By Vero Shaw, B.A. Cantab., published by Cassells,1881
Assisted by the Leading Breeders of the Day
The IRISH WOLFHOUND by George A. Graham, Dursley
It is with a certain amount of diffidence that this essay is entered upon, as there is a widely-spread impression that the breed to be treated of is extinct. That we are in possession of the breed in its original integrity is not pretended; at the same time it is confidently believed that there are strains now existing tracing back, more or less clearly, to the original breed; and it also appears to be tolerably certain that our modern Deerhound is descended from that noble animal, and gives us a very fair idea of what he was, though undoubtedly considerably inferior in size and power. Had it not been for these facts, the courage to write this chapter might have been wanting; but they appear to be so clear to the writer, that he can proceed, with the feeling that most of his readers will perceive that he is amply justified in undertaking a history and description of this very magnificent example of the canine race - that, indeed, may be said to have been its king.
There have been several very interesting and clever essays written on this subject. Two of the ablest and most valuable were written by Mr. A. McNeill of Colonsay, in 1838, and Mr. H.D. Richardson, in 1841. These treat exclusively of the Irish Wolfhound, though in Mr. McNeill's case it is more to show the identity of the breed with the modern Deerhound that he writes. Richardson, on the other hand, proceeds to show us that, though undeniably of the same stamp, the Irish dog was far superior in size and power, and that from him is descended, in these later days, the modern Deerhound. Both these authors have shown considerable ability and ingenuity in their arguments, and no one can deny that they are worthy of every consideration. Richardson would appear to be in error on some points, but in the main his ideas would certainly appear to be reasonable and correct. That Richardson was highly qualified to offer a sound and most valuable opinion is proved by the very admirable manner in which he has treated of and described almost every known breed of dog, whether British or foreign. That we have in the Deerhound the modern representative of the old Irish Wolfdog is patent. Of less stature, less robust, and of slimmer form, the main characteristics of the breed remain; and in very exceptional instances specimens occur which throw back to and resemble in a marked manner the old stock from which they have sprung. It is not probable that our remote ancestors arrived at any very high standard as to quality or looks. Strength, stature, and fleetness were the points most carefully cultivated - at any rate, as regards those breeds used in the capture of large and fierce game. It is somewhat remarkable that whilst we have accounts of all the noticeable breeds from a remote period, including the Irish Wolfdog, we do not find any allusion to the Deerhound, save in writings of a comparatively recent date, which would in a measure justify us in supposing that the Deerhound is the modern representative of that superb animal.
It is a matter of history that this dog was well known to and highly prized by the Romans, who, we are led to understand, frequently used him in their combats in the arena, for which his great size, strength and activity eminently fitted him. It has always been a moot point whether the Irish Wolfdog was, strictly speaking, a Greyhound, or was of a more robust form, approaching the Mastiff. Let us, then, proceed to investigate the question.
Richardson tells us that "Pliny relates a combat in which the dogs of Epirus bore a part. He describes them as much taller than Mastiffs and of Greyhound form, detailing an account of their contests with a lion and an elephant." This, he thinks, suffices to establish the identity of the Irish wolfdog with the far-famed dogs of Epirus!
Strabo describes a large and powerful Greyhound as having been in use among the Celtic and Pictish nations, and as being held in such high estimation by them as to have been imported into Gaul for the purposes of the chase.
Silius describes a large and powerful Greyhound as having been imported into Ireland by the Belgae, thus identifying the Irish Wolfdog with the celebrated Belgic dog of antiquity, which we read of in so many places as having been brought to Rome for the combats of the amphitheatre.
Sir James Warr, in his "Antiquities of Ireland", thus writes regarding the Irish Wolfdog about 1630 (?):- "I must here take notice of those hounds which, from their hunting of wolves, are commonly called Wolfdogs - being creatures of great size and strength, and of a fine shape," &c.
Warr also gives as a frontispiece to his book an allegorical representation of a passage from the Venerable Bede, in which two dogs are introduced bearing a very strong resemblance to the Irish Wolfdog or Scottish Deerdog, in those days doubtless the same animal. The Venerable Bede was born 672, died 735.
We are informed by two very eminent authorities - the Venerable Bede and the Scottish historian Major - that Scotland was peopled from Ireland. We know that by the early writers Scotland was styled Scotia Minor, and Ireland Scotia Major, and it is scarcely necessary to make any remark as to the native languages of the primitive inhabitants of the two countries. The colonisation therefore of Scotland from Ireland under the conduct of Reuda being admitted, can we suppose that the colonists would omit taking with them specimens of such a noble and gallant dog, and one that must prove so serviceable to their emigrant masters, and that, too, at a period when men depended upon the chase for their subsistence? True, this is but an inference, but is it not to be received as a fact when we find that powerful and noble dog, the Highland Deerhound, a tall rough Greyhound, to have been known in Scotland since its colonisation? Formerly it was called the Wolfdog, but with change of occupation came change of name. In Ireland wolves were certainly in existence longer than in Scotland, but when these animals ceased to exist in the former country, the Wolfdogs became gradually lost. Not so in Scotland, where abundant employment remained for them even after the days of wolf-hunting were over. The red deer still remained, and useful as had these superb dogs proved as Wolfdogs, they became perhaps even more valuable as Deerhounds.
