Irish Wolfhound Times
(Irish Wolfhound Database and Breed Information Exchange)

About IWTLibraryBreed OriginsReserved For FutureAfghan Hound TimesReserved For FutureReserved For FutureEphemera

Origin Of The Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound
(G W Hickman 1887)

(IWT Editor note - The article below is an extract from Hugh Dalziel's "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition" First and Second Editions - 1887, 1896)


"Having gone most fully into the question of the Irish Wolfhound, and with no preconceived views on the subject, I cannot avoid stating the conclusions I was forced to adopt. There is not a particle of direct evidence to identify the Irish Wolfhound with the Deerhound, and such evidence as we have goes in the opposite direction. Until some time in the "Thirties" of the present century, all the naturalists who described or depicted the Irish Wolfhound concurred in representing it as an animal of a certain kind, both in their descriptions and their pictures. But about the time mentioned, a Mr. Haffield, who appears to have been prompted by that desire for starting new theories and demolishing old-standing beliefs which actuates men of science, read a paper before one of the Dublin philosophical societies, in which he departed from all existing ideas, and enunciated views which suggested - as it seems - to Richardson his enlarged Deerhound theory. Richardson, who admits that he had previously entertained the orthodox views, in accordance with the existing evidence, appears to have had an accommodating mind, and to have considered that evidence equally applicable to "the new departure", which he hastened to advocate. The theory of Richardson and his followers is merely one of conjecture and inference. The practice of these writers has been to start with a theory, and to adapt their evidence to it, instead of deducing their theory from the existing evidence. They pick out such passages as suit their views, with more or less of misquotation, draw their own inferences from them, and totally ignore all the authorities that are opposed to them.

No doubt what first suggested the identification of the Irish Wolfdog with the Deerhound was Macpherson's "Ossian", and the accounts in the Fingalian legends of the marvellous doings of the hero's "white-breasted" "hairy-footed" Bran, and others. As Ireland claimed some common property in this legend, Irish amour propre seized the idea of associating with their already extinct and almost mythological Wolfdog - as harmonising with his traditional gigantic size - all the glamour and poetical colouring belonging to the dogs of "Ossian". But as it is a matter of doubt with some "if" - as Gibbon says -"we can with safety indulge the pleasing supposition that Fingal lived and Ossian sung", there is no value in such an argument; and even granting that there is foundation for those legends, it is absurd to draw any conclusions as to the gigantic character of the dogs from the poetical exaggerations of mere legends; whilst their rough coats would only be an instance of the "local colouring" supplied by the bards from the dogs they were accustomed to, as no one disputes that the Deerhound, or rough Greyhound, was a common dog enough in olden times. The Ossianic argument may therefore be put aside.

Another thing which seems to have suggested the identification of the Irish Greyhound with the Deerhound, is the passage in the works of Taylor, the "Water Poet", who, in describing a hunting battue given by the Earl of Mar in the Highlands, in 1618, says that the valley was waylaid by a hundred couple of strong Irish Greyhounds. These were, no doubt, Deerhounds, and the passage would, at first sight, seem to prove that the Deerhound was identical with the Irish Greyhound, or Wolfdog. But McNeil himself admitted that the term "Irish" was probably applied to the Highland dogs, as everything Celtic was then so designated in England, in consequence of Ireland being better known than Scotland - that is to say, the terms "Celtic" and "Highland" were then unknown, and, as the common origin of the two peoples was well known, our ancestors, instead of applying the epithet "Highland" or "Celtic" to any animal or thing in what are now called the Highlands, used the term "Irish". This is so well known that it is hardly necessary to dwell upon it; but I may as well mention two authorities who conclusively prove the assertion. In Holinshed's "Chronicles" we find this passage: "For in the north part of the region where the wild Scots, otherwise called the Red Shankes, or rough Scots, do inhabit, they speak good Irish, which they call Gaichlet." Again, the Introduction to Pitscottie's "History of Scotland" describes the "wyld Scottis" as follows: "They be cloathed with ane mantle with ane schirt fachioned after the Irisch manner, going barelegged to the knee. All speak Irisch." The term, therefore, as used by Taylor, simply meant that what he saw were Highland Greyhounds, and does not necessarily imply that the animals were the same as the Greyhound that was found in Ireland, and known as the Wolfdog. Indeed, every supposition is against the possibility of this view.

If anything is certain, it is that, even in Ireland, as long as we have any record, the Wolfdog was very rare, was a gift for princes, and only to be obtained by great influence. Is it, then, credible that the Earl of Mar alone could bring into the field a couple of hundred? Is it credible or likely, if they were thus common in Scotland in 1618, that they should have become so scarce in Ireland in 1652 that a declaration had to be issued, by the Privy Council of Cromwell's Government, against the export of "such great dogges as are commonly called Wolfdogges"?

