Posts Tagged ‘irish wolfhound’

The closed registry system is so nineteenth/twentieth century. This is what the dogs need now.


David Cunningham comments on this blog pretty regularly.


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The Wolfhound Tones

Nice photoshop.


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Nadine is an American Alsatian, a breed that has been selected to have some traits of the extinct dire wolf (Canis dirus).  

If trying to breed a dog with a large number wolf-like traits is difficult, then imagine the task of trying to use domestic dog breeds to reconstruct a species that went extinct a long time ago.

Such is the case with the American Alsatian breed.

This breed is an attempt to produce a dog that sort of looks like the extinct dire wolf (Canis dirus). The history of the breed is described in the Dire Wolf Project’s website.

In 1987, a dog breeder named Lois Denny (now Lois Schwarz) began experimenting with German shepherd and malamute crosses to produce a dog that looked like a wolf.

She then began to mix in mastiff and Great Pyrenees into the lines to produce a larger, more robust wolfy dog.

This dog has no wolf in it, and it has been bred for a good temperament and good health.

It is not the wild animal that once roamed both North and South America.

But it is an interesting idea.

Some people might have issues with the reconstruction, but it’s not really all that different from what was done with the Irish wolfhound.

According to Mark Derr, the original Irish wolfhound went extinct at the end of the eighteenth century, but it was reconstructed in the middle to late nineteenth century, using deerhound, Great Dane, and even Tibetan mastiff blood.

No one is pretending that the American Alsatian is a dire wolf. It’s just dog that has been bred to look like one.

However, you still find people who think that Irish wolfhounds actually coursed Irish wolves. Their deerhound and Great Dane ancestors may have hunted wolves. The current Irish wolfhound can bring down fairly large prey.

But the modern Irish wolfhound is as much a reconstruction as this dire wolf.

Yet one never hears anyone complain about Irish wolfhounds in the way I’ve heard them complain about these dogs.

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Ch. Ramsden Rex was an imported Russian wolfhound that Shoemaker owned. Shoemaker wanted to restore the wolf to Pennsylvania in order to develop a cottage industry of wolf coursing in the state.

The wolf was extinct in Pennsylvania by 1917, but Henry Wharton Shoemaker thought that the wolf should be restored to the Commonwealth to restore an ecological balance and to provide sportsmen with a big game species to hunt.

The idea was something of a radical idea in those days, for it was considered progressive and even conservation-minded to want wolves to disappear.  The US Forest Service and the USDA were working together to kill off the last wolves that ran in the cattle and sheep ranges of the West, and even in Yellowstone National Park, rangers were waging a war to see that wolves no longer molested the herds of ungulates.

This conservation ethic came from Britain and Germany, where gamekeepers and foresters often worked hard to keep predator numbers down in order to keep high populations of game species.  Most of these early conservationists were ardent hunters, and most hunters today have certain amount of the conservation ethic. Butt in the nineteenth century, it was customary for hunters to be profligate with the game the killed. North America seemed to have an limitless supply of game species, so it was just assumed that one could kill as many animals as one wanted.  By the turn of the century, sportsmen realized that killing so many animals so wantonly was not a wise endeavor, so they became conservationists. Ted Roosevelt was among the most famous proponents of this sort of wildlife conservation.

Shoemaker was also in this vein, but he was radical for the time because he extended this conservation ethic to wolves. Wolves could be preserved and managed as a game species.  Not someone who resisted romantic notions, he postulated that Pennsylvania wolf hunters could hunt them in the way wolves were hunted in Ireland and Russia– with big coursing dogs!  Shoemaker owned a champion Russian wolfhound (borzoi), and he thought the Pennsylvania wolf hunters could cross them with Irish wolfhounds to make a superior Pennsylvania wolf coursing dog.

