane, combined with the looks and beauty of the Deerhound.'
Could anything be plainer? To make such a type was the object of the breeders
- and Captain Graham lived long enough to see it fully accomplished.
When, about 1889, Mr. Vero asked
him to write the article on the breed for Cassell's first Book of the Dog, it
was an opportunity to give the evidence he had as to the type of the breed,
even if he could not claim any direct lineage with the famed Irish dog. In this
article Captain Graham gives his evidence as to type. He stated that the breed
'as they were producing it' was actually the type of the ancient Irish breed.
He gives as a substantiation of this statement the following: In a work, 'Antiquities
of Ireland', of 1630, the frontpiece showed Diana with two dogs 'bearing a very
strong resemblance' to the Irish Wolfhound of to-day.
I discovered the work Captain Graham
alluded to, and opened the cover of the book with no little feeling of suppressed
excitement. Diana is strolling along, and by her side are, indeed, two dogs
held on leads. But Captain Graham had been misinformed. The dogs are two smooth-skinned
and normal-sized Greyhounds, just such Greyhounds that may be seen at Sefton,
Altcar, or at one or other of the racing tracks.
A short time afterwards a book was
discovered in the library of the British Museum that contained illustrations
of dogs. In it I found an illustration of a smooth-skinned, heavily-built Greyhound,
with the muzzle somewhat like a Great Dane. Across the top were the words 'An
Irish Greyhound'. The book was printed in 1665! - that is to say, at the very
time when the Irish Greyhound or Wolfdog (as it was named) was the important
dog of Ireland.
But two matters need explanation.
In 1617 or 1618 an uninvited guest arrived at the Earl of Mar's hunting party,
by name 'The King's Majestie's Water Pot', as he described himself. He informs
us that he saw there a hundred couple of 'strong Irish Greyhounds', which were
let free upon the deer as they were driven out of the wood. The journalistic
tact that allows the happy description, published lists of wedding presents
to read 'silver' instead of 'silver-plated', may account for it. He could do
no better than describe his host's hundred couple of dogs as 'Irish Greyhounds'.
The second matter that necessitates
explanation is the illustration in Taplin's work of 1803. Reinagle's illustration
shows a dog which is of the present-day type of Irish Wolfhound. It is marked
'Irish Greyhound'! Yet Taplin, in the text, stated that he doubted if any of
the old breed, as a pure breed, existed! Reinagle, therefore, had not seen an
It is possible that Reinagle drew
the Scottish Deerhound, but Taplin, being none too scrupulous on such matters,
having written nothing on Scottish dogs, but a little on Irish dogs, thought
it expedient to change the title on the illustration.
But in the story of the Irish Wolfhound,
the name of Hogan must always be connected. First of all, the Reverend gentleman
made a prodigious research, and, secondly, apparently claimed, whenever he found
the word dog, that it was the Irish Wolfhound. It was he that gave the oft repeated
statement that Irish Wolfhounds were mentioned in very early Irish times, in
that literature (the authenticity of which is doubted) which deals with Irish
heroes. We read, for example, on Fraich receiving a present from his aunt of
seven dogs, adorned with chains of silver, and a golden apple hung between them;
of 300 hounds, so cunning that they were able to hunt a mythical wild boar.
The Reverend Hogan claimed these dogs as Irish Wolfhounds! But his claims did
not end there. He gave a list of kennel owners of Irish Wolfhounds. It starts
with the name Aurelius Symnachus, and Mr. Richardson is, I believe, in the list,
and certainly Captain Graham! Aurelius Symnachus, as a dog breeder and the owner
of Irish Wolfhounds, in that list is one of the most astonishing things of such
a nature that I have ever seen!
In 391 a.d. Symnachus, Roman Consul,
is reported to have sent dogs to fight in the Amphitheatre in Rome! The Rev.
Hogan had probably read Harris' work of 1764. Harris stated that although it
was generally supposed that the dogs sent to Rome were Mastiffs (the dogs awed
the people, who thought they must have come in cages), so they must have been
Irish Wolfhounds, for such dogs 'must', he writes, 'have been finer dogs than
But to return to the history of the
breed. We find Captain Graham bringing out a dog named Brian, and he must have
thought of that first show at Dublin, when he so anxiously had hoped to find
the missing type. Brian was not a very large dog, for he stood only 30 inches
at the shoulder. But his more noted Irish Wolfhound was Sheelah. She became
a champion, but illustrations show her to have the appearance of a poor and
badly bred Deerhound. But Captain Graham was more fortunate later, for he brought
out Dermot Astore, and sold him in 1896. Dermot Astore was a very important
dog in pedigrees.
These early exhibits were of an indifferent
stamp, and it was not before O'Leary made his appearance (a dog bred by Mr.
Crisp, of Playford Hall in Suffolk, the well-known breeder of Suffolk Punch
horses) that a really good dog was seen. O'Leary was not only a good dog, but
he was the sire of Killcullen. O'Leary and Killcullen may be said to have been
the start of the famous breed.
The breed was yet uneven. There were
many strange looking dogs, varying in type from the Greyhound to the Mastiff,
exhibited in Irish Wolfhound classes, but it was evident that the breed was
improving, and the number of misfits becoming less. It was about that time that
an Irish fancier, who had heard so much of the famous breed, arrived in London.
Passing through Covent Garden, he saw a puppy which was for sale. The dealer
said he would take a sixpence for it. The Irishman, thinking that 6d. for a
dog, whatever it might be, was cheap, bought it. The puppy grew up to be an
Irish Wolfhound of a very good type. Later, the Irish owner refused £
30 for the dog, and won many prizes with it.
In 1897 a Mr. F.M. Birtill sent to
the Gloucester show a young dog named Wargrave, and put the selling price in
the catalogue to be £ 25. The dog was recognised as one of the best Irish
Wolfhounds yet seen, and was hurriedly claimed by many breeders. The dog was
sold by public auction and made £47 5s. Wargrave was later the sire of
Artara, one of the very best Irish Wolfhound bitches that has ever been seen.
She was practically unbeatable. Wargrave was also the sire of Wolf Tone, one
of the most important sires in the making of the breed.
In 1902 Captain Graham (who was still
the president of the Club), and two other judges, were allotted the task of
choosing an Irish Wolfhound to be presented to the Irish Guards in the name
of the Irish Wolfhound Club. It is ironical, perhaps, that whilst Irish Setters
and Irish Terriers are so distinctly Irish, the Irish Wolfhound which, as we
have seen, has nothing much of Ireland about it except its name, should be the
mascot of the Irish guards! Yet it well deserves the honour, for, as I have
already stated, a more remarkable dog would be difficult to imagine.
Captain Graham was president of the
Irish Wolfhound Club until 1908.
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