Richardson then goes on to show us, from Ossian's poems, that such dogs appertained to the chieftains regarding whose prowess, &c., he sings; but the writer does not apprehend that any real value can be placed on Ossian's accounts prior to the date at which they professed to be issued in a collective form by Macpherson, viz., about 1770, as in the judgement of many persons competent to form a just opinion, those poems almost entirely owe their origin to the prolific brains of the supposititious translator. Ossian is supposed to have flourished in the third century.
In the ninth century the Welsh laws contained clauses entailing heavy penalties on any one found maiming or injuring the Irish Greyhound, or, as it was styled in the Code alluded to, "Canis graius Hibernicus", and a value was set upon them equal to more than double that set on the ordinary Greyhound.
"Camden", about 1568, says: "The Irish Wolfhound is similar in shape to a Greyhound, bigger than a Mastiff, and tractable as a Spaniel."
"Holinshed's," or rather Stainhurst's, description of Ireland, about 1560, contains this short account of the noble Wolfdog: "Ireland is stored of cows, excellent horses, of hawkes, fish, and fowle. They are not without wolves, and Greyhounds to hunt them bigger of bone and limb than a colt."
Gough, in his edition of "Camden", published 1789, has this passage on the Wolfhound: "Bishop affirmed that wolves still infested the wild and solitary mountains. Under the article of Greyhounds, Mr. Camden (writing probably about 1530-60) seems to place the Wolfhounds, which are remarkably large, and peculiar to this country."
In November, 1562, the Irish chieftain Shane O'Neill (possibly an ancestor of the Lords O'Neill, to be alluded to as owning Irish Wolfhounds later on) forwarded to Queen Elizabeth, through Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, a present of two horses, two hawks, and two Irish Wolfdogs; and in 1585, Sir John Perrott, who was Deputy of Ireland from January, 1584 to July, 1588, sent to Sir Francis Walsingham, then Secretary of State in London, "a brace of good Wolfdogs, one black, one white". Later still, in 1608, we find that Irish Wolfhounds were sent from Ireland by Captain Desmond of Duncannon to Gilbert Earl of Shrewsbury. When Sir Thomas Rowe was ambassador at the court of the Great Mogul, in the year 1615, that emperor desired him to send for some Irish Greyhounds as the most welcome present he could make him. The foregoing are from an article on the Irish Wolfhound, by Mr. Harting, that appeared in Bailey's Magazine for September, 1879. (Note: the full title was Baily's Magazine of Sports and Pastimes and the article can be seen here)
Ware is one of the few old writers (1654) who has said anything on the Irish Wolfdog, and his words are scanty. "Although we have no wolves in England, yet it is certain we have had heretofore routs of them as they have at present in Ireland. In that country is bred a race of Greyhounds, which is fleet and strong, and bears a natural enmity to the wolf."
Evelyn, about 1660-70, says: "The Irish Wolfhound was a tall Greyhound, a stately creature indeed, and did beat a cruel Mastiff. The Bull-dogs did exceedingly well, but the Irish Wolfdog exceeded!" He was then describing the savage sports of the bear-garden.
Ray, about 1697, describing the Irish Greyhound, says: "The greatest dog I have yet seen, surpassing in size even the Molossus (Mastiff?) as regards shape of body and general character, similar in all respects to the common Greyhound; their use is to catch wolves."
The writer would remark in passing that there is but little doubt that the ordinary Greyhound of that date was a rough-coated dog.
Buffon, about 1750-60, speaks of these dogs as follows: "They are far larger than our largest Mâtins, and they are very rare in France. I have never seen but one, which seemed to me when sitting quite upright to be nearly five feet high, and to resemble in form the dog we call the Great Dane, but it differed from it greatly in the largeness of its size. It was quite white, and of a gentle and peaceable disposition."
From Goldsmith, about 1770, the following is extracted:- "The last variety, and the most wonderful of all that I shall mention, is the Great Irish Wolfdog, that may be considered as the first of the canine species. He is extremely beautiful and majestic in appearance, being the greatest of the dog kind to be seen in the world. The largest of those I have seen - and I have seen about a dozen - was about four feet high, or as tall as a calf of a year old. He was made extremely like a Greyhound, but more robust, and inclining to the figure of the French Mâtin or the Great Dane," &c.
Brooke, in his "Natural History" of 1772, states: "The Irish Wolfdog is, as 'Ray' affirms, the highest dog he had ever seen, he being much larger than a Mastiff dog, but more like a Greyhound in shape."
Smith, in his "History of Waterford" (1774) uses very similar words:- "The Irish Greyhound, though formerly abounding in this country, is likewise become nearly extinct. This dog is much taller than the Mastiff, but made more like a Greyhound."
Pennant (1776-81) informs us that the Irish Gre-hound - a variety once very frequent in Ireland, and used in the chase of the wolf, now very scarce - is a dog of great size and strength.
