Irish Wolfhound History

Coolafin Kennels

Coolafin was the kennel started by Phyllis Gardner, who lived in Maidenhead, Berkshire when she started in the breed.

Phyllis Gardner was born in Cambridge in October, 1890. Her father was Director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens but in 1896 became Professor of Archaeology at the University of London. Her sister Delphis was born in 1900 and her brother Christopher in 1902. Phyllis had major problems with her health during childhood, and Christopher was what would probably nowadays be called 'autistic'. None of them married but Phyllis did have a secret romantic interlude with poet Rupert Brooke, which only came to light in 2000 and is now documented in a book by Lorna C. Beckett, entitled "The Second I Saw You", published by The British Library, ISBN 978-0-7123-5792-0.

Brooke, who had also had major health problems throughout childhood, died of septicaemia in 1915, when he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Division, and was buried in Athens. Phyllis was devastated but threw herself into her war work and then, later, into the Irish wolfhound breed. It was at the end of the war that the family moved to Maidenhead, to a large house called Recess, where they remained for the next twenty years. The name she chose for the kennel was a variation on her mother's birthplace of Coolavin in Ireland.

Phyllis had been an art student and was to put a huge amount of time and effort into producing woodcuts and drawings of Irish wolfhounds from the past. In many cases, these are the only replicas we have of those hounds. She had an advertisement in the 1928-9 Yearbook for 'Portraits - Line and Wash Drawings and Statuettes in Natural Colours'. Drawings from £3.3.0d, Statuettes from £5.5.0d.

She also worked very hard and thoroughly on the history of the Irish Wolfhound and wrote a book on the subject that is still much in demand in the present day. Entitled 'The Irish Wolfhound', as well as going in depth into the history of the breed, it contains pedigrees of some of the early hounds and lots of Phyllis' drawings and pictures of her statuettes.

Phyllis was first listed as a member of the Irish Wolfhound Club in the 1928-9 Yearbook and the first hound registered to her was Eva of Brabyns, bred by Capt. T. H. Hudson, by Fionn Ma Coul of Brabyns ex Maga of Brabyns and born July 16th, 1927. At this time the Brabyns kennels were in Andover, Hampshire, so probably one of the nearest breeders. By the 1929-30-31 Yearbook, Phyllis was on the Committee.

 Eva of Brabyns
 Eva of Brabyns

The first Coolafin litter was by Bournstream Simba ex Eva of Brabyns, born January 19th, 1929 and one of the puppies - Dermot of Coolafin - was transferred to Lady Gardner of the Knightellington Kennels, who also lived in Maidenhead but was not a relation. An advertisement from 1929 reads: "The beautiful bitch, Eva of Brabyns, has taken prizes at big shows, including one 1st at a championship show. She is about 2½ years old, and is very large and powerful, and at the same time swift and light on her feet. The reason she has not been placed higher in shows is probably that she had an accident to one leg whilst a puppy, and though normally this is not noticeable, it might just make the difference to a judge in doubt. She is exceptionally large for a bitch, and is taller than a good many males one sees exhibited. The 7-months-old puppies with her in the photograph are by Bournstream Simba, which belongs to Col. Durand, and is a personal pet, and has protected his mistress against lions in Kenya Colony.

Phyllis Gardner and group of hounds 
 Miss Phyllis Gardner with her Irish Wolfhounds
on Maidenhead Thicket
l to r: Dominick of Coolafin, Diamhar-Geal of C.,
Doran Down of C., Eva of Brabyns, and Dermot of C.

"Eva is the personal companion of Miss Gardner, and sleeps in her room except when she has puppies. She has a very good nose, and hunts on a fresh high scent with great accuracy. She will find a person in a crowded shopping centre at command. The young ones are being taught this hunting, and are developing good noses.
"Miss Gardner has parted with most of the youngsters, but not lost sight of them. She intends to keep and breed from the young bitch, Diamhar-Geal of Collafin. She still has Dominick of Coolafin, a very dark grey-brindle, an exceptionally large and well-grown youngster, and a most graceful mover. "Coolafin" is the prefix Miss Gardner has taken, being an old form of the name of her Irish ancestors. Eva has been mated to Mr. Strohmenger's Saturn of Coval, and a litter is hoped for before the New Year."

