Irish Wolfhound History

The Irish Wolfhound and Coursing

Mr. M.K. Angelo, who was one of the early breeders of the Irish wolfhound - he started in 1890 - had homes in Brighton and Scotland and used his hounds to course stags and find wounded deer at his Scottish home. An article entitled "Deer Coursing in Parks", which appeared in Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes in 1879, mentions the use of the wolfhound.

"Amongst those sports that have almost died out from our midst, such as wild-deer hunting, falconry, and so forth, is deer-coursing in parks, and although it was in great favour with our ancestors, it is only heard of occasionally in the present day; as where the deer are still kept up, the rifle is oftener used than the rough hounds for their capture. Nevertheless, where the park is a large one, to give scope for the efforts of dog and deer, a great deal of very fine sport might still be seen in coursing, or running, deer.

There are few, we presume, who are not conversant with descriptions of deer-coursing in the Highlands of Scotland, which has been so graphically written by more than one author on the sports of the North, so that we seem to see Buskar and Bran racing from the slips, and are able to follow every phase of the course until the stag is pulled down, or, having reached some rock or lake, turns on his assailants and holds them at bay, in those glorious altitudes with which Landseer has rendered us familiar.

That is the perfection of the sport, which only the strong and active, who are able to bear the fatigue of deer-stalking, have any chance to see, for no horseman could follow across the ground where this desperate race for life takes place. These courses may be seen now, in a few instances, in as great perfection as in the days of which Ossian sung; and, moreover, the same noble race of hounds, which was so nearly extinct a few years ago that deerstalkers had recourse to various crosses to supply their place, are again become far more common, and we believe can be found in many kennels of pure lineage.

The deerhound is, no doubt, a descendant of the old Irish wolfhound, which the best authorities consider identical with the Highland deerhound, and which probably was (perhaps we should not say numerous) but pretty fairly distributed over the British Isles, and used for coursing deer and wolves, where wolves remained. When these pests of the fold became extinct, it is probable that deerhounds were bred smaller than when they might be called upon to pursue either kind of game.

Mr. G. Graham, no doubt the highest authority on the breed, thinks that even now, from the remaining stock, it would be possible to breed them up to the original size again, and surely the experiment would be worth trying.

It has often struck us that fine sport may be had in France with some of these big deerhounds, in wolf-coursing, where the wolf breaks from one covert to another, and it is almost useless to follow him with show hounds unless he is wounded, as at a certain pace he can go on for ever. This sort of chase is in vogue now in Russia, and was, we shall presently show, resorted to in deerhunting by our ancestors.

Deerstalkers can, however, scarcely be expected to participate in the movement for increasing the size of these hounds, as it is well known that a smaller dog not only escapes the antlers of the deer better when 'set up', but, as may well be conceived, does himself less injury amongst the rocks and crags he has to traverse in the Highlands, where, so long as there is sufficient power to hold a deer when caught, the less weight the less chance of injury there is.

Stonehenge considers them to be 'identical with the rough Scotch greyhound, but being kept for a particular purpose, they differ in their mode of running from those dogs. No one can say, looking at the two breeds, which is the greyhound and which is the deerhound; but the moment they are slipped at hare or deer, a remarkable difference in the style of going is apparent, which detects the courser of the hare from the deer. They are equally fast; but the deerhound gallops with his head in the air, and his body, raised off the ground, ready for a spring at the throat or the ear, or even the thigh of his prey; while the greyhound, with his head close to the ground, lies down ventre à terre, and he is also prepared to pick up his prey, not pull it down. This difference is so remarkable that I am assured by Mr. A. Graham, the greatest authority on the subject of rough greyhounds, that in their ordinary play you may at once detect the two varieties, though in kennel it would be utterly impossible.'

If they are of the same breed, we think there is little doubt but the rough greyhound used for hare was descended from the deerhound, and not the deerhound descended from the greyhound, as in early days coursing the deer was in much greater repute than the hare.