Again, we find that, in 1623, the Duke of Buckingham (not Buccleugh, as Richardson states) wrote to Lord Falkland, in Ireland, asking that nobleman to procure him some Irish Greyhounds as a great favour, and that they were to be white. It is utterly impossible to imagine that Buckingham, the favourite of James I, who refused him nothing, would have gone to all the trouble of sending to Ireland and asking, as a favour, what his Royal master could have procured him any number of by a word to one of his Scotch nobles, seeing that one of these alone could muster so many - that is, if the Irish Greyhound and Deerhound were identical. It is also very unlikely that James, who was passionately fond of the chase, and on that account must have been well acquainted with the Deerhound, should not have introduced such a much-prized breed to England, if it was the same as the Irish Wolfdog. But we never read of any being procured, except from Ireland. Apart from mere inference, we have proof that the Irish dog was imported at this period to Scotland. Jesse, in his "History of the Dog", tells us that, in 1501, an Irishman, Brian O'Rourke, from Connaught, arrived at Glasgow with six fair Irish Hobbies, and four great dogs, to be presented to the king. After what we have seen in Taylor, that only thirty years later these Deerhounds could be mustered in hundreds, it would have been carryng coals to Newcastle to take them to Scotland, especially as a rare present.

The one thing that has done more than anything else to confuse the question, and which has misled the adopters of the Deerhound theory, is the remarkable mis-translation, in the English version of Buffon, in the passage relating to the Irish dog, a mistake which has been repeated parrot-like by all those who have gone into the subject superficially, and accepted whatever was put before them. The mistake alluded to is the translation of the word "Mâtin" by the term "Irish Greyhound."

The reason for this error may, perhaps, have been that the translator, not recognising in the Mâtin any breed of dog he knew, conjectured that it might be the then rare, if not extinct, Irish Greyhound, of which he knew nothing; but most probably he saw some fancied resemblance, arising from the similarity in the patched colour to the dogs depicted by Schreber and Ridinger. Anyhow, the absurdity of the rendering can be demonstrated beyond question. Buffon says of the "Chiens d'Irlande" (he never calls them Greyhounds), that "they are much larger than our largest Mâtins." Now, if the translator was right in rendering Mâtin as "Irish Greyhound", it follows that Buffon committed the absurdity of stating that the Irish dog was much taller than itself. The translator, however, avoided this by rendering the word in this one place by the term "Mastiff", but in every other as "Irish Greyhound". To suit this rendering, the picture of the Mâtin given by Buffon was appropriated to and became the Irish Greyhound in all the English editions, and, from the animal seeming to have a broken coat, the argument for the roughness of the Irish Greyhound has been chiefly drawn. So far was the mistake carried, that in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" for 1797 the portraits of Buffon's Great Dane and the Mâtin were reproduced, the latter, under the title of the Irish Greyhound, showing a dog vastly larger than the Great Dane, though in Buffon it was rather the smaller. This portrait Captain Graham adduces as that of an Irish Wolfhound of gigantic size! But the Mâtin is well known to have been a French dog, and is so described by very many writers, Buffon himself describing it as "originaire ou plutôt naturel de France," and making it his constant standard of comparison in height, and from which we gather that the Mâtin, as known to him, did not exceed 25 in. He also, perhaps out of a national feeling, placed the Mâtin as the original of all breeds of dogs, in the rather fanciful pedigree or table he deduced. But in the English versions of the table the same substitution of the "Irish Greyhound" for the Mâtin takes place, and the former figures therein as the ancestor of the canine race. Buffon really puts the Great Dane as one remove from the Mâtin, and the Chien d'Irlande as a step further from the Dane; and his text corroborates this, for he observers: "The Mâtin, transported to the North, has become the Great Dane; the Great Dane, transported to Ireland, has become the Chien d'Irlande." Captain Graham, in his essay on the Irish Wolfhound, quotes five passages from the "Sportsman's Cabinet" relating to the Irish Greyhound. These passages are really taken from Buffon; three of them are instances of the mistranslation already mentioned, and do not relate to the Irish Greyhound at all, but to the Mâtin. Consequently, the argument which Captain Graham deduces, that the mongrel Greyhound - arising, as Buffon said, from the Greyhound and Irish Greyhound - was probably the Scotch Deerhound, is utterly unfounded, as Buffon said nothing of the sort.

Now, how can we wonder at the mis-statements that have been made, and theories formed, on this subject, when we see writer after writer for nearly a century perpetuating this error regarding the identity of the French Mâtin and Irish Wolfhound? Of course, I do not suppose that our eminent naturalists have done so, as they would go to the originals, and not accept their authorities secondhand. It is, at all events, certain and curious that none of our great writers on natural history have accepted the theory of Richardson.

Before leaving Buffon, there is another consideration which I think entitled to great weight. Buffon says that his son had brought from St. Petersburg a dog and bitch (from his minute description and the portraits clearly Russian Wolfhounds just as we know them) "of a different race from all those which I have previously described." Now, if there is a race which resembles the Deerhound, it is the RussianWolfhound; both are the great rough Greyhound of the North, and the Russian dog has been selected as the nearest in type to cross with the Deerhound, and is, in my opinion, the only one possible without entailing loss of quality and character. Although white greatly preponderates in the colour of the Russian dog, as it is liked so in order to render the animal less visible on the snow, yet it is well known that many of these dogs have their bodies all iron grey, like a Deerhound. Had the Chien d'Irlande, therefore, been the same as the Deerhound, Buffon must have been struck at once with the resemblance to the Russian dog; but, as we have seen, he says that the latter was of a quite different race to any he had described. And when we further consider that Buffon described the Irish Wolfdog as resembling the Great Dane, but could see no resemblance to the Russian Wolfhound, it is clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Irish Wolfdog as known to Buffon was a totally different animal to one of Deerhound type.