In 1930, Phyllis registered Ethne of Coolafin, bred by Mrs. I.H. Barr, by Monk of Clonard ex Radiance of Grevel and born May 25th, 1930. Ethne was mated to Lady Gardner's Dermot and whelped a litter on November 2nd, 1931. Earlier that year - June 24th or possibly May 24th (there were two registrations) - Sile Deirin of Coolafin had a litter from which was registered Coolin of Coolafin. Sile Deirin was registered in 1931 as 'pedigree, breeder, and date of birth unknown'.

Sile Deirin of Coolafin 
 Sile Deirin of Coolafin
 Ethne of Coolafin with puppies
 Ethne of Coolafin with her litter

Ethne is described in a 1931 advertisement (in which the above photograph was included) as "the white Irish Wolfhound which has been filmed by Pathé.........Ethne is a grand-daughter of Ch. Sulhamstead Conncara, and is a direct female-line descendant, ten generations, from Captain Graham's famous Ch. Sheelah. Dermot [sire of the puppies] is a son of one of Mrs. Beynon's dogs which protected her against a lion, and traces in male-line to Captain Graham's Brian II."

In an advertisement for the Coolafin kennel taken in the Irish Wolfhound Club Yearbook for 1929-30-31, it says: "While it is true we attend some shows, and are pleased when we breed a winner, our first consideration is to produce a strain whose qualities are more deeply rooted than the fashionable show type of the moment. Puppies bred here have everywhere proved perfect companions, being intelligent, affectionate and adaptable, as well as swift, powerful and hardy. All our breeding stock are house pets, and all our young stock carries the fearless strain of the famous Irish Wolfhound who defended his mistress from a lion. [This was Bournstream Simba, sire of the first Coolafin litter]

A group of puppies 
 A group of puppies
l to r: Bioultach, Cormac, Maga, Rayleen, Conacia, Manus, Roseen Dhu,
Mononia and Lagenia of Coolafin (members of three different litters)
Phyllis Gardner in the centre, brother Christopher on left and sister Delphis on right of picture
 Charles Gardner with group of hounds  Ethne of Coolafin
Christopher Gardner with l to r:
Maga of C (4 months old),
Diamhar-Geal of C,
Bournstream Paul, Coolin of C,
Sile Deirin of C.
Ethne of Coolafin
(in foreground)

It was in the 1929-30-31 Yearbook that Phyllis's book, 'The Irish Wolfhound A short historical sketch' was advertised. Published by the Dunalgan Press, Dundalk, it was on sale for 7s 6d, with 6d postage charge. Also in this Yearbook was an article by Phyllis, entitled "The True Successor".

 Phyllis Gardner
 Phyllis Gardner

Bioultach of Coolafin was born on November 17th, 1931, by Bournstream Paul ex Diamhar Geal of Coolafin (one of the Bournstream Simba/Eva of Brabyns litter). He was registered in 1932 and another litter, born December 26th, 1931, was also registered that year - a repeat of the Dermot-Sile Deirin mating. which included several of those shown in the picture of the group of puppies [above]. Bournstream Paul (by Broadbridge Michael ex Bournstream Runa, born August 13th, 1928) came into the kennel in 1932. Four more Coolafin puppies went to Lady Gardner that year.

Bioultach of Coolafin 
 Bioultach of Coolafin
 Virol advert
 This photograph of Phyllis with Cannavaun appeared in a VIROL advertisement:-
"I enclose a photograph of 'Cannavaun of Coolafin'. His life was saved by Virol and Milk before his eyes were open. At 3 or 4 days old he contracted gastric trouble
and we thought we should lose him, as he had wasted away till we could see his ribs, and he had not the strength to suck his mother.
We put him on Virol and Milk mixed with a little fresh goat's milk given every 2 hours in an eggspoon. He very rapidly recovered condition, and after about 3 or 4
days was put with the mother again. Since then - he is now a year old - he has not had a day's illness. He has wonderful sound limbs, and has won several
prizes at show." (Signed) PHYLLIS GARDNER, 6th February, 1934