This text comes from an edition of Shoemaker’s Wolf Days in Pennsylvania and is dated to 1917:

From the number of hunters who took out licenses in 1916—upwards of three hundred thousand—it would seem that they formed an important part of the population of Pennsylvania. When it is considered how small a return they received for their efforts, their spirit and enthusiasm for the chase seems all the more commendable. Despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Kalbfus, there was very little found to kill during the various “open seasons” which came to an end on the first days of 1914, 1915 and 1916. It is to be doubted if two thousand deer were killed in the entire Commonwealth during these three seasons. With such meagre results the time is bound to be at hand when a strong demand will be made to re-stock the forests with game worthy of the name. Civilized men are beginning to find that killing rabbits, quails .and squirrels is little better than a barnyard slaughter, that they do not furnish the excitement expected. Intelligent hunters read of struggles with wolves and mountain lions, of coyote coursing, and dispatching grizzlies in the West, and compare it to the feeble pastime of slaying a few mangey rabbits at home, to the disparagement of the home sport. A strong demand will be made to stock the Pennsylvania wilds, not with more rabbits, quails, ring-neck pheasants and squirrels, but with savage beasts, such as panthers, red bears and wolves. Deer and elk are here already, but without the so-called predatory beasts to harass them, they are sure to deteriorate. Wolf and panther hunting can be made the royal sport of Pennsylvania. Wolves, unmolested, except at certain seasons, could soon make themselves at home, and would prove a great benefit alike to sportsmen and to the game animals and birds. As far as damage to sheep is concerned, it would be less than is now done by dogs. As to the best variety of wolf to introduce, the Black Wolt seems to have been able to adjust itself to conditions; it was the last to be exterminated. As far as known, the Eastern black wolf is now extinct. The Western timber wolf requires a wider range than Pennsylvania could afford. The grey Pennsylvania wolf is gone, but its congeners in the West Virginia wilds might be introduced with advantage. The brown Pennsylvania wolf is probably extinct, as its relatives in North Carolina and Tennessee has been recently killed to the last specimen by professional hunters. The Western coyote might adapt itself, and could be introduced if no other varieties were available. This animal, as already stated, resembles the Pennsylvania brown wolf in many respects. It affords sport wherever it is known, and is hardy, is game and resourceful. However, it is too prone to degenerate into a mere poultry thief to make its introduction popular. The methods of the old Pennsylvania bounty hunters would not be used by the sportsmen of the future. These included trapping, snaring, pitfalls and poisoning. The wolf hunting as practiced in Ireland in the eighteenth century, and in France today, would be best suited to present-day needs in the Keystone State. Years ago in England the open season for hunting wolves was between December 25 and March 25. It furnished ideal “Christmas” sport. A wolf hunt in France is described as follows: “An open spot is generally chosen at some distance from the great coverts where the wolves were known to lie, and here, in concealment, a brace—sometimes two brace—of wolf hounds were placed. A horse was killed and the fore-quarters were trailed through the paths and ways in the wood during the previous day, and back to where the carcass lay, and there they were left. When night approached, out came the wolves, and, having struck the scent, they followed it until they found the dead horse, when, of course, they began to feed on the flesh, and early in the morning, just before day-break, the hunters placed their dogs so as to prevent the wolves from returning to cover. When a wolf came to the spot, the man in charge of the wolf-hounds suffered him to pass by the first, but the last were let slip full in his face, and at the same instant the others were let slip also; the first staying him ever so little, he was sure to be attacked on all sides at once, and therefore the more easily taken.” This is similar to the methods followed by the Grand Dukes at Gatchina, in Russia. This aptly portrays a sport of the future for Pennsylvania gentlemen. Could anything be more blood-curdling or inspiring? In Ireland the wealthy gentry hunted wolves on horse-back. The animals were baited to come into the open, and then mounted men and wolf-hounds made after them, the effort being put forth to prevent them from getting back to cover. The huntsmen were armed with spears, and pinioned the fierce beasts to the earth from their galloping steeds. In our Western States, coyotes, and occasionally timber wolves, are coursed on the open plains by Russian wolf-hounds, followed by mounted hunters. The wolves, if run down, are killed by the pack of dogs or elses shot by the hunters. This is often done on the Russian Steppes, by a stronger race of wolfhounds than has been developed as yet in the United States. In an effort to arouse interest in a better type of wolf dogs, the writer of these pages offered two special prizes at the Dog Show of the Westminster Kennel Club, held in New York in February, 1914, for Russian wolf-hounds which had actually coursed wolves, or were kept for this purpose in a wolf country. At present the Irish wolf-hound looks to be more capable of running down wolves than the Russian variety, which is called the Borzoi. The breeding and sale of wolf dogs would add greatly to the income of Pennsylvania mountaineers. A comparison of the different varieties of wolf dogs can be gleaned from the following, which is quoted from the New York “World”: “Several years ago General Roger Williams, of Lexington, Ky.,was a judge in a wolf hunting contest in Colorado, in which Russian wolf-hounds and Scotch deer-hounds contested. Under the stipulations only two dogs could be turned loose on one wolf. Among the Russian dogs was one which had won the gold medals in a wolf-killing contest at St. Petersburg, offered by the Czar, and his owner claimed that he could kill any American wolf. But the Russian dogs failed, so did the Scotch dogs. One of the latter quit fighting for a moment and its owner pulled a revolver and shot the dog dead, saying he would not have a dog which would quit fighting.” A letter from California states that Russian wolf-hounds are a failure on ranches where they have been installed for the purpose of killing coyotes and wolves, and do as much damage to live stock as the wolves. The writer of this article is a lover of the Russian wolf-hound, and has bred the dogs since 1906. But he believes the race will have to be strengthened by actual contact with wolves, or it will deteriorate into a mere showy house-pet. In 1908 he obtained two coyotes and a Bosnian wolf for a chase at McElhattan, Clinton County. The wolf-hounds did not seem inclined to course the animals, so the chase was never held. The coyotes are now in the Reading Zoo, and the wolf was sold to a traveling showman. According to the newspapers this animal broke out of the wagon somewhere near Rochester, N. Y., bit a cow which was pasturing peacefully by the road side, and also frightened a little girl. The Russian wolfhound is a beautiful and intelligent animal, and has been justly called the “aristocrat of the dog kingdom.” Perhaps a cross between this breed and the Irish wolfhound would produce the right sort for Pennsylvania wolf hunting. With all these prospects there is a glorious vista ahead for dog-lovers and true sportsmen, if only we can get the right kind of wolves again! (pg. 87-91 ).