I have said that all the direct evidence is against the Richardsonian theory. This is so. By direct evidence, I mean that of those persons who saw or described the Irish dog before it had become extinct, or a matter of conjecture, and of historic interest only. After the beginning of this century, all accounts agree in the utter extinction of the breed, and certain people, whose attention had been directed to the subject by the popular works of Goldsmith and Buffon, had begun to cast round and see if they could not revive it - much in the same manner as efforts are being made at the present day - and, not finding anything that would answer the descriptions given of it by all the authorities, they eagerly seized on the Deerhound theory. Consequently, the dogs that were so bred fifty years ago have no more right to be called Irish Wolfdogs than those that are manufactured in modern days will acquire the right to the title fifty years hence.

Now, the only persons who describe the Irish Greyhound, or Wolfdog, from having (as they say) personally seen specimens, are Ray, Buffon, Goldsmith, and Pennant. Ray (1697) simply says that it was the largest dog he had seen, in general character resembling the common Greyhound. Buffon (1730), as we know, never saw but one, "all white, and very gentle and peaceful in disposition, resembling in form the Great Dane." Goldsmith (1770) says: "It was made extremely like a Greyhound, but rather more robust, and inclining to the figure of the French Mâtin or the Great Dane. His eye was mild, his colour white, and his nature heavy and phlegmatic. He seemed more timid than the ordinary race of dogs, and his skin much thinner, and, consequently, less fitted for combat." Pennant (1776) had seen two or three in the whole of Ireland: "They were of the kind called by M. de Buffon the Great Dane, and probably imported by the Danes." As Buffon gives no verbal description of the Great Dane, Pennant must have formed his opinion from Buffon's portrait of it, which is of a smooth dog. It must also be distinctly borne in mind that, when old writers mention the Great Dane, they do not mean a dog like the German Mastiff, which the admirers of the breed choose to term Great Dane; reference to their writings, and to their plates, will show that their Great Dane was a much lighter-framed dog, with far more slender muzzle, and smaller ears - in fact, quite a different animal.

I may just call attention to the fact, that neither Goldsmith nor Pennant fell into the error of confounding the Irish dog with the Mâtin; the former mentions the Mâtin as a different animal, and the latter would have referred to Buffon's plate of the Mâtin instead of to the Great Dane, had the Mâtin been identical with the Irish dog. Of naturalists who have given portraits of the Irish Greyhound, in times when it is pretty certain there must have been some relics of the breed, and before any doubt could be entertained of its identity, are the great German naturalists, Ridinger and Schreber. The former, whose work was published about 1720, and whose experience would date back into the previous century, was one of the greatest depictors of animals - especially dogs - that ever lived. If anyone doubts this, I refer him to "Engravings of Animals," by Thomas Landseer, chiefly after his brother Edwin, where the letterpress states that "Ridinger was an artist of great power, who studied wild animals in their sequestered haunts, and, generally speaking, left little or no room for others to improve;" and also to Bryan's "Dictionary of Painters", wherein Ridinger is credited with having "given to each animal its peculiar character and attitude with surprising expression and exactness." Schreber was also a naturalist of renown, whose work was published about 1785. His picture of the Irish Greyhound is executed in colours, whilst Ridinger's is an engraving; but though there are small points of difference, each evidently represented the same dog - a most peculiar-looking animal, and certainly like nothing we ever see now. The arched loin, extremely long legs, and sharp muzzle, at once suggest a comparison with the Greyhound; whilst the thick skull, coarse limbs, thick neck, and heavy shoulders, give an ungainly look, and take away the Greyhound character. In the case of both portraits the main colour of the dog is white, with light-brown patches; the coat is smooth, and is so described in the text; and the eye and general expression are sleepy and lethargic. It will, therefore, be seen that all these writers evidently refer to the same type of dog. The colour is, in all the old descriptions, white or chiefly so; whilst the descriptions by Buffon and Goldsmith of the mild eye and lethargic disposition, exactly correspond with the appearance of the portraits, the latter showing a smooth coat, which agrees with Goldsmith's observation that the Irish Greyhound had a skin much thinner than other dogs - a remark, surely, that could never be applied to a rough dog of Deerhound type. Lastly, Goldsmith's description - "made extemely like a Greyhound, but rather more robust" - hits the portraits exactly, and corresponds with the almost invariable description, "taller than the Mastiff, but more like the Greyhound."

Amongst other well-known naturalists who have given us portraits of the Irish Greyhound are Bewick (1800), Bingley (1809), and Captain Brown (1829), all of whom adopt Goldsmith's view, and represent a smooth- coated dog. Bewick's dog is more like the Great Dane, and it is probable that he drew it from one of Lord Altamont's dogs. The Richardsonian theorists are very disingenuous on the subject of that nobleman's dogs, pointing, as they do, to the one engraved in Mr. Lambert's account, and never mentioning the explanation I was the first to call attention to, viz., that Lord Altamont had stated that he had two kinds of Wolfdogs - the Greyhound and the Mastiff; and that he was, to within a short time previously, possessed of each kind, perfectly distinct: "The heads were not so sharp in the latter as the former, but there seemed a great similarity of temper." He further said, that the painting was of the Mastiff Wolfdog, and that he had then five dogs bred between the Mastiff and Greyhound Wolfdog. This cross would give just such an animal as represented by Bewick. We thus see that Lord Altamont had other Wolfdogs of Greyhound type, and smooth-coated as the Mastiff Wolfdog in the picture; but the explanation seems to have been curiously overlooked by every writer on the subject.

