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The Irish Wolfhound








It is now some thirty years since an important controversy was carried
on in the columns of The Live Stock Journal on the nature and
history of the great Irish Wolfhound. The chief disputants in the
discussion were Captain G. A. Graham, of Dursley, Mr. G. W. Hickman,
Mr. F. Adcock, and the Rev. M. B. Wynn, and the main point as issue
was whether the dog then imperfectly known as the Irish Wolfdog was
a true descendant of the ancient Canis graius Hibernicus, or whether
it was a mere manufactured mongrel, owing its origin to an admixture
of the Great Dane and the dog of the Pyrenees, modified and brought
to type by a cross with the Highland Deerhound. It was not
doubted--indeed, history and tradition clearly attested--that there
had existed in early times in Ireland a very large and rugged hound
of Greyhound form, whose vocation it was to hunt the wolf, the red
deer, and the fox. It was assuredly known to the Romans, and there
can be little doubt that the huge dog Samr, which Jarl Gunnar got
from the Irish king Myrkiarton in the tenth century and took back
with him to Norway, was one of this breed. But it was supposed by
many to have become extinct soon after the disappearance of the last
wolf in Ireland, and it was the endeavour of Captain Graham to
demonstrate that specimens, although admittedly degenerate, were
still to be found, and that they were capable of being restored to
a semblance of the original type.

At the time when he entered into the controversy, Captain Graham had
been actively interesting himself for something like a score of years
in the resuscitation of the breed, and his patience had been well
rewarded. By the year 1881 the Irish Wolfhound had been practically
restored, although it has taken close upon a quarter of a century
to produce the magnificent champions Cotswold and Cotswold Patricia,
those brilliant examples of the modern breed--a brace of Wolfhounds
who bear testimony to the vast amount of energy and perseverance which
Captain Graham and his enthusiastic colleague Major Garnier displayed
in evolving from rough material the majestic breed that holds so
prominent a position to-day.

There is little to be gathered from ancient writings concerning the
size and appearance of the Irish Wolfhounds in early times.
Exaggerated figures are given as to height and weight; but all
authorities agree that they were impressively large and imposing dogs,
and that they were regarded as the giants of the canine race.

It seems extraordinary that so little should have been accurately
known and recorded of a dog which at one time must have been a
familiar figure in the halls of the Irish kings. It was no mere
mythical animal like the heraldic griffin, but an actual sporting
dog which was accepted as a national emblem of the Emerald Isle,
associated with the harp and the shamrock.

As regards the origin of the Irish Wolfhound, more than one theory
is advanced. By some authorities it is suggested that it was the dog
which we now know as the Great Dane. Others hold that as there were
rough-coated Greyhounds in Ireland, it is this dog, under another
name, which is now accepted. But probably the late Captain Graham
was nearer the truth when he gave the opinion that the Irish hound
that was kept to hunt wolves has never become extinct at all, but
is now represented in the Scottish Deerhound, only altered a little
in size and strength to suit the easier work required of it--that
of hunting the deer. This is the more probable, as the fact remains
that the chief factor in the resuscitation of the Irish Wolfhound
has been the Scottish Deerhound.

The result of Captain Graham's investigations when seeking for animals
bearing some relationship to the original Irish Wolfe Dogge was
that three strains were to be found in Ireland, but none of the
representatives at that time was anything like so large as those
mentioned in early writings, and they all appeared to have
deteriorated in bone and substance. Sir J. Power, of Kilfane, was
responsible for one line, Mr. Baker, of Ballytobin, for another, and
Mr. Mahoney, of Dromore, for the remaining strain. From bitches
obtained from two of these kennels, Captain Graham, by crossing them
with the Great Dane and Scottish Deerhound, achieved the first step
towards producing the animal that he desired. Later on the Russian
Wolfhound, better known as the Borzoi, an exceedingly large hound,
was introduced, as also were one or two other large breeds of dogs.

The intermixture of these canine giants, however, was not at first
very satisfactory, as although plenty of bone was obtained, many were
most ungainly in appearance and ill-shaped animals that had very
little about them to attract attention. Captain Graham, however, stuck
to his work, and very soon the specimens that he brought forward began
to show a fixity of type both in head and in general outline. Brian
was one of his best dogs, but he was not very large, as he only stood
just over thirty inches at the shoulder. Banshee and Fintragh were
others, but probably the best of Captain Graham's kennel was the bitch
Sheelah. It was not, however, until towards the end of the last
century that the most perfect dogs were bred. These included O'Leary,
the property of Mr. Crisp, of Playford Hall. O'Leary is responsible
for many of the best dogs of the present day, and was the sire of Mrs.
Percy Shewell's Ch. Cotswold, who is undoubtedly the grandest Irish
Wolfhound ever bred. In height Cotswold stands 34-1/2 inches and is
therefore perhaps the largest dog of any breed now alive.