I have not heard of the French using sight hounds to hunt wolves, but I did know that they sometimes used the large pack hounds to run wolves down in a very similar manner to the way the English used foxhounds to run down foxes. I have heard of people using dead horses a bait for wolves, and it still sometimes used by people who illegally bait in black bears. I remember coming across a story of some bear baiters in West Virginia who were caught setting out a horse carcass filled with jelly doughnuts. I guess they thought the bear needed some dessert with its final meal.

I also think that Shoemaker may have missed out on an important fact about sight hounds. Sight hounds cannot be used in densely forested areas. Most of the places he was writing about were heavily forested regions in very steep, mountainous terrain.  Sighthounds are much more effective in open terrain, where they are less likely to run into a tree and hurt themselves. The can handle mountains, but the Allegheny Plateau is just so choppy and steep that it would be very hard for a sight hound to get going at top speed for any great distance. In the flatter and more open parts of Pennsylvania, they might have some utility, but in the mountains, this is a flight of fancy.

One must keep in mind that Shoemaker’s taxonomy of Pennsylvania wolves is a bit screwy. I do think there is some merit to the possibility that the coyote did live in the Eastern US, and this “small brown wolf” was the original Eastern coyote. However, the black and gray wolves appear to have been the same species, though likely of different subspecies. It is of note that he mentioned that large gray wolves were living in West Virginia, which contradicts the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s assertion that only “red wolves” lived here. The modern red wolf is a recent hybrid between several wolf subspecies and the coyote.

Shoemaker claimed that wolves were living in West Virginia at this late date, which is a definite possibility. The WVDNR states the wolf was extinct by 1900, but there are so many remote areas where a wolves could hide out for many years.

The notion of preserving wolves for hunters isn’t all that foreign to me.