Phyllis was very keen on the wolfhound being capable of doing the job it was bred for and was one of the group who set up The Irish Wolfhound Coursing Club, which was inaugurated in 1934. This was actually the second version of the Coursing Club, as the first was started by James Nagle in 1924 but only lasted a couple of years. The first meeting of the new Club was held at Sulhamstead on January 23rd, 1934, and at the second meeting on January 15th, 1935 Phyllis was sponsoring the Open Dog Stakes, which continued for the fourth meeting as well. After the eighth meeting in January 1938, the Coursing Club appeared to come to an end.

Sile Deirin had another litter on June 27th, 1934, this time by Bioultach, and the previous December Ethne of Coolafin had a litter, and so did Roseen Dhu of Coolafin (one of the Dermot-Sile Deirin 1931 litter), both also by Bioultach. One of the Sile Deirin litter - Avoca of Coolafin - was transferred in July, 1935 to Sheelah Seale, who was to start the famous Ballykelly kennels.

 Roseen Dhu of Coolafin
 Roseen Dhu of Coolafin
 group of hounds
 Lagenia, Roseen Dhu, Maga and Bioultach of Coolafin
This picture was in an advertisement which read:- "This attractive picture shows four home breds and all are winners. The two on the outside are litter brother and sister by Bournstream Paul ex Diamhar-Geal of Coolafin. Roseen and Maga, in particular, are very accomplished jumpers, with grand style and action. Bioultach is a very large hound, and though he has won well, and is two years old, he is by no means yet at his best, either in size, strength, or coat. Two specialities of this kennel are temperament and intelligence. All the four in the picture are very clever and easily taught. It will be noted no one is holding them and they are posing quite naturally. They have all got nicely set and mobile ears, and the creamy-white hounds have dark eyes and dark toe-nails, thus denoting they are not deficient in pigment. All the dogs take their turn at coming into the house and all are perfectly behaved indoors, but are hardy and spend most of their time in the open air. It is amusing to watch each one who knows when it is his or her turn for the house, and when Miss Gardner goes to fetch the lucky one, the right dog is always waiting at the door of their enclosure.
Young stock and adults from this successful kennel are usually for disposal. PHYLLIS ROBSON

group of hounds
A Group of the Coolafin Irish Wolfhounds
L. to R. Roseen, Ethne, Leary, Bioultach, Lena, Maga, and Conna
This appeared in a December 1933 advertisement which read:-
This kennel's representatives have done a certain amount of exhibition work this season, winning at championship and open events. Their best list of wins was secured at Reading, where the "Coolafins" took a number of firsts and two specials.
The biggest dog in the team, BIOULTACH, is but a youngster yet, as the breed goes, and he shows every promise of growing and furnishing for some time yet. Though a large-framed dog and not completely muscled up, he is very active and a great jumper. The special care at this kennel has been to breed for hardy, active dogs with intelligence.
ROSEEN DHU is a typical blue grey specimen, but the colour that has been made rather a specialty is light creams (practically white), with dark eyes and toenails. The best known of this colour are ETHNE, her daughter MAGA, and another of a different strain, LAGENIA.
All the inmates of this kennel are taught to take high jumps at command. 
 Dhulag and Luath
 Dhulag & Luath of Coolafin taking the high jump

In October, 1935 two litters were registered, one by O'Finn of Coolafin out of Sile Deiran, and one by Bioultach of Coolafin out of Roseen Dhu of Coolafin. From this litter one bitch - Laira - was transferred to the ownership of Christopher and one - Lydia - to the ownership of Delphis. In 1936 only one litter was registered; again by Bioultach but out of Ethne of Coolafin.