From Bewick (1792) we gather that "the Irish Greyhound is the largest of the dog kind, and its appearance the most beautiful. It is only to be found in Ireland, where it was formerly of great use in clearing that country from wolves. It is now extremely rare, and kept rather for show than use, being equally unserviceable for hunting the stag, the fox, or the hare. These dogs are about three feet high, generally of a white or cinnamon colour, and made somewhat like a Greyound, but more robust. Their aspect is mild; their disposition peaceable; their strength is so great that in combat the Mastiff or Bull-dog is far from being equal to them. They mostly seize their antagonist by the back and shake them to death, which their great strength generally enables them to do." M. Buffon supposes the Great Danish dog to be only a variety of the Irish Greyhound. About this time (1794) certain dogs in the possession of the then Lord Altamont were put forward as being Irish Wolfdogs; but there appears to be no doubt whatever that these dogs were degenerate specimens of the Great Dane. Mr. Lambert, describing them to the Linnæan Society, stated that "they were the only ones in the kingdom; their hair was short and smooth, the colour brown-and-white and black-and-white." An engraving of one of these dogs is given in the "Encyclopædia Britannica" published in 1810, and it represents an under-bred Great Dane, of dull and mild appearance. Richardson at one time was in error regarding these dogs, for he accepted them as being true specimens of the Irish Wolfhound; but he was afterwards, from careful enquiry and research, quite disabused of any such idea, and concluded that the Irish Wolfhound was a rough Greyhound of gigantic stature and immense power.
To suppose that these dogs were Irish Wolfhounds was absurd to a degree, as that breed was known to be very scarce, whereas the Great Dane was (and is) to be met with in great numbers on the Continent.
The present Marquis of Sligo informed the writer about twelve years ago that he had often made inquiries from persons who had seen his father's dogs, and as far as their descriptions would enable one to judge, they rather resembled some of the German Boarhounds, being rather like powerful, shaggy Greyhounds, but a good deal larger. It is probable that the shagginess was a mistake, as Mr. Lambert distinctly states them to have been smooth.
E. Jesse tells us that the late Lord Derby purchased the portrait - in Mr. Lambert's possession - of one of Lord Altamont's dogs. Now, it is a well-ascertained fact that, in the face of this model (!), Lord Derby bred, as Irish Wolfdogs, a very powerful and robust dog of Deerhound character (!!), showing that he set small value on the picture as representing the true breed of Irish Wolfdog.
In the "Encyclopædia Britannica" of 1797 we are shown a drawing of the Irish Gre-hound, which represents a very thick-set, tall Greyhound, with a rough coat and massive head; colour apparently brindle or black-and-white.
The "Sportsman's Cabinet" - a very valuable old book on dogs, of which there were but a limited number of copies published in 1803, and which is illustrated by very good engravings after drawings from life by Reinagle, a Royal Academician - says:- "The dogs of Greece, Denmark, Tartary, and Ireland, are the largest and strongest of their species. The Irish Greyhound is of very ancient race, and still to be found in some far remote parts of that kingdom, though they are said to be reduced even in their original climate. They are much larger than the Mastiff; exceedingly ferocious when engaged." A remarkably spirited drawing is given of this dog, which, though faulty in some minor points, gives us an admirable idea of what this grand dog was.
Notwithstanding the undoubted resemblance of this sketch to a gigantic rough Greyhound of great power, the letterpress is continued to the effect that the dog is identical with the Great Dane - a totally different dog in appearance - which is manifestly absurd; and on the letterpress we can accordingly put no great stress, though the portrait undoubtedly has a real value. E. Jesse coincides in this opinion, as when speaking of the "Sportsman's Cabinet" he says:- "It is a work more remarkable for the truth and fineness of its engravings than for the matter contained in it." It is a noticeable and remarkable fact that, whilst this book professes to treat of every known variety of British dog, it does not make any mention whatever of the Scottish Deerhound.
A few extracts from this book are given that bear on the subject under consideration, though not taken from the chapter descriptive of the Irish Wolfhound or Greyhound.
"The Greyhound, large Danish dog, and Irish Greyhound, have, according
to Buffon, exclusive of their likeness of figures and length of muzzle, a
similitude of disposition."
"The peculiar irritabiity of the olfactory sensation seems by natural observation to depend more upon the largeness than the length of the nose, for the Greyhound, Danish dog, and Irish Greyhound, have evidently less power of scent than the Hound, Terrier, &c."
"The Bulldog and Irish Greyhound have their ears partly erect."
"The Great Danish dog, taken from thence to Ireland, the Ukraine, Tartary, Epirus, and Albania, has been changed into the Irish Greyhound, which is the largest of all dogs."
"The Greyhound and Irish Greyhound, Buffon goes on to say, have produced the mongrel Greyhound, also called the Greyhound with the wolf's hair" - in all probability the present Scotch Deerhound (?)
Dr. Scouler, reading a paper before the Dublin Geological Society in 1837, says:- "The Irish Wolfdog was a very distinct race from the Scotch Hound or Wolfdog, which resembled the Irish breed in size and courage, but differed from it by having a sharper muzzle and pendent ears."
McNeill, in his article on the Irish Wolfhound, written in 1838, says:- "Whatever may have been the origin of the name, there is little doubt as to the antiquity of a species of dog in this country (Ireland) bearing a great resemblance in many points to the Greyhound of the present day, and passing under that name, though evidently a larger, nobler, and more courageous animal."
He goes on to argue that "from the rough and uncultivated state of the country, and the nature of the game that was then the object of the chase - viz., deer of all sorts, wolves, and foxes - that the dogs would be of a larger, fiercer, and more shaggy description than the Greyhounds of the present day."