I now put it to every impartial reader whether the dog described and depicted by the writers cited above could possibly have been an animal like the Deerhound. I have shown, beyond question, that the dog represented by these great authorities was smooth; that it was chiefly white (not a Deerhound colour); and that it was mild, lethargic, and heavy-looking. Contrast the description of the two supposed Wolfhounds seen by Captain Graham's friend (Mr. Ronayne Couron, of Lewisham) in Ireland, in "the Forties of the present century", which had "fierce, piercing eyes, shaggy brows, and very rough, dark grey coats" - which is a very good description of the Deerhound, as these animals no doubt were - with the dog described by Buffon, Goldsmith, Linnæus, Pennant, Ridinger, Schreber, Bewick, and other eminent naturalists, and ask, Is it possible to say the latter could have been the Deerhound, or a similar dog. The supporters of the Richardsonian theory must, therefore, if their theory is to stand, reject all these accounts, and are then left without any detailed historic description at all, and must fall back on conjecture and inference, which is, after all, the essence of their views. Even so enthusiastic a supporter of Richardson as Captain Graham admits that he can produce no evidence from old writers that the Irish Greyhound was rough; and, indeed, the argument that it was so is only supposition and inference. For example, we are told of the Irish harp in Trinity College, Dublin, that it has carved upon it figures of Irish Wolfdogs, and that their coats are rough. Now, I have seen a model of this harp, and also an engraving of it, and I say that to deduce any serious argument from it is absurd. To pronounce the figures dogs at all is mere conjecture, as may be gathered from the remark of Petrie (who started the idea), that "they were not lions" (as evidently had been supposed), "but Wolf-dogs"; whilst to say they are rough-coated is creditable to the imagination; and, in any case, to say they are Irish Wolfdogs is pure assumption. Yet this harp theory is the only testimony from ancient sources that the Richardsonians can bring for roughness of coat, against the positive evidence of the writers I have mentioned.

The modern testimony brought forward to support the rough-coated theory is based upon the supposed character of the dogs of Hamilton Rowan and O'Toole, and the inquiries made by the Earl of Caledon, within the last few years, from people on his estates, as to the dogs kept by his ancestors. Now, the latter testimony cannot go far enough back to be of the slightest weight: for, if anything is clear, it is that the Irish Greyhound was extinct at the close of the last century; and it is equally clear, that people were then seeking to revive the breed, just as has been the case in more recent years. The uncertainty of such hearsay evidence is well illustrated by the case of Lord Altamont's dogs. That nobleman's son, whose experience dated much further back than Lord Caledon's, informed Captain Graham that his father's dogs were rough; but this Captain Graham candidly admits must have been a mistake, as we have Lord Altamont's and Mr. Lambert's accounts to the contrary. In any event, the cases of Rowan's and O'Toole's dogs, which existed about the second decade of the present century, would not be of any value, as they only show that attention was being directed to the question.

But it is curious to note how opposite is the testimony in each case. First, as to Rowan's dogs. Col. Hamilton Smith states that Rowan used to appear followed by two Wolfdogs that resembled Great Danes. Martin denied they were the latter, but said they were Bloodhounds. Richardson, to get over the difficulty, states that Rowan had several Danes and one Wolfdog, which he called "the last of his race;" and, further, says that it was a large Greyhound, perfectly similar to a Scotch Deerhound. But this latter statement disproves itself, as we know that the Deerhound was then far from extinct. To add to the complication, Mr. Betham appears to have informed Captain Graham that he was personally well acquainted with Rowan and his dogs, and that "they were smooth-coated, and not shaggy like the Scotch Deerhound." Mr. Betham is most positive that these dogs were what Rowan considered his Wolfhounds, and, from the circumstances he mentions as to the precautions Rowan used to protect his breed, it is certain that he must have had more than one Wolfdog. There is no doubt that Rowan, whose aim was to make himself conspicuous by adding the romantic associations of the Wolfdog to the singularity of his gigantic frame and yellow club, did not care very much what the animal he had was so long as it was very large and striking. It is possible that, having met with a larger and more striking animal than those he had hitherto considered Wolfdogs - one that was so like nothing else in existence that it was termed the last of its race, as it was also probably the first - he thought fit to change his views; but this is only a suggestion. Certain it is, however, that Hamilton Rowan's smooth dogs must at one time have been held forth by him as Wolfdogs, judging from the writers I have quoted, and Mr. Betham's letter. Whether they had any right to the title is beside the question, as I hold that no true specimen survived the last century. There is no doubt, however, that Rowan had a large rough dog, Bran; but whether he transferred the title of Wolfdog to it from what he had before represented as that breed, or whether other people, knowing that he had reputed Wolfdogs, credited every large dog he was seen with as being of that breed - an extremely probable supposition - cannot be determined. According to both Lady Morgan and Sir Jonah Barrington, Bran was more like a Newfoundland, if it was not actually one. Lady Morgan admits that she took the hero of her novel, O'Donnel, and his hound, from Hamilton Rowan and his dog Bran. The only passage in her novel that affords us any clue to the appearance of Bran, is a question, addressed to the hero by a lady, as to whether his dog is not a Newfoundland. Sir J. Barrington describes Rowan's advent, with his club and dog, into an assembly of young barristers where he was present, on what may be termed a bullying expedition, in the following terms: "He was very well dressed; close by his side stalked in a shaggy Newfoundland dog, of corresponding magnitude, with hair a foot long." It is remarkable that two independent witnesses who had seen Bran should in effect state that he was, to all appearance, a Newfoundland, and proves that he must greatly have resembled that breed to have suggested the idea to the casual observer, though it is utterly impossible that any dog that exactly resembled the Scotch Deerhound (as Richardson stated, without giving any authority) would be thus described by different writers. The coat "a foot long" may well apply to the Newfoundland, but not to the Deerhound. Neither Lady Morgan nor Barrington considered Bran a Wolfdog, and the former's letter to Jesse on the breed shows that she thought it extinct, spoke of its resemblance to the Great Dane of Buffon, and evidently considered Lord Altamont's dogs as the remains of it.

