I’m sure that most of you are jumping to tell that it is the Cú Faoil.
But Ireland doesn’t have an official national dog.
However, it almost got one.
And it wasn’t an Irish wolfhound.
It was this dog:
Not the German shepherd. That’s not even the national dog of Germany. The national dog of the German Empire was the Great Dane (which is more appropriately called the German Mastiff.)
The Irish patriot Michael Collins (usually known as Mick Collins) loved this breed. It was through his patronage that the breed became popular among Irish revolutionaries, and Collins sponsored an act in Parliament (called an Act of Oireachtas) to make the Kerry blue the national dog. After Collins’s assassination, the issue was never revived. Ireland has no official national dog.
If it had been raised to national dog, it would have been the national dog for the Republic of Ireland, not northern Ireland. Irish wolfhound and Irish red and white setters apparently had their last strongholds in the North. Indeed, it was a Presbyterian minister from Northern Ireland who saved the Irish red and white from extinction. I don’t know how well that would go over if someone moved to make that breed the national dog.
I should mention that I’ve read two wonderful accounts of the Kerry blue’s origins. The traditional account claims the dogs came from County Kerry, in the southwestern tip of Ireland. It is speculated that Portuguese sailors and possibly the escaping Spanish Armada may have dumped Iberian water dog on Ireland’s shores.
The other story says that they are not from County Kerry at all. This story goes that the dogs are from Carrick-on-Suir (Carraig na Siúire) in County Tipperary. It was originally called the Carrick blue terrier. Through some confusion, the dog got called a Kerry blue.
I don’t know which is true. The AKC and its breed club swear that the breed comes from Kerry, but you’ll often find the account that the Irish blue terrier comes from County Tipperary (which is now split into two separate administrative counties, in case you were wondering).
It may make sense to call this breed the Irish blue terrier, just to reflect the debatable status of its origins.
Like the other breeds of Irish terrier, this breed has more in common with the curs and feists of the US than the earth dogs of Great Britain. These were dogs of the small tenant farmers, who used them to kill rats, to hunt badgers, foxes, and otters, and to work sheep (which might be suggestive of Spanish water dog ancestry. A Spanish water dog is actually a herding breed that moonlights as a water dog).
Now, I might get pilloried for this, but I think the Irish blue terrier’s utility with the working people of Ireland gives it more of a claim to the national dog title than the wolfhound. The wolfhound was the dog of the nobility. After the Anglo-Normans conquered Ireland, the wolfhounds became their dogs, and the dogs were always the dogs of the nobility.
Of course, the Irish blue is one of three very similar terrier-type dogs from Ireland. There is the red Irish terrier, which has a wire-coat, and there is a wheaten terrier with a soft, low-shed coat that is not dissimilar to that of the Irish blue. These dogs are about the same size and have a common ancestry.
Whatever the national dog of Ireland should be, it is not currently the Irish wolfhound. The only proposed national dog has been the blue terrier, and no one has voted on it since the time of Mick Collins.
Of course, Irish wolfhounds have a kind of Finn McCool or St. Patrick status in Irish national mythology, and the terriers don’t have sort of romance associated with their names.
And if I’ve learned anything, romance always beats out history when these things are eventually decided.