From the "Museum of Animated Nature", published in 1842-45, the following account of the Irish Wolfdog is taken:- "In Scotland and Ireland there existed in very ancient times a noble breed of Greyhounds used for the chase of the wolf and deer, which appears to us to be the pure source of our present breed. It is quite possible that the Mâtin is a modification of the ancient Greyhound of Europe - represented by the Irish Greyhound or Wolfdog - as that it is the source of that fine breed, as Buffon supposes. Few, we believe, of the old Irish Greyhound exist."
From the very interesting book entitled "Anecdotes of Dogs", by E.
Jesse, published 1846, the following is gleaned:-
"The Irish Wolfdogs were formerly placed as the supporters of the arms of the ancient monarchs of Ireland. They were collared 'or', with the motto, 'Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked.'"
The well-known Mrs. S.C. Hall, wrote to Jesse the following interesting account of an Irish Wolfdog:- "When I was a child (probably 1812-15), I had a very close friendship with a genuine old Wolfdog, Bruno by name. He was the property of an old friend of my grandmother's, who claimed descent from the Irish kings. His name was O'Toole. His visits were my jubilees. There was the kind, dignified, old gentleman, and there was his tall gaunt dog, grey with age, and yet with me full of play. The O'Toole had three of these dogs. Bruno was rough - but not long-coated."
Richardson tells us that the late Sir W. Betham, Ulster King-at-Arms, an
authority of very high importance on any subject connected with Irish
antiquities, in communicating with Mr. Haffield, who read a paper on the Irish
Wolfhound before the Dublin Natural History Society, about 1841, states as
follows: "From the mention of the Wolfdogs in the old Irish stories and
poems, and also from what I have heard from a very old person, long since dead,
of his having seen them at the Neale, in the County of Mayo, the seat of Sir
John Browne, ancestor to Lord Kilmaine, I have no doubt they were a gigantic
Greyhound. My departed friend described them as being very gentle, and that Sir
J. Browne allowed them to come into his dining-room, where they put their heads
over the shoulders of those who sat at table; they were not smooth-skinned like
our Greyhounds, but rough and curly-haired."
"The Irish poets call the Wolfdog 'cu' and the common Greyhound 'gayer', a marked distinction, the word 'cu' signifying a champion."
Some dogs were owned by the late Hamilton Rowan, of Merrion Square, Dublin, which were erroneously asserted to be Irish Wolfhounds. Regarding these dogs the following communication was kindly made to the writer by Mr. Betham, a son of Sir W. Betham before alluded to:- "My father was very intimate with the late Hamilton Rowan, who was the only man possessed of the breed (Irish Wolfhound), and who was so chary of it that he would never give away a dog pup without first castrating him. I have repeatedly seen the dogs with him when I was a boy, and heard him tell my father how he became possessed of them. He was in Paris about the time of the first French Revolution, and was given a dog and a bitch, and was told there that they were Danish. He then went to Denmark, thinking he would see more of the breed. When he got there he was told they were not Danish but Irish, and were brought over by someone from Ireland - I forget whom. The dogs were of a very peculiar colour - a kind of brindle blue-and-white, sometimes all brindled and sometimes a great deal of white with large irregular brindle patches, and were much given to weak eyes. They stood about 2 feet 4 or 6 inches at the shoulder, were smooth-haired, and were a most powerful dog. Hamilton Rowan was very proud of being the only possessor of the breed, and seldom went out without one or more accompanying him."
In a second letter he goes on to say:- "I can speak from personal knowledge, and from having often seen the dogs, that the true breed of Irish Wolfdogs are smooth-haired, not shaggy like the Scotch Deerhound. They were coarse-haired, like the Bloodhound. I am not acquainted with the German Boarhound (i.e Great Dane); very possibly they might have been somewhat similar to the Irish breed. Hamilton Rowan's dogs were very powerful, and at the same time active dogs with rather a sharp nose and shrill bark. My father used to say that when he dined at Hamilton Rowan's the dogs used to be in the parlour, and were so tall they could put their heads over the guests' shoulders when sitting at the table, though the dogs were standing on the floor."
Beyond the shadow of a doubt these dogs were simply Great Danes, as Mr. Rowan had evidently been told in Paris; the description leaves no doubt on that head. Richardson tells us the fact was that Mr. Rowan owned some of the breed known as Great Danes, and he never by any chance called them by the wrong name. He also owned a true Wolfdog, and knew him to be such, calling him "the last of his race". This dog was a large rough Greyhound of iron-grey colour. Mr. Rowan subsequently presented this dog to Lord Nugent. In corroboration of this fact the writer was informed by the late Sir John Power, who recollected Mr. Rowan and his dogs, and who would have reached man's estate at the time, and been well able to judge of them, being a thorough lover of the canine race, that Richardson's description of the true Wolfdog belonging to Mr. Rowan was right. Mr. Betham remembers the dogs only as a boy, and the distinction between the Danish dogs and the true old rough dog would hardly have struck him; hence his misconception on the matter. Mr. Betham's account is only inserted and confuted to remove any impression that certain of Hamilton Rowan's dogs were aught but Great Danes, which has been erroneously otherwise concluded. Mr. Betham confesses, it will be seen, that he is not acquainted with the Great Dane or Boarhound, which are common and plentiful in all Continental countries; he cannot, consequently, be considered a fair judge on the subject.