The case of O'Toole's dogs is as doubtful as that of Rowan's, and depends on a lady's recollection of what she saw as a child; and even she says that "they were rough, not long-coated" - a very uncertain description, and quite opposed to the character of the supposed Wolfdog, Bran, with his coat a foot long. O'Toole appears to have been an eccentric old gentleman, who imagined he was of the blood royal of the old Irish kings, and therefore kept what he considered Wolfdogs, as one of the proper old-fashioned appendages of royalty. But though I hold that it matters little whether Rowan's or O'Toole's dogs were rough or smooth, yet it is strange how contradiction crops up even in the latter case, for the tail-piece in Jesse's work is a representation of O'Toole followed by his three Wolfdogs, which are perfectly smooth-coated animals! We may therefore dismiss the evidence as to both Rowan's and O'Toole's dogs, as being so contradictory in nature as to be of no value whatever, and, if anything, more assuredly against than in favour of their being rough-coated.

There remains, then, but one argument of the Richardsonians in favour of a rough coat, viz., that - conceding that the Wolfdog was a Greyhound - it must have been rough-coated because all Greyhounds were originally rough-haired. But this appears to be simply conjecture; and there is positive evidence to the contrary, for Dr. Caius says of the Greyhound in his time: "Some are of a greater sorte, and some of a lesser; some are smooth-skynned, and some are curled." Holinshed uses similar language, as follows: "The fift (hight) a Greihound, cherished for his strength, swiftnesse, and stature, of which sorte also some be smoothe, of sundry colours, and some shake haired."

We therefore have it clearly proved that, three hundred years ago, there were both rough and smooth Greyhounds; so the inference drawn from the belief that all Greyhounds were formerly rough also falls to the ground. Reinagle's portrait of an Irish Greyhound, reproduced in "British Dogs," from the "Sportsman's Cabinet", can carry no value, as it is utterly opposed to the text of the latter book. In such a case, where there is a precise description in the text, and an engraving stuck in without any comment or explanation, and which may be a fancy portrait, Which is to be believed - the author, who has, we presume, studied the subject, or the artist? As the text of the "Sportsman's Cabinet" stated the Irish Greyhound to be extinct, probably Reinagle indulged his imagination; at all events, the statement of its extinction showed that, in the opinion of the author, there was no existing dog of the breed for Reinagle to draw, and, therefore, probably allowed him to draw from his imagination. What value, in any case, could his representation - he not being a naturalist, and living at a time when the Wolfdog is universally admitted to have degenerated into extinction, and become a subject of historic interest only - have against the portraits by Ridinger and Schreber, both of whom were great naturalists, and lived at a time when the breed existed?