My mother said told me that during the 60’s, when fur prices were quite high, my grandfather, an ardent fox hunter and hound enthusiast, cursed the profligacy of trappers. The trappers reduced fox numbers, and because he was really a fox chaser and not a fox hunter, he hated what it was doing to red fox numbers.

He preferred that foxes be around in relatively high numbers so that he and his friends could chase them. In this part of the world, foxes are not hunted with riders following the hounds. And the foxes are virtually never driven out to be shot. They are simply chased for the sport of it– to test the stamina and scenting powers of individual hounds and to have some bit of community, which is a rapidly vanishing commodity in this country.

I think that Shoemaker’s heart was in the right place, but it is obvious that whatever ideas he might have had about conserving wolves as game animals has largely fell upon deaf ears.

Hunters who live in wolf country want them controlled, if not extirpated from the countryside once again.

And then, there is large sector of wolf advocates who oppose killing any animal for any reason.

Of course, the more balanced view that Shoemaker and others may have espoused largely get ignored in the dichotomy of the extremes.

Wolves haven’t been reintroduced to Pennsylvania, but if the “little brown wolf” is what Shoemaker though it was, part of his dream of reintroducing wolves may have already come to pass.

Shoemaker thought the little brown wolf was the same species as the coyote of the West. He also thought that the brown wolves of the South were also coyotes, which might explain why John  Smith wrote that that wolves of Virginia were much smaller than those of Europe. They weren’t wolves at all. They were coyotes living in the East.

This notion that coyotes may have always lived in the East is very controversial, but I think the bulk of the historical record shows that there were small wolves in the South that were different from the gray and black wolves, which were probably actual wolves. The unfortunate thing about these coyotes is they were deemed “red wolves,” a species that never existed until after colonization.

The Western coyote colonized the land that was left unoccupied when the wolves and the original Eastern coyote were extirpated. It crossbred with wolves and possibly remnant Eastern coyotes to form the modern Eastern coyote. The so-called red wolf of today is just a modern Eastern coyote with a bit more wolf in it than one normally finds in Eastern coyotes. That’s what the most sophisticated genetic analyses have found, but it’s not a finding that is all that well-received for obvious reasons.

Shoemaker provides one of the most detailed accounts of what wolves were like in the Eastern United States, but much of his writing on the subject has largely been ignored.

This is unfortunate, because I think he may have had some insights from the mountain people of Pennsylvania that one might not find in the peer-reviewed journals of today.  Or on the blogosphere with its denizens of self-styled experts.

I don’t think his plan to return wolves to Pennsylvania for the purposes of using borzoi was probably not feasible.

Pennsylvania just doesn’t have steppes.

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This bitch, named Cheevra, was featured in Country Life Illustrated (28 December 1901):

Situated right in the centre of the Cheshire hunting country, within easy access of all the meets of four packs of hounds, in the prettiest part of the ” Vale,” is Kidnal House, close to Malpas Station. Here is the home of the far-famed Cheevra, the most prolific and profitable of all Irish wolfhound bitches. It is a fact well known in the doggy kingdom that within the last few years this mother of a race of canine giants, now nine years old, has had seven litters, containing fifty-two pups, all told, of which she has reared forty-six, including two such champions as Sportella and the Marquis of Donegal, both bred by that most excellent judge and owner of Irish wolfhounds, Mrs Arthur Gerard, who rivals her husband in her keenness of appreciation of the characteristics of this grand race of dogs, that owes so much of its present state of perfection to the great and constant care bestowed upon its development by these two enthusiasts, who both have learnt their lesson from the great master of the breed, Captain Graham, to whom is all the glory of having restored, resuscitated, and almost re-created the ancient Irish wolfhound. It is only those who have made the attempt to restore a lost breed, or apparently lost breed, that know what such an attempt means (pg. 850).

There are several other smooth wolfhounds featured in this article, some of which appear to be white with spots.

Everyone knows that these dogs were reconstructed with some Great Dane blood, but they also very strongly resemble the “deer greyhounds” that were fairly common throughout Great Britain and Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Deer greyhounds were large greyhounds that were often crossed with mastiffs. They were used almost exclusively for coursing red deer. The last surviving strain of deer greyhound is the “Highland deer greyhound” or Scottish deerhound.