Youatt has this regarding the Irish Wolfdog:- "This animal is nearly extinct, or only to be met with at the mansions of one or two persons, by whom he is kept more for show than use, the wild animals which he seemed powerful enough to conquer having long disappeared from the kingdom. The beauty of his appearance and antiquity of his race are his only claims, as he disdains the chase of stag, fox, or hare, though he is ever ready to protect the person and property of his master. His size is various, some having attained the height of four feet. He is shaped like the Greyhound, but stouter."
Literature and the powers of depicting an animal in its correct form were in such a crude and immature stage amongst the nobility and gentry of the land at the periods when we have our first accounts of the Irish Wolfdog, that it is not in the least to be wondered at that the imperfect descriptions given of the breed by such persons as were equal to the task were allowed to go uncontradicted by the only people in whose hands the breed was likely to be. From the accounts we have, however, we can clearly and distinctly gather that the dog has always been of Greyhound shape, of gigantic stature, and great power; in fact, such a dog as a cross between the Great Dane and present Deerhound would produce, as to form and bulk, but of superior size.
Richardson, to further his views regarding the probable size of the ancient Irish Wolfdog, tells us that certain canine skulls were found by Surgeon Wylde at Dunshauglin which were concluded to be those of the Irish Wolfdog; of these the largest was 11 inches in the bone, and from that fact he proceeds to argue that the living dog must have stood about 40 inches. To begin, he takes for his guide a Deerhound dog standing 29 inches, whose head measures 10 inches. To the 11-inch Irish Wolfhound skull, he adds 3 inches for muzzle, hair, skin, and other tissues, thereby making the head of the living dog 14 inches; thus getting the height of 40 inches from it, as compared to the 29 inches from the 10-inch head. Here, however, he would appear to be in error, as 1½ or 2 inches at the most would be enough to allow for tissues, &c., making the head 12½ to 13 inches only, and so reducing the height to 36 inches; moreover, the measurement of 10 inches for the head of a 29-inch Deerhound is manifestly insufficient, as the writer can testify from ample experience. A Deerhound of that height should have a head of at least 11 inches; so, calculating on the same principles, the skulls would have been from dogs standing about 34 inches. This skull is stated to have been superior in size to the others, so if the argument was of any real worth, we can only gather from it that the dogs would have ranged from 31 to 34 inches in height, which is probable enough.
It is an incontestable fact that the domestic dog, when used for the pursuit of ferocious animals, should be larger and apparently more powerful than his quarry if he is expected to take and overcome him single-handed, as the fierce nature, roving habits, and food of the wild animal render him more than a match for his domesticated enemy, if of only equal size and stature. We know that the Russian Wolfhounds (certainly very soft-hearted dogs), though equal in stature to the wolf, will not attack him single-handed - and wisely too, for they would certainly be worsted in the combat. The Irish Wolfdog, being used for both the capture and despatch of the wolf, would necessarily have been of Greyhound conformation, besides being of enormous power. When caught, a heavy dog such as a Mastiff, would be equal to the destruction of a wolf, but to obtain a dog with Greyhound speed and the strength of the Mastiff, it stands to reason that his stature should considerably exceed that of the Mastiff - one of our tallest as well as most powerful breeds. The usual height of a Mastiff is thirty inches; and, arguing as above, we may reasonably conclude that to obtain the requisite combination of speed and power, a height of at least thirty-three inches would have been reached, though we are told by several writers that he exceeded that height considerably.
In the New York Country, about May, 1878, it is written:- "It is absurd to give as a reason for the indifference and apathy through which such a breed has been allowed to die out or its perpetuity to be endangered, that in the extermination of his particular foe - the wolf - his occupation was gone. A noble animal of this character should never have been permitted to waste away while curs of the lowest degree are petted and pampered and carefully provided for. In this country particularly the Irish Wolfdog could be made of special service. Here he would find in the chase and extermination of the wolf a wide field for his prowess and courage. On the western bounds of civilisation he would be invaluable for the purposes of hunting, his keen sight and scent rendering him superior to many breeds now in use, and as a companion and friend of man his fidelity and devotion have never been called in question. All the testimony which comes down to us agrees as to his sagacity, courage, strength, speed, and size, although in this last point we perceive there is a difference of opinion. Even allowing that he attained a height of from thirty-two to thirty-five inches, he is taller than any breed now living, although the early accounts published of him state he was from three to four feet high."
For many months a spirited controversy and correspondence on the Irish Wolfhound was carried on in the Live Stock Journal by the writer and others, without, it is confidently thought, in any way disturbing the conclusions on the breed which the writer has, from careful and prolonged consideration of the subject, arrived at, and which will be set forth presently.
The question as to whether it is desirable to continue and thoroughly resuscitate this superb breed now that his occupation is gone is hardly worth entertaining.
Have not a dozen breeds - such as St. Bernards, Collies, &c. - been taken up, cherished, and improved to a marvellous degree? Why not, then, take such measures to recover the Irish Wolfdog in its original form? It can be done; the means are at hand if the will be only forthcoming. From the materials forthcoming in such specimens of the breed as are extant and the largest Deerhounds, with judicious crosses for size and power, there is little doubt that the breed can be restored to us in much of its original magnificence, and the noble canine giant - always held to be typical of Erin - would be worthily and faithfully represented.