Before leaving the subject, I may mention the reckless and audacious manner in which Richardson supported his theory. Amongst other misquotations, he adduced passages from Pliny, Buffon, Ray, and Pennant, which went far to support his views; but as no such passages are to be found in those authors bearing the interpretation given, he must have garbled or fabricated them for his own purposes. Again, we are told that the faithful Gelert was an Irish Wolfdog, presented by King John to Llewellyn - as evidence, apparently, that the Irish Wolfdog was a match for a wolf. Unfortunately, Mr. Baring Gould, and other myth-destroyers, have demolished this pretty legend, which it is well known is, in various forms, still common to several countries in the world. We are also told that the skulls of dogs found in the bogs by Mr. Wylde are "evidently" those of rough Greyhounds. But impartial people would like to know how the skull of a dog of Greyhound type can be, with certainty, pronounced to be that of a rough-coated dog. Assertion goes for nothing. Similar unsupported "authorities" abound in Richardson's essay. The question of these skulls affords a good example of the way the supporters of Richardson adapt the evidence to the theory, and shift their front. Richardson demonstrated, as he was then arguing for a very giant of a dog, that these skulls, which, of course, were assumed to be those of Irish Wolfdogs, belonged to dogs at least 40 in. high. But of late times, as no one could be expected to "swallow" an enlarged Deerhound of that height, the very same premises are found elastic enough to reduce the standard to from 31 in. to 34 in. - within a measurable distance of the Deerhound, which is Captain Graham's conclusion. But if anything is certain on such a doubtful subject, it is that the Irish Wolfdog was of gigantic height - greater than any dog we know; and though we might be disposed to allow some margin off for a general estimate, yet Buffon's dog, "5 ft. high when sitting," and Goldsmith's largest, "4 ft. high, or as tall as a calf a year old," cannot well be reduced to 33 in. or 34 in. The argument that seeks to prove that the Irish Wolfdog was of the same character as the Scotch Deerhound cannot admit any other logical conclusion, if correct, than that in the Deerhound we have the Irish Wolfdog itself. This was Richardson's conclusion in his first essay, thus stated: "I have said that many assert the Irish Wolfdog to be no longer in existence. I have ventured a denial of this, and refer to the Wolf-dog, or Deer-dog of the Highlands, as his actual and faithful living representative. Perhaps I am wrong in saying representative. I hold that the Irish Wolf-dog and the Highland Deer-dog are one and the same." Why, then, did Richardson not accept the Deerhound? Because it was found that no true Greyhound like the Deerhound could be raised to the stated height of the Irish Wolfdog, and it was seen to be necessary to fit in the theory with the reputed stature. Consequently, the probable height of the Wolfdog was reduced as much as possible, and, there still being a large gap, the further theory was propounded that the Deerhound is a degenerate Wolfdog. But I have shown, from its importation into Scotland, that the Irish Wolfdog could not have been identical with the Deerhound; and as this occurred nearly 300 years ago, when wolves were in existence, and the Deerhound existed in hundreds, there can be no pretence for saying that the difference between the Irish Wolfdog and the Deerhound arises from degeneracy. The large Deerhounds of to-day are, as I have shown, in some cases too large for their work. Why, then, should it be supposed they were far larger when kept for work alone? That they were trained as Wolfdogs is probable, but all the accounts we have show they were used in great numbers, which negatives the presumption that they were required to be so large as to be, singly, a match for a wolf. Who asserts that the Russian dog is, singly, such a match; and yet they are used for the chase of the wolf? Why say, because the Deerhound was once used as a Wolfdog, that it was necessarily the same as the Irish Wolfdog, any more than it was the same as the Pyrenean Wolfdog? You may catch a deer with many kinds of hounds, but it does not therefore follow that these are all of a similar breed, or the same as the Scotch Deerhound.

I now finally submit to the judgement of my readers, that the adoption of Richardson's theory necessitates the rejection of all the definite accounts of the greatest naturalists - Ridinger, Linnaeus, Buffon, Goldsmith, Schreber, Pennant, Bewick, Brown, Bell, Bingley, Hamilton Smith, and others - and the adoption of conjecture and inference, which, as I have shown, is more or less unfounded. There is no middle course; for, if Richardson's theory be right, all the above-mentioned writers must have been in error as to the Irish Wolfdog, for the two theories cannot possibly be reconciled.

Having now placed both Captain Graham's and Mr. Hickman's views before my readers, I think it necessary, before concluding this article, to refer to several statements and opinions that appear to me to be erroneous. In the early part of Captain Graham's contribution, he claims the dogs described by Ossian as evidently identical with the Irish Wolfhound, and as being of much greater stature and power than the present Deerhound. I can find no passage in Ossian that warrants such an assumption. No mention is made of Wolfhounds, and the dogs introduced are described as those used in the work of Deerhounds. It cannot be fairly inferred that these dogs were larger than their descendants of the present day because Macpherson, with poetic licence, describes a hunt in which "a deer fell to every dog, and three to the white-breasted Bran."

Again, Captain Graham appears to be entirely wrong in stating that the "Canis graius Hibernicus" is specially referred to in the Welsh laws of the ninth century. These ancient statutes are known as "The Laws of Howell the Good," and the name of Irish Greyhound, either in Welsh or Latin, does not occur in them. The dog referred to, and priced at double the value of the Greyhound, is the King's Buckhound, or Covert Hound. Mr. Hickman evidently had in his mind, when writing his contribution to this Chapter, arguments advanced by Captain Graham in his Monograph; but these I do not think it necessary to quote more fully, as the gist of them will be seen by the references Mr. Hickman makes to them.

Lord Altamont's dogs are frequently referred to by writers on this subject, and special reference made to the drawing of one of them given by that nobleman to Mr. Lambert. It will be interesting to readers to see what he has to say on the subject, and I therefore reproduce here a letter written by him to Pennant, the naturalist, and bound up with Vol. I of that writer's "British Zoology":

"This drawing of the Irish Wolfhound was given me by Lord Altamont, done exactly the natural size of one in his lordship's possession at Westport, in the County of Mayo, Ireland, during my stay there, in 1790. I had frequent opportunities of observing these dogs, Lord Altamont having eight of them - the only ones now in the kingdom. There is a man kept on purpose to take care of them, as they are with difficulty bred up and kept healthy. I took the measurements of one of the largest, which are as follows: From the tip of the nose to the end of the tail, 61 in.; tail, 17½ in. long; from the tip of the nose to the back part of skull, 10 in.; from the back part of skull to the beginning of the tail, 33 in.; from the toe of the foreleg to the top of the shoulders, 28½ in.; the length of the leg, 16 in.; from the point of the nose to the first point of the eye, 4½ in.; the ear, 6 in. long; round the widest part of the belly, about 3 in. from the legs, 35 in. - 26 in. round the hind part, close to the hind legs. The hair, short and smooth; the colour, brown and white of some, others black and white. They seem good-natured animals, but, from the account I received, are now degenerated in size, having been larger some years ago, and their make more like a Greyhound. - A.B.L." (Aylmer Bourke Lambert).

