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

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Origins Of The Breed
Index Page
(Compiled by Steve Tillotson, November 2012)


The short-version of the origins of The Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound are as follows -

(Irish Wolfhound)
Prior to the 1870's a breed named and recognizable as "The Irish Wolfhound" did not exist. A crossbreed (a mongrel, comprising various crosses, varieties and types) and histotrically labeled "The Irish Wolfdog" had existed for centuries but had become pretty much extinct by the mid 1800's. Some enthusiasts of these Irish Wolfdog crossbreeds sought to revive the old crossbreed wolfdog type(s). A Scotsman by the name of Captain George Augustus Graham was the leader of that band of enthusiasts. Graham had considerable difficulty finding specimens of the Irish Wolfdogs to use in his breed revival program. Due to the scant number of wolfdog-type specimens existent or available, Graham had to turn to the Scottish Deerhound breed to inject size and type into the degenerated wolfdog remnant lines, in order to pursue his dream of reviving a dog that by general consensus was extinct. Graham succeeded in creating "the successor" to the old Wolfdog. We know this successor today as - The Irish Wolfhound.

    Irish Wolfhound History Timeline
  • 1840's Early attempts by Major Richardson and others to revive old wolfdog varieties
  • 1862 Commencement of Capt Graham's breeding program
  • 1885 Breed Standard approved by the Irish Wolfhound Club (UK)
  • 1900 Consistency of breeding to type not yet fully consistent with goals
  • 1914 WWI occurs, dog breeding limited, genetic diversity reduced
  • 1920's Breeding to type now generally consistent with goals
  • 1925 Breed recognized by The Kennel Club (UK)
  • 1939 WW2 occurs,dog breeding limited, genetic diversity reduced
  • 1952 An Irish Wollfhound was gifted from USA to UK to increase genetic diversity
So, in short-version terms, the "breed" we know today as The Irish Wolfhound can be traced back about 170 years. There appears to be some sensitivity amongst some Irish Wolfhound enthusiasts to describing the modern hound as "man made". Such sensitivity is unwarrented because just about every other breed of dog was at one time a "man made" breed. It is man's "selective breeding practices" that resulted in the development of all the individual breeds. The sensititive enthusiasts like to take comfort by stating that the Irish Wolfhound of today is a descendant of the Irish Wolfdog. That is true, the Wolfhound can be traced back to Wolfdog ancestors. However this is more of an emotional link than a meaningful genetic one. Once Captain Graham started breeding Deerhounds into the legacy wolfdog bloodlnes, he diluted the old wolfdog bloodlines forever. Graham's breeding policy involved quite a high level of inbreeding of these Deerhound enhanced bloodlines and which escalated the rate of dilution of the scant wolfdog lines.

In comparison with todays breeding strategies, another feature of Grahams progam was the speed of breeding, typically 4 generations bred in a decade, usually involving inbred lines. This is not to criticize, because Graham would have been anxious to "fix the type" that he defined in his "standard of excellence" for the future breed - the Irish Wolfhound. Show reports for the era 1890 - 1920's confirm that in the early days of his breeding program there was a wide diversity of type bred which attracted critical and negative comments such as "being too Dane like". Such comments articulate that fact that it takes several generations of selective and careful breeding to develop and fix a breed type.

A major breeding objective of Graham's was to achieve height and weight. The fact of this objective is implicit in the very words Graham provided for the 1885 Breed Standard - "The minimum height and weight of dogs should be 31 inches and 120 pounds; of bitches 28 inches and 90 pounds. Anything below this should be debarred from competition". Clearly Graham felt very strongly about the issue of height and weight and he would penalize any exhibit not achieving his definition for the new breed.

One observation of the above short-version timeline is that the breed encountered three periods of crisis. Firstly, at its foundation in the 1870's, where the founders had to resort to a level of inbreeding due to a lack of bloodstock. The two world wars severely curtailed breeding and again caused the low number of active breeders to select stock from a very limited pool of animals. After WWII the breed was concerned about the inbreeding levels with the majority of breedings tracing back to a particular popular stud dog. America came to the rescue and generously shipped over to the UK one of their best specimens (Ch Sanctuary Rory of Kihone) and this provided an important route forward for future breed development. Rory was followed a few years later by Ch. Cragwood Barney O'Shea of Riverlawn. These two American exports helped improve the genetic diversity of the breed. We will explore all these issues as we document the fuller history of the breed.