 Phyllis with group of hounds
 Phyllis with Ethne, Diamhar-Geal, Bioultach, Dhulagh & Roseen Dhu of Coolafin

Phyllis was a major driving force in the setting up of the Irish Wolfhound Society. When it was first proposed to start it, the name chosen for it was "The Graham Irish Wolfhound Society", but the Kennel Club would not allow it to be registered under this name. The object of the Society was said to be "The chief object of the Society is to encourage the true old Irish Wolfhound and to dispel the delusion that he is extinct, or is a modern made breed; to make it known that he is in place in the nursery, and also if need arise capable of tackling a wolf; to promote the true type, and to maintain the Standard as set forth by Captain Graham." There were twenty-two members, a Year Book was produced in 1937 and another in 1938, but the Society then folded. Click here for more on the Society. The Society badge and the Challenge Trophies were all Phyllis' work. Phyllis also brought out three albums on the hounds of the past; the first and second were entitled "Some Great Irish Greyhounds and Wolfdogs of the Past" and the third (published in November, 1935) entitled "Irish Wolfhound Portraits". Her intention was to bring out more albums annually, but this apparently fell by the wayside, perhaps because of all the work that went into starting up the Irish Wolfhound Society, and the problems at home. The three albums were published as one in 2000 by The Irish Wolfhound Club of Ireland and can be obtained from

 Irish Wolfhound Society badge
The Member's badge of the Irish Wolfhound Society 


 Londu of Coolafin  Estercel of Coolafin
 Mrs. Dobelli's Londu of Coolafin  Mr. Bathurst's Estercel of Coolafin
 group of four hounds  Lydia of Coolafin  Lydia with Welsh Springer
 Ethne, Maura, Eremon and Etain of Coolafin  Delphis Gardner's Lydia of Coolafin  Lydia of Coolafin with Welsh Springer Spaniel Cherrybinket
large group of hounds 
 (Left to right) Diamhar-Geal, Etain, Dhulagh, Eremon, Maura and Roseen Dhu of Coolafin
(Lying down) Fenora, Ethne, Sile Deirin, Luath, Bioltach, Laira, and Lydia of Coolafin
 Dhulagh of Coolafin  pair of Coolafin hounds  Maga of Coolafin
 Dhulagh of Coolafin  Roseen Dhu & Cannavaun of Coolafin  Maga of Coolafin

Phyllis also worked on sorting out Captain Graham's 'Working Stud Book' listing the hounds of the past and their pedigrees, where known. She was helped in this by Mr. J.B. Waldy, who lived in Surrey and had a collection of photographs of early hounds, which Phyllis was able to copy. Mr. Waldy died during the war and all his memorabilia was lost. Delphis continued with the work after Phyllis' death and it was published by the Irish Wolfhound Club of Ireland after Delphis' death.

In April, 1938 Sheelah Seale bred a litter and one of the dogs - Admiral of Ballykelly - was transferred to Phyllis and a bitch to Delphis, and Sile Deirin of Coolafin had another litter with only one puppy being registered - McCormaic of Coolafin. In June that year, Delphis registered a litter she had bred under the kennel name Moly's, which was by O'Finn of Coolafin ex Lydia of Coolafin. In July a bitch and a dog from a litter bred by Mrs. M. Hagen were transferred to Phyllis, and in August Delphis transferred one of her Moly's litter to Phyllis. In September a litter was registered by Silvagh Tim of Ballykelly ex Laira of Coolafin, with Christopher listed as the breeder. In October a bitch called Cillbrigide (by Luath of Coolafin ex Fenora of Coolafin) was transferred to Phyllis from Mrs. Hagan, and in November Sciath of Coolafin, a bitch, by Laudable of Grevel ex Jocularity of Grevel, wh. August 17th 1938 and bred by Mrs. H.A.H. Shields was registered to Phyllis.

 Luath of Coolafin
 Luath of Coolafin

Phyllis had been for some time very busy at home, with her parents becoming frail and unwell, and her brother Christopher requiring a lot of care. Her mother died in December 1936 and in 1938 Phyllis was diagnosed with cancer and died on February 16th, 1939, and her father died about ten months' later. Delphis had a really hard time following Phyllis' illness and death, with having not only to look after her father until he too died but to take over the care of all the dogs and of Christopher, which was very difficult for her, as she had relied so much on Phyllis. And, of course, war had been declared.