In 1900 Mr. Crisp bred Kilcullen from O'Leary, this dog winning the
championship at the Kennel Club Show at the Crystal Palace in 1902
under Captain Graham. This was the year the Irish Wolfhound Club
presented the hound Rajah of Kidnal as a regimental pet to the newly
formed Irish Guards.

Rajah of Kidnal, who was bred and exhibited by Mrs. A. Gerard, of
Malpas, was the selection of Captain Graham and two other judges.
This dog, which has been renamed Brian Boru, is still hearty and well,
and was at his post on St. Patrick's Day, 1909, when the shamrock
that had been sent by Her Majesty Queen Alexandra was handed to the
men.

Mrs. Gerard owned one of the largest kennels of Irish Wolfhounds in
England, and amongst her many good dogs and bitches was Cheevra, who
was a wonderful brood bitch, and included amongst her stock were
several that worked their way up to championship honours; she was
the dam of Rajah of Kidnal.

Besides Ballyhooley, Mr. W. Williams owned a good dog in Finn by Brian
II. Finn produced Miss Packe's Wickham Lavengro, a black and tan dog
that has won several prizes. Some judges are opposed to giving prizes
to Irish Wolfhounds of this colour, but Captain Graham did not object
to it. Finn was a very heavy dog, and weighed 148 lbs.

A hound that has been of great benefit to the breed in Ireland is
Ch. Marquis of Donegal, the property of Mr. Martin.

Amongst the bitches that have been instrumental in building up the
breed to its present high state of excellence is Princess Patricia
of Connaught who is by Dermot Astore out of Cheevra, and is the dam
of Ch. Cotswold Patricia. She is one of the tallest of her race, her
height being 33 inches; another bitch that measures the same number
of inches at the shoulder being Dr. Pitts-Tucker's Juno of the Fen,
a daughter of Ch. Wargrave.

Mr. Everett, of Felixstowe, is now one of the most successful
breeders. He exhibited at the 1908 Kennel Club show a most promising
young dog in Felixstowe Kilronan, with which he was second to Mrs.
Shewell's Ch. Cotswold, of whom he is now kennel companion. At the
same show Miss Clifford, of Ryde, exhibited a good hound in Wildcroft,
another of Dermot Astore's sons, and other supporters of the breed
are Lady Kathleen Pilkington, Mr. T. Hamilton Adams, Mr. G. H.
Thurston, Mr. Bailey, Mrs. F. Marshall, Mr. J. L. T. Dobbin, and Miss
Ethel McCheane.

The following is the description of the variety as drawn up by the
Club:--

* * * * *

GENERAL APPEARANCE--The Irish Wolfhound should not be quite so heavy
or massive as the Great Dane, but more so than the Deerhound, which
in general type he should otherwise resemble. Of great size and
commanding appearance, very muscular, strongly though gracefully
built; movements easy and active; head and neck carried high; the
tail carried with an upward sweep, with a slight curve towards the
extremity. 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. Great size, including height
at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to
be aimed at, and it is desired firmly to establish a race that shall
average from 32 inches to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite
power, activity, courage, and symmetry. HEAD--Long, the frontal bones
of the forehead very slightly raised and very little indentation
between the eyes. Skull not too broad; muzzle long and moderately
pointed; ears small and Greyhound-like in carriage. NECK--Rather long,
very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap and loose skin
about the throat. CHEST--Very deep, breast wide. BACK--Rather long
than short. Loins arched. TAIL--Long and slightly curved, of moderate
thickness, and well covered with hair. BELLY--Well drawn up.
FORE-QUARTERS--Shoulders muscular, giving breadth of chest, set
sloping, elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards.
Leg--Forearm muscular and the whole leg strong and quite straight.
HIND-QUARTERS--Muscular thighs, and second thigh long and strong as
in the Greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor
out. FEET--Moderately large and round, neither turned inwards nor
outwards; toes well arched and closed, nails very strong and curved.
HAIR--Rough and hard on body, legs, and head; especially wiry and
long over eyes and under jaw. COLOUR AND MARKINGS--The recognised
colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any colour
that appears in the Deerhound. FAULTS--Too light or heavy in head,
too highly arched frontal bone, large ears and hanging flat to the
face; short neck; full dewlap; too narrow or too broad a chest; sunken
and hollow or quite level back; bent fore-legs; over-bent fetlocks;
twisted feet; spreading toes; too curly a tail; weak hind-quarters,
cow hocks, and a general want of muscle; too short in body.





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Previous: The Otterhound



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