(Scottish Deerhound)
Because the Irish Wolfhound owes its existance to the major use of Scottish Deerhound bloodlines we decided to dedicate this website to the history of both breeds. Most commentators agree that the Scottish Deerhound history extends back to the 16th century, allthough writings mention the Deerhound as early as the 13th century. we"ll document that history shortly.


1.2.1. (Research Principles)
In establishing this website and the breed history project, I determined to achieve two basic research objectives -
  1. 1. Examine and consider the greatest "Depth Of Material' available in order to gain as much knowledge and understaning as possible about breed history and origins

  2. 2. To establish and provide "Context" for writings about breed history and origins.

1.2.2 (Library, Depth of Material and Context)
I have established an IWT Library Of Articles which now contains over 120 articles. Many of these articles have been written by non-canine authors who were writing about anthropological or archaeological topics, or historians writing about a country, its people, culture etc. The fact that such writings contain information about legacy breeds of dogs is helpful, particularly so because these scholarly authors had no agenda to promote an opinion on dog breeds. By contrast, some of the legacy canine writers, particularly those aligned to the wolfdog, have proven to be very selective in their choice of legacy references, very imaginative and inventive in presenting facts not in evidence. I hope that by establishing an extensive IWT library that contains a variety of author sources will enable visitors to access and study, all in one place, the widest possible reference sources, and thus achieve the research objectives of depth of material and context, enabing readers to gain a deep and unbiased knowledge of breed history and origins.

1.2.3. (Linkage between Wolfdog and Wolfhound)
One particular breed specific legacy writing excels in flip/flopping in its use of different breed names for the Irish Wolfdog to support that authors agenda of promoting their ideas and opinions about the Irish Wolfdog, the Wolfhound, and indeed the Deerhound. For example, in their view practicaly any ancient/legacy writing that references a large dog used to hunt wolves (even if the original text specifically references a mastiff or other breed) must have been the Irish Wolfdog. In that writers opinion, legacy references to names such as Scottish Greyhound, Highland Deerhound, Rough Greyhound, Irish Greyhound etc etc, are selectively quoted to imply that these are references to the Irish Wolfdog or a degenerated descendant thereof. The truth is far simpler than this particular breed specific legacy publication would have readers believe.

There is an ancestral linkage between the Irish Wolfdog and the Irish Wolfhound, but there are many issues behind that statement. Two such issues are that the Irish Wolfdog was "not a breed". The name Wolfdog was just a "label" assigned to any large dog used in hunting the wolf. There was an "English wolfdog" referenced in letters by King John (13th century) and also Henry III. It was typically a reference to the English Mastiff which, at that time was used to hunt wolves in England. Some breed specific legacy writers on the Irish Wolfdog like to boast of its antiquity, (but their proof is scant and unconvincing), they invaribly skirt around the fact that the Irish Wolfdog was a "mongrel" such was the extent of its crossbreeding. The constant reference by these writers to "pure" type of Irish Wolfdog is simply ridiculous, patricularly when you consider there was no notion of "purebred" or "pedigree" dogs until shortly after 1873, when the English Kennel Club came into being and created the worlds first canine registery, which excluded the registration of crossbreeds.

1.2.4 (Future Research Projects)
In exploring the fuller origins and history of the Irish Wolfhound, and in addition to some issues already mentioned above, we need to consider topics such as rough or smooth coated origins, coat colour origins. We will undertake a full study and analysis of the Graham breeding program so as to gain an understanding of how his program developed and proceeded towards his final goal. Whilst Graham's contribution was pivotal, that is not the full story. Graham and his early supporters created the base material which future generations of breeders would work with. It seems (subject to further research) that it took two or three decades of breeding beyond the Graham era before the Irish Wolfhound breed bred consistently true to type. We will research those later generation breeders activities and document them because they are important to our breeds history.


I wanted to include in this section a few clear and respected statements about origins. For that clarity I turn to Fredson Bowers, an Irish Wolfhound breeder, Judge, member of the USA Irish Wolfhound breed standards committee, and a writer of several canine books. Fredson Bowers was the pre-eminent "bibliographer" in the USA and spent his life reading and analysing books. If anybody is qualified to navigate the minefield of ancient and legacy writings about the Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound, then Fredson Bowers is. He provides us with a succint, clear and logical analysis. So, for starters, here is the origin of the Irish Wolfhound according to Fredson Bowers. This is followed by comments from Phyllis Gardner about the legacy of the old Irish Wolfdog as the new breed - The Irish Wolfhound was developed, and finally some comments from Edward C Ash -

(An extract from his 1939
article on history and origins of the breed)

"The feeling that anything is "too good to be true" arouses a sort of demon in the human race. We passionately want to believe in "good" things, things which strike fire to our imagination and are, in the best sense of the word, romantic; but we have been disappointed so often that in self-protection we sheathe our emotions in disbelief and become permanent inhabitants of Missouri.