As the Deerhound of the present day is to the ordinary Greyhound, so is the giant Irish Wolfhound to the Deerhound. An Irish paper, waxing enthusiastic on the subject, says, not long ago, regarding the Irish Wolfdog:- "This animal has become celebrated as the heraldic protector of our country. Fair Erin sits pensively beside her harp, the round tower stands near, and guarding all three, reclines the Wolfhound. Scotland's lions have been famed in story; England 'stole' one of them, say some, and joining him in company with the unicorn, committed to his trust the honour of Albion; but the unicorn is a beast which even Dr. Houghton has never seen, while we must go back to the antediluvian era to find lions in Great Britain. But the Wolfdog is no mythic beast in Ireland; he was and we trust will again be, included amongst the undoubted, exclusive, and most distinguished specimens of the Irish fauna."
In the British Museum there is a Grecian vase, some 450 B.C., on which Actaeon is depicted surrounded by his dogs. Some of them would appear identical with what the Irish Wolfhound was, save, perhaps, in the matter of coat.
On some ancient frescoes at Easton NestonHall, near Towcester, are depicted various hunting scenes. In one of these two vast dogs of Deerhound type are represented as seizing a boar, and these frescoes having been painted at a time when the Irish Wolfhound existed, may be looked upon as throwing considerable light on the real type of that breed. They are shown to be vast Deerhounds, with rough wiry coats, of a dark blue-grey colour; ears small and falling over.
It will be well now to state the conclusions at which the writer has arrived
as to the general appearance and character of the Irish Wolfhound, after a
prolonged, searching, and careful study of the subject.
FormThat of a very tall, heavy, Scotch Deerhound, much more massive and very majestic-looking; active and fast, perhaps somewhat less so than the present breed of Deerhound; neck thick in comparison to his form, and very muscular; body and frame lengthy.
HeadLong, but not narrow, coming to a comparative point towards the nose; nose rather large, and head gradually getting broader from the same, evenly up to the back of the skull - not sharp up to the eyes and then suddenly broad and lumpy, as is often the case with dogs bred between Greyhound and Mastiff.
CoatThere can be little doubt that from the very nature of the work the dog was called upon to do this would be of a rough and probably somewhat shaggy nature, and to this end points the evidence gained from Arrian - second century - who leaves no doubt in our mind that the great Greyhound of his day was rough in coat; also from the ancient Irish harp, now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, which is ornamented with a figure of the Irish Wolfhound rough-coated. Sir J. Browne's dogs were rough and shaggy; Mr. O'Toole's dog was rough; also Hamilton Rowan's. The former Earls of Caledon owned Irish Wolfdogs which were rough; added to which, in former days all Greyhounds were, we have every reason to believe, rough; certainly the larger varieties, as is now without exception the case. So it is with justice concluded that the coat was rough, hard and long all over body, head, legs, and tail; hair on head long, and rather softer than that on body, standing out boldly over eyes; beard under jaws being also very marked and wiry.
ColourBlack, grey, brindle, red, and fawn, though white dogs were esteemed in former times, as is several times shown us - indeed, they were often preferred - but for beauty the dark colours should be cultivated.
EarsSmall in proportion to size of head, and erect as in the smooth Greyhound. If dark in colour it is to be preferred.
The Tail should be carried with an upward curve only, and not be curled as is the case with many Greyhounds.
SizeWe may safely deduce that the height of these dogs varied from 32 to 34 inches, and even 35 inches in the dogs, probably from 29 to 31 inches in the bitches. The other dimensions would naturally be about as follows for well-shaped and true-formed dogs. Girth of chest - Dogs, 38 to 44 inches; bitches, 32 to 34 inches. Weight in lbs. - Dogs, 115 to 140; bitches, 90 to 115. Girth of fore-arm - Dogs, 10 to 12 inches; bitches, 8½ to 10 inches. Length of head - Dogs, 12½ to 14 inches; bitches, 11 to 12 inches. Most modern authors and all practical lovers of the canine race whom the writer has consulted are agreed that the foregoing is the correct type of dog beyond question; and although some differ slightly as to the comparative bulk and power of the dog, the difference is small when dispassionately looked at.
To anyone who has well considered the subject such conclusions are inevitable, and this impression has been manifestly handed down to us for generations.
Although several writers have incorrectly confounded the Great Dane with the Irish Wolfhound, yet it is probable that the two breeds were not infrequently crossed; indeed, it is possible that in foreign countries the Irish Wolfhound may have degenerated into the Great Dane and other varieties, as it has into the Deerhound with us. That such as the case Buffon does more than suggest. Major Garnier, who gave the subject considerable attention at one time, rather holds to this opinion, and says "that whilst the Highland Deerhound is the most correct type, the German Boarhound has best retained the size, though at the expense of character."
These facts may possibly have influenced erroneously the opinions of some of the naturalists of the latter end of the last century, and will also account for the fact of Lord Altamont's dogs having been put forward as Irish Wolfhounds, which they certainly were not.
The last wolf was supposed to have been killed in Ireland about 1710.
Richardson says:- "Though I have separated the Irish Wolfdog from the Highland Deerhund and the Scottish Greyhound, I have only done so partly in conformity with general opinion, that I have yet to correct, and partly because these dogs, though originally identical, are now unquestionably distinct in many particulars."
The former Earls of Caledon at one time owned a breed of Irish Wolfhounds, regarding which the present peer has obligingly collected the following particulars:- "The dog was in appearance between a Mastiff and a Deerhound; slighter and more active than the one, more massive and stronger than the other; as tall or taller than the tallest Deerhound; rough but not long-coated; fawn, grizzly, and dun in colour: some old men on the property have mentioned a mixture of white."