G W Hickman

In addition to the above extract from Dalziels book,
we copy below another statement by G W Hickman

SIR - In my last letter I promised to say something about Quirinus's "discovery" as to the Celtic Greyhound. What is that discovery? Simply that Bewick described the Deerhound as "the Scottish Highland Greyhound or Wolfdog". Well, I imagined that any one who had ventured to form an opinion on this question was quite acquainted with such a comparatively modern authority as Bewick, and in one of my former letters I instanced this description of the Deerhound, following, as it did, next after that of the Irish Greyhound, to show clearly in Bewick's time the one was distinguished from the other. But according to Quirinus, this passage shows that the breed we now designate the Deerhound was, prior to 1800, known as the Scottish Highland Wolfdog or Greyhound, and as Bewick makes no mention of its being known as the Deerhound, this shows that its ancient use was principally for wolf-hunting.

Now this is, in effect, the very same as the main argument in Mr. Graham's article in "The Book of the Dog", where he states that there is no mention of the Deerhound until comparatively modern times. Quirinus has evidently, therefore, not read my letter in which I showed from "Pitscottie's History" (written about 1600 A .D.), that "the Earles of Huntlie, Argyle, and Athole brought thair Deirhoundis with thame", to one of the hunting parties, proving conclusively that more than 250 years ago the term Deerhound was used, and therefore the chief argument for the identity of the Deerhound and Irish Wolfdog falls to the ground.

The fact is that, until shows fixed the name, the term Deerhound has never been one of universal application even in modern times. For instance, Sir W. Scott seldom uses the same name. Bran and Buskar are described as "two very tall Deer Greyhounds", Roswal as a "Stag Greyhound", Bevis as "Wolfhound", Wolf "a large Staghound of the Greyhound species", and Balder as one of two or three "large and strong Greyhounds such as were then employed in hunting the stag and wolf". Some time ago, too, I was informed by a gentleman that his Highland forester who had charge of his Deerhounds always speaks of them as Greyhounds. The fact, therefore, that we do not always find these dogs termed Deerhounds is certainly no proof that they only began to be so called when they ceased to be Wolfdogs, for we have seen that the term was used of them even when they were employed for wolf-hunting. Nor is it true that they were used for wolf-hunting principally.

The supporters of the Irish Wolfhound theory seem to imagine that wolves were as plentiful in Scotland as blackberries, and that dogs of far greater size than are found sufficient in other countries were necessary there. But what is the fact? In all the accounts of the great Highland huntings the deer were the principal game, and the wolves formed a very insignificant portion. For instance, in the great hunting in the forest of Athole, in 1563, there "were slaine 360 deer and five wolves"; and at those mentioned by Pitscottie, in one case 600 deer were killed; and in the other "aughteine Scoir", the wolves being classed under the head of "other small beastis, sick as woulff, fox, wyld cattis". It is thus perfectly clear that upwards of 300 years ago the Deerhound was principally used for deer, as in later times. And as we learn, too, that the dogs were on such occasions used in hundreds, it is pretty certain that whatever wolves were killed were overpowered by numbers, aided by the hunters, and that wolves were not killed by individual dogs, which is one of the gratuitous assumptions which some people start out with in their arguments on this question.

" Quirinus further says that the dog Bewick saw was a Celtic Greyhound, "a breed common alike to Scotland and Ireland, at one period", and by inference the same as the Irish Greyhound. Now, this is simply begging the question, for it is just this which requires proof. The argument in effect is this:- The Deerhound is a Highland Greyhound, the Highlanders were Celts, as were also the Irish - ergo, both the Irish and Highland Greyhounds were Celtic Greyhounds - ergo, they were one and the same animal. The mistake in this argument is the assumption that because the animals of the two different countries might be termed Celtic from the common origin of the people in the one and the settlers in the other to whom they belonged, that they must necessarily be the same in all physical respects. But, in the case under notice, it is quite as likely, seeing that the rough Greyhound was found all over Scotland, that the Irish immigrants found the dog already a native there as that they took it themselves. It would be just as logical to apply the same argument to the English Greyhound - viz., the Deerhound is a British Greyhound, as Scotland is part of Britain, and, as the English Greyhound is also a British Greyhound, it follows that they are one and the same.

"As to A. Scot's excerpt from "The Sportsman's Cabinet", he will find that the article he quotes from was from the pen "of an amateur of popular reputation", and was therefore only his opinion, and that, too, as to the English, and not the Irish Wolf-dog. I cannot agree with A. Scot's argument as to Bewick's text. If it was compiled by Beilby, it would at least represent the common opinion of the naturalists of that time; and when supported by Bewick's woodcut, which we can hardly suppose "the truthful Bewick" invented, it is certainly a great authority, as it thus has Bewick's sanction. It is a curious fact that, as soon as one points out to the theorists on the Irish Wolf-dog that a certain author is against their views, that author is immediately run down as of no authority, as in the case of Buffon ("a fair naturalist" merely, according to Quirinus), Goldsmith ("an habitual prevaricator"), and Bewick, who was so true to Nature that he copied from other people.