The original Irish wolfhound essentially died out in the late eighteenth century. Unfortunately, many pseudo-experts will come up with depictions of deer greyhounds from the nineteenth century and will claim that these are Irish wolfhounds.

I’m sorry, folks, but a deer greyhound isn’t an Irish wolfhound, even though it appears to look like one.

The modern Irish wolfhound was recreated by Captain Graham. I don’t want to see another pseudo-historian post another link to a what is likely a deer greyhound and claim that this is evidence that the Irish wolfhound survived the eighteenth century.

There is some evidence that some of the old strain lived on into the nineteenth century, but Graham never used those dogs. He used Scottish deerhound, Great Dane, borzoi, and Tibetan Mastiff (for some reason).

The best account I have read of what happened to the original wolfhound can be found in Mark Derr’s A Dog’s History of America. It turns out that George Washington wanted to import these dogs to Virginia to control the wolf problem that was destroying our nascent sheep industry. He contacted Sir Edward Newenham, a protestant Irish nobleman who favored some level of home rule in Ireland.  The only confirmed dog he could find was a bitch in the north of the Ireland. The ones that Lord Altamont had were Great Dane crosses.

It was widely accepted– even in the nineteenth century– that the Irish wolfhound was a recreation.  It is not the same as the ancient Irish wolf dog. It is also not a deer greyhound.

These smooth-coated dogs disappeared from the Irish wolfhound gene pool. I certainly would have mistaken them for deer greyhounds.

But people need to understand that deer greyhounds were much more ubiquitous in the nineteenth century. If someone has a painting of a supposed wolfhound that exists before Graham started his recreation breeding program, it is more likely a deer greyhound, not a relict population of Irish wolfhound.

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This “Irish greyhound” appears in the second edition of Bewick’s A General History of Quadrupeds.

There is quite a bit evidence that the original Irish wolfhounds were mostly smooth-coated and were more or less like a Great Dane lurcher. Of course, it is likely that this heavy sighthound is actually the ancestor of the German mastiff, and the Spanish variant of this dog, often just called “the lebrel” in historical texts,  was a very important weapon in the early years of their colonization. The Spanish wolfhounds hunted Indians in very much the same way the Irish dogs coursed wolves– as macabre as that sounds.

The modern Irish wolfhound is a recreation of this old dog. It has a lot of Scottish deerhound and Great Dane in its background. Even today, there is a lot of debate about how much the modern wolfhound looks like the original. Some authorities claim that there were two types of wolfhound– one a greyhound-type and the other a mastiff. Others claim that the wolfhound was a cross between a mastiff and a greyhound type. But still others point to the existence of other heavy sighthounds in Eastern Europe and Spain and claim a connection with those dogs.

There is even a debate about whether any of the original Irish wolfhounds were used to found the modern breed. It is possible, but the original dogs were so rare in Ireland that it is unlikely that they played a role in creating the modern breed, which, as we all know, is a  large wire-haired greyhound.

Every Irish wolfhound I’ve seen has impressed me. Their height at the whithers is much greater on average than any other dog I’ve seen.

Of course, according to breed lore, the old Irish wolfhound stood as much as four feet at the shoulder. It should be noted that the same lore claims that Irish wolfhounds hunted schelch or Irish elk. That species of deer went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, and if wolfhounds hunted them, they would have to have been among the earliest dog breeds developed. I don’t think that’s possible.

Irish wolfhounds have a lot of lore and legends about them. That is because dogs of this type were quite common in Ireland for many centuries. We have lots of evidence of these dogs in the historical and archaeological record.

My favorite story is that when Cromwell invaded Ireland,  the English passed a law that prevented Ireland from exporting its wolfhounds. Ireland had a large population of wolves, and the English colonizers wanted to make Ireland safe for the wool industry. So the wolves were hunted intensely.