A breed was also owned by the Lords O'Neil, also by Lord Castletown; but no information regarding them has been obtained, although a friend of the writer was presented, many years ago, with a bitch of the former breed which answered very much to the description given above of Lord Caledon's dogs.
In a very interesting letter from America, written to a gentleman residing in England published in the Live Stock Journal some time ago, the writer says:- "I have felt an interest in the subject for over fifty years. My father often spoke of Lord Sligo's (Altamont's) breed of dogs, and doubted their being the genuine Irish Wolfdog. He had every opportunity of observing them himself, being much at Westport House during his youth." After making other observations, he goes on to say:-"The bone of the fore-leg is, I should say, the point that best distinguishes dogs of this class from all of the Greyhound class, whom in actual build they so much resemble. The massiveness of that bone is out of proportion altogether, and it certainly was not made for speed so much as for power and endurance. I think all the Scotch dogs that I have seen are deficient in this respect, and I attribute it to crossing with lighter-built breeds in order to obtain swiftness for deer-hunting. The epithet 'hairy-footed' in old Irish poems leaves no doubt as to the comparatively rough coat of the Irish Wolfdog."
That it is beyond reason that any dog should have stood 36 inches is not the case, as Lord Mount Edgcumbe has a picture of a dog taken life-size which measures 36 inches to the shoulder. The skeleton of this dog (apparently a Great Dane), which is also preserved, would corroborate this measurement. A picture was also painted for the Marquis of Hastings in 1803 by Clifford de Tomsan, which represents a dog standing 36 inches at shoulder - also apparently a Great Dane, of a buff-and-white colour. The picture measures 7½ feet by 5½ feet, so it will be seen the dog must of necessity have been gigantic. We have also had some enormous dogs "in the life" of late years. The great American dog exhibited to Her Majesty some eighteen years ago was said to stand 36 inches. Sir Roger Palmer's Sam was 34. Both were Boarhounds. Several of our Mastiffs have stood 33 and even 34 inches. The great dog brought from America by Mr. Butler of New York about four or five years ago stood about the same height. He was a descendant of the dog shown to the Queen - also owned by Mr. Butler. On the Continent it is not uncommon to find dogs standing 33 and 34 inches, and a Boarhound has been brought to the writer's notice, belonging to a gentleman residing at Cologne, that was reported to stand 37 inches by a gentleman well accustomed to large dogs. The tallest dog the writer has actually measured stood 34½ inches on the shoulderblade - a giant indeed. With all these examples before us, and some of them within our reach, there is no reason why the Irish Wolfhound should not be restored to its original height of from 33 to 35 inches.
It is worthy of remark that whilst some people scout the very idea that the Deerhound is the descendant of the Irish Wolfhound, McNeill is proud to claim such descent for his favourite breed.
Major Garnier at one time turned his attention to Irish Wolfhounds, and produced one or two dogs of great size, but he was unable to carry his projects to an end, being suddenly ordered to the Cape. He was thoroughly convinced that the recovery of this breed in its pristine grandeur and magnificence was only a question of time if the would-be breeders were steadfast in their endeavours. He had laid down for himself certain rules in breeding, which are given:-
"1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 I have not merely met with as the opinions of other people, but I have proved them incontestably myself. With regard to No. 1 - 'Quality' - I mean 'blood', nervous development, vigour, energy, and character."
He concludes by saying:- "Anyhow, with Ulmer Boarhounds and Russian Wolfhounds (of course in conjunction with the Deerhound and such of the Irish breed as are in existence) I believe it it is quite possible to re-establish the old breed of Irish Greyhounds in all their former beauty and power. I should, however, be content with perfection of form and coat at 34 inches."
The writer is not prepared to coincide entirely with the above rules, but in the main he considers them correct, and such as can safely be adopted by breeders. The Foxhound, the Pointer, the Shorthorn, and many breeds of sheep and pigs, have been brought to their present excellence by judicious crossing; why should not the same principle be applied to the perfecting of the Irish Wolfhound?
About the year 1863 the writer took the Irish Wolfhound question up, and instituted very searching inquiries after any specimens of the breed. For some time he did not meet with much success; but about twelve years ago three distinct strains were brought to his notice - viz., those of the late Sir J. Power of Kilfane, the late Mr. Baker of Ballytobin, and Mr. Mahoney of Dromore - alas! now all believed to be lost, save some of the descendants of the first two strains, which are in the writer's and one or two other hands. Isolated specimens were also heard of. The Kilfane strain owed their origin to dogs bred by Richardson, about 1840, who, not content with writing, actively set to work to discover the breed; from him Sir John Power had more than one specimen. Richardson obtained bitches from Mr. Carter of Bray (whose strain he mentions in his essay), and crossing these with a grand dog of great height, produced some remarkably fine dogs. It is also believed that this strain was descended from Hamilton Rowan's dog, Bran, before mentioned. Of this strain also were the Ballytobin dogs. Mr. Baker was an enthusiast regarding all old Irish institutions, and having built himself a castle, he did all he could to increase the size of the deer in his park, also to restore to their original form the Irish Wolfdogs. To this end he procured the best specimens, wherever to be had, regardless of cost, and at his death some twelve years ago, he left a kennel of really fine dogs. The pick of these - bequeathed to a friend - a bitch, eventually came into the possession of the writer, and from her and from dogs of the writer's own breeding his present strain has sprung. The strain of Mr. Mahoney was originally procured from Sir John Power, and Mr. Mahoney thus speaks of them:-
"The pedigree I had, but I do not think I could now find it. I remember
that the grandsire or the great-grandsire was one of the last old Irish dogs
which I have an idea belonged to the famous Hamilton Rowan; but of this I am
not certain. As wolves disappeared in Ireland the dogs gradually fell away
also. They were expensive to keep, and from the fifteenth century the diet of
the people gradually changed from being almost exclusively animal to being
purely vegetable. Thus there was no food to preserve the size and power of the
dogs. The race of red deer also became extinct except in the mountains of
Kerry, where a few wandered; but under the care of Lord Kenmare and Mr.