The following are the dimensions of Buskar, a hound of the old breed, the property of Captain McNeil, of Colonsay; height, 28 inches; girth, 32 inches; running weight, 85 lbs.; of a black muzzled red or fawn colour.

Some of the ancient size would appear to be regained, for Idstone, in his book of 'The Dog', published in 1872, speaks of them as follows: 'A dog of good proportions should stand 30 inches at the shoulder-blades, and girth 34 inches. His forearm should be 8½ inches, and is weight 100 lbs. or more', and says that at a show in London, in 1863, over forty were exhibited.

Scroope resorted to mongrels, because in his day he could not get the true breed. Idstone also says, 'Sir George Gore had a dog 34 inches in height'. This is nearly up to the ideal standard of the wolfhound, in fact larger than the average Captain G.A. Graham allows them. Whether known as wolfhound, deerhound, or greyhound, he is a noble dog, and a very old verse, when translated, thus describes him:—

"An eye of sloe, an ear not low,
With horse's breast, with depth of chest,
With breadth of loin, and curve in groin,
And nape set far behind the head;
Such were the dogs that Fingal bred."

He was very popular with the nobility, and considered a valuable present, as in the old romance of 'Sir Eglamore' a princess tells the Knight she will give him a greyhound:—

"Sir, yf you be on huntinge found,
I shall gyve you a good greyhounde,
That is dun as a doo;
For as I am tewe gentylwoman,
There was never deer that he at ran,
That myght yscape him fro'.'

Thus we see that deer-coursing was a favourite sport in those early days, and a good dog so much prized as to be considered an acceptable present for those of high rank. This perhaps may tend to show that he was a good greyhound hunting 'at force', or in the open, as we know from old records and illuminated manuscripts that ladies so pursued the sport, as also did the gentlemen, for does not Robert Greene, in his 'Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay', make Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, say—

"Why looks my lord so like a troubled sky,
When heavens bryght shine is shadowed with a fog?
Alate we ran the deer, and through the launds,
Stripped with our nags the lofty frolic bucks,
That scudded 'fore the teazers like the wind;
Ne'er was the deer of Merry Freshingfield
So lustily pulled down by jolly mates,
Nor shared the farmers such fat venison,
So frankly dealt this hundred years before;"

Nor have

"I seen my lord more frolic in the chase,
And now changed to a melancholy dump."

Mr. Angelo 
 Mr. Angelo

The Planned First Irish Wolfhound Coursing Meeting

James Nagle of the Sulhamstead kennel was very keen on having hounds which could do the job they were bred for. He wrote an article for Our Dogs following the Ladies' Kennel Association Show of 1924:

"It was particularly interesting to the writer to see in the Daily Mail of April 28 a photograph of Mrs. Benyon with her Irish wolfhound, Buller, who had successfully led two attacks on marauding lions, as it proves that to-day there is still a great opportunity for breeders of this fine hound. The breeder of the thoroughbred always keeps in his mind that the horses he breeds must prove their ability on the turf. The breeder of the champion beast at Smithfield thinks about the great honour when he is mating the parents – and I wonder if the breeders of Irish wolfhounds think of wolf when they are mating? The writer hopes to be able to take half a dozen of these noble hounds to Canada before many years pass, and have a real holiday hunting wolf, and it is with that object in view that he presumes to criticise the hounds at the above show.