Despite this, Delphis was breeding Old English Spaniels under the Molys kennel name, while still continuing with the Coolafin Irish wolfhounds, to which she then added Deerhounds. She and Christopher were still living in Recess, Boyn Hill, Maidenhead and did so throughout the war.

In 1939 transfers were listed in the Kennel Club records from the late Miss P. Gardner, with Elain of Coolafin, Luath of Coolafin, Dhulagh of Coolafin and Mac-Cormac of Coolafin to Delphis; with Sile Deirin of Coolafin and Molys Brannagan to Christopher. In February, 1940 two dogs by Silvagh Tim of Ballykelly ex Kilanny of Ouborough, bred by Sheelah Seale and whelped on December 6, 1939 were registered - with Christopher as owner - under the Coolafin name, and a bitch from the same litter was registered with Delphis as owner under the Molys name. The same month another bitch was transferred to Delphis from Miss J. Hames, by Silvagh Tim of Ballykelly ex Lesbia of Coolafin, wh. February 7, 1939.

 Coolafin advert
 This advertisement was in 1940

March, 1940 a litter bred by Delphis was registered with Christopher as the owner; it was by Develin Dan ex Etain of Coolafin, wh. February 4, 1940. The next litter was not until August 1942, by Luath of Coolafin ex Sciath of Coolafin, and in November of that year one of the dog puppies was transferred by Christopher to Delphis. Two litters were bred in 1943, both by Luath of Coolafin; one registered with the breeder as Christopher and the other with the breeder as Delphis. The Spaniels appeared in the kennel advertisements in 1940 and Deerhounds in 1941.

 Sciath and Luath  Coolafin trio
 Sciath of Coolafin & Luath of Coolafin  Allula of Ballykelly, Carac of Coolafin & Etain of Coolafin

In 1944 a litter was registered under Christopher's name, but bred by Delphis, by Luath of Coolafin ex Molys Finnigan, then nothing until December 1945 when Ballykelly Silveen was transferred to Delphis by Sheelah Seale. 1946 saw one litter bred and the transfer to Delphis of Taraheen Kerry Piper from Mrs. O'Flaherty, and in 1947 a dog and a bitch were registered by Delphis from a litter bred by Miss M. Kennelly; sire Irish Monarch, dam Julia of Coolafin. These two were then re-registered in March 1948 with a different date of whelping.

 two wolfhounds and deerhound
 Luath of Coolafin, Cara of Coolafin and Deerhound Amoret
 group of wolfhounds
 Sciath of Coolafin, Luath of Coolafin, Elinor of Coolafin (5 months old) and Fainne of Coolafin (5 months old)

In 1947 Delphis' inability to cope with all the dogs, the continuing difficulty of obtaining food, an outbreak of distemper, problems with mange, and Christopher's behaviour problems, came to a head with her being taken to court in Maidenhead by the RSPCA - the animals having been found in a 'pitiful' state of malnourishment and skin problems - and fined.

In December 1948 Christopher registered a bitch, Conbeag of Coolafin from a litter bred Father E. Egan, by Cronin of Boroughbury ex Cumala of Coolafin; and in February 1949 Conbeag was transferred to Delphis. Some time in 1949 Delphis and Christopher moved to Ireland, having sold Recess and bought a farm in Curracloe, Wexford. Whilst clearing Recess Delphis decided to donate to the British Library Phyllis' memoirs of the time in which she knew Rupert Brooke, and the letters he had written to her. A 50 year time seal was put on it but it was not until 2000 that the cache was unearthed from the British Library.

Despite now living in Ireland, the Coolafin hounds were still being registered with the Kennel Club in England, as well as with the Irish Kennel Club. The last entry was in 1956.

Delphis' behaviour seemed to be getting as odd as Christopher's and they were seen by the locals as being at least eccentric, if not more. A housekeeper moved in to a separate dwelling on the farm and removed articles from the house and sold them to local shops. When Delphis died in 1959 the housekeeper took Christopher to a solicitor and had a will made out, to which she was witness, in which everything was left to her. Christopher died in 1968.

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September 9th, 2015