"And now perhaps you will allow me to say a few words in reply to Mr. Graham's letter. He says that it is a well-known fact that in the days of deer-coursing large dogs were invariably used, as smaller dogs were unable to hold and kill the deer, and that Lords Saltoun and Henry Bentinck had thirty-one such (Note: it says "such" in the original but presumably should read "inch" to make any sense of the rest of this paragraph) dogs amongst their very best. This statement, which certainly seems to bear the inference that thirty-one inch dogs were the best for this work, is hardly consistent with Mr. Graham's dictum in "The Book of the Dog", that a dog averaging 29 to 30 inches was the correct animal, or with the statement in "Idstone", whose article was avowedly "inspired" by Mr. Graham, to the effect that a larger dog than Mr. Dawes' Warrior would hardly be of any use on a Scotch deer-forest - Warrior being a 28-inch dog!"

"As to the use of large dogs in deer-coursing in bygone days being a well-known fact, the only account I believe we have of a deer-course, where we can judge of the size of the dogs employed, is the one in Scrope's "Deerstalking". But Buscar was the bigger of the two dogs used, and he was only 28 inches high; so that if they could kill the stag, it is evident that there is no force in the argument that a big dog is necessary. Besides, from Mr. Graham's article we know that the best dogs he mentions for work, such as Lord Saltoun's Bran, Pirate, and Gillespie Tormo, did not exceed 29 inches , and they were perfect at work, and so here again great size could not have been necessary. On the other hand, big dogs are certainly not so speedy over the rough ground as the medium-sized ones, besides their greater liability to heavy falls.

Within the past few weeks I have visited two kennels of Deerhounds used for work in the Highlands, and I found only one dog over 30 inches in either kennel, and he was going to be drafted, as, though a fast dog in England, he was no good in Scotland. In the one kennel, the fastest animal at deer was said to be a smallish dog, a little over 27 inches ; and in the other a by no means big bitch.

"As to size being necessary to "hold" a stag, I made particular inquiries, and am informed that, if thereby is meant to stop a stag by strength, no Deerhound, however big, could do so, as long as the stag is on his legs. Even if a dog seizes the stag by the neck, the long bristly hair chokes him and prevents his stopping the stag by killing it. A good dog will seize the stag by the fore-quarter whilst running, the sudden shock of which brings the latter to the ground, when the dog can seize him by the back of the ear and kill him before he regains his feet.

"Doubtless Lord Saltoun and Lord H. Bentinck had dogs they considered thirty-one inches, but no one knows better than Mr. Graham how unreliable are the statements as to the height of dogs, and it is probable that, if good for work, they were of a less height. Anyway, I have shown, from the opinions of Lochiel, Colonel Inge, and others who use the Deerhound, that big dogs are useless; and I mentioned - and am ready to verify - three instances of show dogs that were parted with because they were too large for the Highlands, though in other respects two of them were good at deer. I therefore maintain that I have proved my point - that many of our largest show dogs are too big for work, and there is consequently no reason to suppose they are degenerate from those of former times, when work was the sole object they were kept for.

"Mr. Graham says he has always considered that the Deerhound is a degenerate descendant of the Irish Wolfhound, and his conviction is too firmly established to be shaken by any amount of sophistry - that is to say, having swallowed all Richardson's theory and statements without examination, Mr. Graham has so made up his mind that no amount of exposure of the falsity of the premise on which he founds his conclusions can shake his opinion; having once formed it, nothing can shake it."

"Mr. Graham further says that his article in "The Book of the Dog" is an answer to most of my arguments, but that can hardly apply to what I have written subsequently in reference to that article.

"Two of these points only will I mention, and I invite Mr. Graham either to disprove my statements or admit that he is wrong in two of his main arguments. The first is the assertion that there is no mention of the Deerhound until comparatively modern times, and the consequent foundation thereon of a mass of conjecture and inference, an assertion I have refuted. The next is Mr. Graham's positive statement that the Irish harp in Trinity College is ornamented with a figure of a rough Irish Wolf-dog, a statement which I assert goes beyond and is not warranted by facts. If Mr. Graham cannot support his statements on these points, let him admit it.

"Mr. Graham asks me if I considered my dog Morni was a mongrel, because there is reason to believe he had both Pyrenean and Russian Wolfhound blood through his ancestors. Now the only reason for supposing Pyrenean blood arises from the fact that the dog was of the Glengarry strain, and Glengarry in some cases used this cross; whilst as to the Russian strain, I believe, but do not know when it occurred, that one of the ancestors had some slight Russian tinge. But granting both, there is a wide difference between a cross introduced upward of sixty years ago, as in the case of the Pyrenean, or in the case of the Russian Wolfhound, with a dog of a similar Greyhound type, and constant and perpetual crosses with dogs of an utterly different type. Moreover, in the one case the original type is resought immediately after the cross, in the other an utterly new type is sought to be produced."
G W Hickman

Back to Origins2