Perhaps few other matters are better calculated to light the romantic imaginative brand in us than visual - but even better, living and breathing - evidences of our links with the great and shadowy past. And so, when somewhat over-ardent proselytes have asked us to believe that this huge, shaggy, incredibly companionable and gentle Irish wolfhound which we view with so much admiration today, stands before us hair for hair as he stood before the chieftains of Ireland's heroic age, the thought is too over-poweringly "good to be true" to be believed. Therefore, the inevitable reaction.

Only an ardent sentimentalist would ask any reader to believe that - with the possible exceptions of such breeds as the Afghan hound and a few others - the modern dogs which bear names going far back into the past, are indeed living, identical pictures of their ancient representatives. The modern fashion for refining type towards an ideal of beauty has, within living memory, altered the appearance of practically every breed of dog. The beautiful modern Great Dane, for example, has progressed a long way from the old butcher's dog, or, to go much farther back, the ancient German boar dog.

Moreover, every student of canine history knows that in the distant past, there was never one pure-bred type of any one breed jealously guarded by a kennel club and with authentic and carefully recorded pedigrees. Dogs conformed in general to a certain broad type, but various rather wide differences according to modern standards could prevail within this one type, and there would be little care to guard purity of blood merely for its own sake.

The Irish wolfhound is a dog whose name echoes back to the dawn of the Christian era. There is a reference to him in an early Roman letter, the Irish sagas are full of him, and there are copious historical references to him in Ireland and England from the fifteenth century. His practical usefulness in Ireland as a hunter of big game and a destroyer of wolves was largely over by the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, but he was kept in various Irish families as a tradition.

Dogs conformed in general to a certain broad type, but various
rather wide differences according to modern standards could
prevail within this one type, and there would be little care
to guard purity of blood merely for its own sake.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, references begin as to his rarity. Individual specimens are cited, or the families owning the hounds, frequently with the notation that such and such is almost the last of his race. These references continue throughout the nineteenth century, showing that the label "last of his race" was rather indiscriminately applied either through provinciality or through personal pride.

In the early 1880's Captain Graham, previously a breeder of Scottish deerhounds, began formally the attempt to revive the Irish wolfhound; other breeders joined him, and the breed was accepted by the English Kennel Club as an authentic and a pure breed of dog.


Phyllis Gardner wrote the preface to the joint Hogan/Graham volume "The Irish Wolfdog (Hogan) and The Irish Wolfhound (Graham)" published by the Irish Wolfhound Club Of Ireland in 1939. In her preface Ms Gardner wrote:

1) "Of course in the case of a monumental work of erudition such as that of Father Hogan, one can only hope to touch the fringes of his learning: He had read all sorts of documents to which most of us cannot hope to gain access"
(IWT Editor - That is a fair statement, made as it was back in 1938. However, in 2013 researchers have a readier access (Digital Libraries) to a wider range of documentation than Ms Gardner or Father Hogan could possibly have imagined).

2) "The mass of evidence about the History Of The Irish Wolfdog will probably never appeal to a very great number of readers, but those that do want it, want it very keenly. By its aid they should be able to dispel many false ideas, and to uphold the proud position of our noble hound as the worthy successor of our long continuity of blood and traditions from the remote past".

our noble hound as the worthy successor of our long
continuity of blood and traditions from the remote past

(IWT Editor - Think about the keywords Ms Gardner uses - "Proud", "Noble", "Worthy Successor", "Traditions", "Remote Past".. Ms Gardner clearly gave considerable and careful thought to her choice of words. Her statement was written several decades after the breed revival program had commenced and Ms Gardner was able to draw up such a statement with her expert knowledge of the past, and also with her knowledge of the "successor" that had emerged - The Irish Wolfhound).


(Full Ash article can be found here) 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.

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.

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 Journal' 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.

None of the old breed were there (Dublin dog show 1879). The dogs exhibited
differed widely and did not show the type that Graham had expected..It was
decided what was actually required: A Deerhound with more bone and substance!.

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!

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