How well do you know your Irish dog breeds? | TeamDogs

How well do you know your Irish dog breeds?

From Irish Wolfhounds to the Kerry Blue Terrier

Danielle Elton

Posted 6 months ago ago

(Wheaten Terrier - credit Eric Ray)

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Written by Amy Crowther, PA

Happy St Patrick’s Day! March 17 is known for dying food, hair, beards and even rivers green, while downing a pint of the black stuff and saying “to be sure” in a range of dodgy accents. 

But at TeamDogs we want to celebrate our four-legged friends from the Emerald Isle on this special day, and we don’t just mean by giving them a new green collar or lead or perhaps convincing them into a leprechaun costume

The Irish Kennel Club lists nine native breeds - before you scroll any further, have a go at naming them all. 

There are two hound breeds, three gundogs and four terriers, each with their own special skills, which the club says have been developed down the centuries in the mountains, woods and bogs across the island. Here’s what the club has to say about each: 

Irish Wolfhound

The first written account of these dogs was by a Roman Consul in 391 AD, but they were already established in Ireland in the first century, when mythological figure Setanta changed his name to Cu-Chulainn (the hound of Culann). Mention is made of the Uisneach taking 150 hounds with them in their flight to Scotland, also in the first century.

It is thought the original Irish hounds had both smooth and rough coats, but the rough coat came to dominate, possibly because of the climate.

Pairs of Irish hounds were prized as gifts by the royal houses of Europe and Scandinavia from the Middle Ages to the 17th century. They were sent to England, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Persia, India and Poland. In the 15th century each county in Ireland was required to keep 24 ‘wolfdogs’ to protect farmers' flocks from wolves. The Cromwellian prohibition (1652) on the export of Wolfhounds helped preserve their number for a time but the gradual disappearance of the wolf and continued demand abroad reduced their numbers almost to the point of extinction by the end of the 17th century. Their revival accompanied the growth of Irish nationalism in the late 19th century. One determined enthusiast, Captain G A Graham, set about obtaining some of the few remaining Wolfhounds, and by crossing with some Deerhound, Borzoi and Great Dane, eventually achieved a type of dog that bred true in every generation. The results were ultimately accepted as a legitimate revival of the breed and the Irish Kennel Club scheduled a class for Irish Wolfhounds at their show in April 1879.

Kerry Beagle

(Credit Mark Hosny)

Next to the Irish Wolfhound, the Kerry Beagle may actually be the oldest native Irish breed. It is generally assumed that the dog referred to as “Gadhar” in Old Irish texts may be the direct ancestor of the modern day Kerry.

The most likely outline of the history of this breed is a Celtic hound going back probably to the time of the first Celtic settlements in Ireland, which in the Middle Ages and later centuries was mixed through breeding experiments with hounds from the continent to produce a very efficient hunting dog.

Their fortunes suffered during the Irish famine in 1847 when their numbers were decimated.

The name Beagle is thought to be derived from the Irish word “beag” (meaning small), although the Kerry Beagle was often used to hunt large prey, including stags! 

Irish Water Spaniel

(Credit - Anataman)

It is thought water spaniels evolved from dogs that originated in Persia and came to Ireland via Spain. The first Irish reference to “water dogs that pursue water fowl” dates from 1600, so we know dogs with waterproof coats were used in Ireland even before the advent of fowling piece guns. The kennel club says there is no real evidence of the ancestry of the Irish Water Spaniel except in its most peculiar feature - a rat tail. There is no similar dog with such a tail, which makes it likely the modern breed had an indigenous Irish ancestor. 

Irish Red and White Setter

(Credit Pleple2000)

It is fairly certain that the Red and White Setter is the older of the two Irish setters, and that judicious selective breeding evolved the solid red colour. When Irish Setters came to the show benches, just past the middle of the 19th century, there was a good deal of confusion about their proper colour, the club says. By the end of the 19th century, the Red Setter had virtually eclipsed the Red and White, which became so rare that they were thought to be extinct. During the 1920s, efforts were made to revive the breed and by 1944, the breed had re-established itself well enough to have a club of its own.

Irish Red Setter 

No one knows what breed of solid red dog it was that mated with a Red and White Setter to produce the first mono-colour puppy. It was a clearly identifiable type in the 18th century and the Irish Red Setter Club was established in 1882. The Red Setter has evolved down the years into a hardy, healthy, intelligent dog, possessed of excellent working ability and great stamina.

Irish Terrier

There are four terrier breeds in Ireland, all markedly different to terriers in England and Europe. The dog now officially called Irish Terrier is possibly the oldest of Ireland’s breeds, but the kennel club says records are so scarce that it would be difficult to prove this conclusively. Before the 1880s the colour of the Irish Terrier ranged from red to black and tan and sometimes brindle. At the end of the 19th century efforts were made to breed out the black and tan and the brindles so that by the 20th century all Irish Terriers showed the red coat. In the First World War they were used as messenger dogs in the trenches. 

Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier

(Glen of Imaal Terrier - credit Naniantero) 

Very much a local dog, confined to the Glen of Imaal surrounds and used by farmers in the area who were descended from soldiers given land in the 16th and 17th centuries as payment from Britain. In the harsh terrain, a dog who could not pull his weight would not be tolerated and so these terriers were put to work propelling grinding wheels and sometimes used for the dubious sport of dog fighting. This horrible existence turned them into the strong sturdy pets we know today. 

Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Wheatens have been around for at least 200 years and were mentioned in writing as "soft-coated dogs”. The relation of the modern Irish Terrier to the Wheaten, although less well documented, appears to have been the result of deliberate breeding experiments. Despite the long history of the Wheaten, it wasn't until 1937 that the Soft-Coated was officially recognised by the Irish Kennel Club. 

Kerry Blue Terrier

(Credit - Svenska Massan)

Like the other terrier breeds, not too much is known about the Kerry Blue because its humble origins as a rat catcher and all-round farm dog meant that it wasn’t much written about before the 20th century.

The first probable literary reference dates from 1847, when the author describes a bluish slate-coloured dog, marked with darker blotches and patches, and often with the tan about the legs and muzzle. This blackish-blue Irish terrier was supposed to be prevalent in Kerry but it has been developed in other counties as well. In the 20th century, the Kerry Blue became popular as a sort of mascot for Irish patriots and there were four clubs promoting its interests and between 1922 and 1924 six shows and six field trials were held.

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