Not being able to export these dogs likely led to their demise. As soon as the wolves became extinct in Ireland at the end of the eighteenth century, the dogs lost their reason for being. It didn’t take very long for the dogs to become quite rare. After the Revolution, George Washington tried to import some wolfhounds to Virginia, but after his contacts in Ireland scoured the countryside, they could find only a single bitch living in the north of the country. It is possible that there were some strains left in England and Scotland, which may be where Bewick was able to find a model for this engraving.

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It’s very Medieval looking.

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This painting is by Gerard Rysbrack, and like many middle and late eighteenth century paintings, it is amazing in its anatomical correctness.

The head of the wolf is so much larger than that of the hounds. It is also a significantly larger animal.

But more amazing to me is how the artist got the wolf color correctly. The common wolf (Canis lupus lupus) usually has a tan muzzle that has some white points around the lips. (Compare with this living specimen of the same subspecies.)

Hounds of this type that grapple with the big game hunting wolves of the northern parts of Eurasia and North America generally have a high mortality rate.  Although the hounds may have been used to hunt deer and wild boar, their lives have never depended upon killing such dangerous prey. The wolf, by contrast, has evolved to kill these animals– and must engage in this sort of dangerous fighting virtually every time it wants to eat fresh meat. As a result of its lifestyle, the wolf has much more practice fighting than the dogs do.

Furthermore, the hounds do not have the physical adaptations, such as the big teeth, jaws, and muscles that control the jaws, that the wolf has.  Humans have also selected for floppy, pendulous ears in their scenthounds, which is makes the dogs look very civilized and cute. However, in this context, it gives the wolf  more of an opportunity to grab the dog by the ear and jerk its scalp off, which is one reason why many livestock guardian dogs have their ears cropped.

(Here is a photo a bear hound that a wolf scalped in this fashion. Warning: graphic image. And here is another that survived.)

Traditionally, the dogs used to hunt wolves were not scenthounds. Most wolf hunting breeds have either been sighthounds or mastiffs. (Or in the case of the Irish wolfhound and Spanish lebrel– a combination of sighthound and mastiff). Sighthounds were used to hunt wolves because they could catch a wolf on the run before it had a chance to stand and fight. Although sighthounds are slighter animals than wolves are, if they can catch and hold a wolf before it can fight them, they would have the advantage.

The Russians would use packs of scent hounds to find the the wolf, and then they would release two or three borzoi to catch it, which they did by grabbing it by the ears or neck and holding it in a very similar fashion to the way catch dogs hold feral pigs. Then the hunter would ride up and dispatch the wolf.

Mastiffs and sighthounds with mastiff in them would actually try to kill the wolf. However, it takes a big, tough dog to kill a wolf in a battle. In proportion to their body size, dogs have smaller heads and teeth than wolves do, so it was necessary to breed really big dogs if someone wanted them to fight wolves. This is probably the main selection pressure that drove the Irish wolfhound to its great size. If we are to believe saga and ancient texts, Irish wolfhounds were originally larger dogs than they are today, and their fighting prowess was renowned.  They were known for beating fighting bulldogs and mastiffs in dog fights, simply because they were no challenge compared to a wolf. The Spanish lebrel (a type of Spanish wolfhound) was so expert at grappling with wolves that they were used in war and in genocidal campaigns against the indigenous people of the New World.

Using packs of scenthounds against wolves was much less efficient than using sighthounds, sighthound/mastiffs, or mastiffs, but it may have been deemed more sporting in the eighteenth century. Nobles kept packs of hounds that were bred to look uniform. The dogs in the Rysbrack painting look very similar to foxhounds that one would find throughout the British Isles, but these dogs have been put after an animal a little harder to dispatch than a little red fox.

Many dogs died hunting wolves. Today, whenever bear hounds are run in wolf country, a few dogs never return. These dogs are scenthounds and are very ill-equipped to defend themselves against a wolf and certainly are no match for a pack. Of course, dogs that run black bears have a hazardous occupation anyway, but although they can put a single black bear into a tree, they can’t fight a wolf that really wants them dead.


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(Source for image)

This dog is an Irish wolfhound/German shepherd dog cross.

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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.

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