Herbert, and their successors, have developed into noble breeds without a
cross. Thus there was no inducement to extenuate the old powerful dog into the
swifter but sparer Deerhound, and the few specimens that remained preserved the
original characteristics; while in Scotland the cause that preserved the race
from extinction tended to change its qualities and older heroic proportions
into the modern Deerhound.
"My idea was that by selection, avoiding in-breeding, and proper feeding, the old characteristics might in some generations be somewhat recovered. The colours were dark brindle, bluish-grey, and fawn. The bitch was usually lower and therefore looked stouter than the dog; indeed, she was so in proportion. They were stouter than Deerhounds."
Lord Derby, grandfather of the present Lord, bred Irish Wolfhounds of evidently much the same character as the strains just alluded to. One of them is thus described by a gentleman:- "She was a dark brindle brown, the coat of long, wiry hair, the build heavier and head more massive than that of the Deerhound, the hair on the head thicker and lying flatter, and the ears rather larger, though lying close to the head." Some of her descendants were nearly black.
The writer has not only studied the subject carefully, but has bred extensively, with more or less success, though death and disease have hitherto robbed him of the finest specimens. Dogs have been bred approaching his ideal closely in looks, though wanting the required height and power; also dogs of very great height, &c., which were somewhat wanting in character. Yet the very certain knowledge has been gained from these efforts that it is perfectly possible to breed the correct type of dog in the course of a few years - bar losses from death and disease. It has been the steadfast endeavour of the writer to get crosses from such dogs of acknowledged Irish Wolfhound blood as were to be found, in preference to simply crossing opposite breeds to effect the desired object.
The Irish Kennel Club was courageous enough to establish a class for the breed of Irish Wolfhounds at their show, April, 1879, and it is strenuously to be hoped that this step in the right direction will be followed on the part of other shows.
Scot, the subject of the illustration, was from a Kilfane sire out of a fine red bitch. He is a powerful dog of strong red colour, deficient in coat, notably on head, and loses much in appearance thereby. Taken on the whole, however, he gives a very fair idea of the breed as to form and bulk; but instead of standing only 29½ inches, as he does, he should be at least 33 inches, and be enlarged in proportion. The blood can be traced back for forty years. His dimensions are:- Height, 29½ inches; weight, 110 lbs., which will serve to show what the general conformation of the dog is, though the head is represented as somewhat too deep behind the eyes in the engraving.
|Mr. Graham's Irish Wolfhound 'Scot'|
A very sensible letter was published in the Live Stock Journal, in 1879, by a German gentleman, from which the following extracts will prove of interest:- "That the Irish Wolfhound is a pure 'Windhound' [Greyhound] I believe as little as that it is a pure Dane. As opposed to the wolf the largest 'Windhound' is not strong enough and the Dane, on account of its short fine hair, is too vulnerable. I think the Irish Wolfhound is the Scotch Deerhound with some blood from our modern large German Dogge [Boarhound?] to give him the necessary strength."
The writer has had painted, under his close superintendence and guidance, a portrait of an Irish Wolfhound of 35 inches, life-size, of a grey colour, and it presents to the vision a most striking and remarkable animal of a very majestic and beautiful appearance, far, far beyond any dog the writer has ever seen in grandeur of looks.
In concluding this article, the writer would express his astonishment that so noble and attractive a breed of dog should have found so few supporters. Of all dogs the monarch and the most majestic, shall he be allowed to drop from our supine grasp?
The above article being from the pen of so able an authority, must command attention from all classes of the community who are interested in dogs. As Mr. Graham remarks, it is astonishing that so noble and attractive a breed is so poorly supported by admirers of the canine race. A few enthusiastic breeders would rescue it from the position into which it has fallen; and from the success which is attending the efforts of those gentlemen who are now interesting themselves on its behalf, we are confident that a breed of Irish Wolfhounds could soon be produced which, if not actually of the old original strain, would at least fairly represent the breed in modern times.
As Mr. Graham has not appended a scale of points to his remarks upon the breed, we venture to add one upon our own responsibility, merely remarking that it is our own conception, and is inserted here without an appeal to Mr. Graham, who is, at the time of writing, too far away to be communicated with.
|SCALE OF POINTS FOR JUDGING IRISH WOLFHOUNDS|
|Skull - shape and length ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||10|
|Jaws ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||5|
|Shoulders ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||5|
|Body ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||5|
|Legs ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||5|
|Coat ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||10|
|Size ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||5|
|General appearance ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...||5|
June 17th, 2005