"Should space allow, I think that it would be of great value to the breeders of these hounds if they had a description of the wolf and his character. I do not think that a description given over a hundred years ago, when they knew something of wolf, can be improved upon, so I therefore quote it:–
'Tall, gaunt, and grim, well knit in frame, all sinew, bone, and muscle, not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his carcase; his countenance is an epitome of villainy; cunning sharpens his nose, ferocity curls his lip and threatens on his fangs, cowardice lurks in his restless eye, and suspicion in his pricked ear. Nor do these outward signs belie him, for cowardice, ferocity, and cunning are mingled through his nature. Mark his stealthy pace; 'tis the silence of a murderer. His lithe spring tells of folds o'erleaped at midnight; his massive jaw has, among his bolder wintry troop, torn the horse's throat or the bull's broad dewlap. Examine him as you may, no redeeming feature will you find. Take him while a cub, rear him in kindness, he will sullenly suffer your care in infancy, and rend you in his strength. His very love is blood-stained, for the whole pack set on the favoured male and tear him to pieces. Has he run down an antlered prey, or, ghoul-like, violated a new sepulchre – he will gorge unto stupefaction; yet can his wiry strength endure through a week's hunger. In summer, while the forest and the mountain afford him food and shelter, he seldom ventures up on the plain, or if 'with Tarquin ravishing strides' he skulks toward the sleeping flock, there needs but the distant bark of the watchdog – nay, his own shadow – to scare the wretch back to his den. But when the winter's snow has driven him famishing from the woods, vainly is the armed brow of the bull bended to meet him; vainly the boar gashes at his side, or the sturdy dog grips him by the throat; on, on, on rush the fell pack, blind to all dangers, reckless of wounds and of death; they drag down their noble foe, bury the yet living flesh in their insatiate maw, and dash on to new murders. War, pestilence, and famine are the wolf's purveyors. In war – leagued with the raven, the crow, and the vulture – he follows in the track of the armies; and often does the far sentinel of the outpost see him prowl about, or hear him crunching the mangled corpse. When famine and pestilence are abroad he becomes more daring as they advance. He boldly stalks through the streets, snatches the infant from the mother's dry bosom, drags the dead and dying indiscriminately from their deserted beds, and revels amid the general doom. No wonder that man and beast should pursue him to extermination as the common foe. It frequently happens that cattle discover him away from the mountain fastnesses during the summer; they then form a large circle round him, while they gradually contract until every horn of the drove has staked him to the earth. The horse pursues him and tramples on him; the boar drives him from his path; but the dog is his most implacable enemy. The latter will follow his long gallop for miles nor pauses in the chase until exhausted. If the wolf is overtaken – and it is only with the best of hounds that this happens – the wolf struggles desperately, but in silence, and dies, as he has lived, a sullen savage.'

"This graphic description of the wolf needs no embellishment, but I should think that the writer of that article did not know that we should now have hounds that can pull a wolf down in a run. We have made tremendous improvement during the last twenty years as regards size, power, and soundness. Perhaps a general criticism of the breed may be that the heads are too much like a Great Dane. The Irish Wolfhound Club standard calls for a long, level head, not too broad over forehead; and that standard is absolutely correct, as without the length of muzzle I contend that a hound cannot get sufficiently deep into the throat of the wolf to enable him to puncture the jugular vein. Do not forget that wolves are not killed by tickling their throat, but by drawing their life's blood. To enable a hound to get to close quarters he must be built to gallop and stay the course and must be as fit as the wolf when the fight does start. It seems to me to be such a pity that many hounds to-day are shown fat – not fit. It ought to be a pleasure to give them sufficient exercise to keep them full of muscle and health, and then, given the right bodily formation, we are on the right track..............

"It's the hind legs that propel the hound and the great thing with the forelegs is to get out of the way of the hind action; for that reason I like the pads of the fore feet to be turned slightly inwards. I think that on the whole I could have found six that I would like to hunt wolf with, but I assuredly found few that I shall carry in my mind's eye when breeding the ones I want. Which were they, did you say? If you have not gathered the ones together, then write to me and I will tell you – in confidence.— J. NAGLE."

In 1924, he started to set up a coursing meeting near his home on Salisbury Plain. The plans for the meeting were publicised in the dog papers and entries requested. The meeting was scheduled for January, 1925 and Isaac Everett mentioned in his Wolfhound Whines column in Our Dogs:-

"Mr. J. Nagle writes that he has some very interesting entries for the coursing meeting, and that several very well-known winners on the bench are to take part. Mrs. Southey is running Crewkerne Georgie (winner bitch challenge certificate at LKA) and another. Mrs. Beynon is running three or perhaps four. This is an interesting entry, as all her hounds have hunted big game in Kenya, and that good sportswoman is anxious to see how her hounds perform against the English-bred hounds. Lady Watson will probably run her hound, Sulhamstead Pedlar (the sire of Ch. F. Kilcullen). Pedlar is now in his sixth year, but kills hares regularly and will make some of the younger hounds gallop. The greatest support seems to come from the fair sex, and the entries by men are so far Mr. Nagle's Sulhamstead Thelma and the writer's Ch. Felixstowe Killcao.

