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


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


* * * * *

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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