"I know that Mr. Nagle has splendid and ample accommodation for the hounds that will take part, and that the air at Stourbridge is indeed very bracing, so that both owners and hounds should have an enjoyable outing. There are no fences or ditches, so that risk of injury is reduced to a minimum."

Another publication ran an article with several pictures, with the title "Irish Wolfhounds for Coursing: Some of the entrants for the forthcoming official meeting near Amesbury, Wiltshire. The idea of holding coursing meetings with Irish wolfhounds came some long time ago from Mr. James Nagle, of Amesbury in Wiltshire, and at last a meeting has been arranged to be held near Amesbury in January, under National Coursing Club rules. Support has been promised by many well-known breeders, and a good entry is expected. Mr. Nagle, who has had a very wide experience of these dogs, has found that they have plenty of speed, can outstay a greyhound over a long course and are only a little slower at killing. By reason of their great size the Irish wolfhound is probably the most powerful breed of dog in the world and Mr. James Nagle's famous Champion Felixstowe Kilcullen, a son of Lady Watson's Sulhamstead Pedlar, is of such giant proportions that he must be one of the largest dogs anywhere in the world. Although they are growing steadily in popularity here, wolfhounds are not in such great demand as in North America and such places where they are trained to combat the prairie wolves who prey upon the flocks. The projected meeting will be awaited with much interest."

James and Florence Nagle 
With some of the wolfhounds, who, it has been found, have plenty of speed, can outstay a greyhound over a long course, and are only a little less smart at killing: Mr. James Nagle, with Miss Innes (kennel maid) and Mrs. James Nagle at his Amesbury kennels. 
 Miss Innes with two hounds
 About to slip Mr. Everett's Ch. Felixstowe Killcoo and Sulhamstead Thelmar for a course: Miss Innes exercising the dogs.
 Patricia Nagle with F. Kilcullen  A giant specimen of perhaps the most powerful breed of dogs in the world:
Miss Patricia Nagle with her father's Ch. Felixstowe Kilcullen
 contented trio
 A contented trio: Felixstowe Killcoo and Thelma with
Sulhamstead Pedlar
 An exercising party with some dogs near Stonehenge.

Major Harding Cox wrote: "I was, in view of my impending articles, greatly interested in the "Irish" wolfhounds. Breeders assuredly have produced, by careful eugenic methods, a most imposing animal. A few years back these had little beyond their size to recommend them. They were nearly all of them very weak in the nether limbs and feet, and weedy in body. All that has now been changed, and they are supported by "understandings" which well might be an object lesson to the protagonists of some of the smaller breeds.

"They seem an amiable and intelligent lot. Their owners assure me that they possess great speed and A1 stamina. They are as keen as mustard on coursing, but, as may well be imagined, they are not adepts at killing. I understand that a coursing meeting for these colossal beasts is to be inaugurated. May I be there to see. How about deerhounds, borzois, salukis and Afghans chipping in! It would be a sight for the gods! Then we should see if any, or all, of these breeds are really entitled to be scheduled in the sporting dog section.

"I have not the least doubt in my own mind what the ingredients were which "reconstructed" the "Irish" wolfhound. Obviously the Great Dane and the Scottish deerhound have had an overwhelming, if not monopolising, part in its production. But why not? None of our breeds are absolutely pristine. All have been originally evolved by judicious crossing and interbreeding."

Despite, or perhaps because of, all this publicity, James Nagle's intended coursing meeting was not, in fact, the first, as the newly formed Irish Wolfhound Association pipped it at the post by holding a meeting at Pippingford Park, where the programme included trailing and coursing. This can be seen on the next page.

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