Military mascots

Shaggy dog story

Fionn is a brawny six-footer in the Irish Guards. He has posed with beauty queens and air hostesses for publicity stunts and appears in films and television.

But that magnificent physique is permanently covered by a coat of grey, shaggy hair. Fionn, you see, is the regiment's Irish wolfhound mascot.

Wolfhound mascots have been with the Irish Guards since 1902, when the first was presented by an Army officer member of the Irish Kennel Club (this was, in fact, the Irish Wolfhound Club). The dog was named Brian Boru after the Irish king who won several victories against the Danish oppressors in the 10th century. Successors have had names with a romantic ring, like Cruachen and Queen Mor (the only bitch mascot) or had names from the simple brogue like Pat and Shaun. Fionn has the anglicised pronunciation of "Fin".

Fionn at Horse Guards  A dog's life in the Army, yawns
Fionn at Horse Guards. Actually
he is well disciplined on parade.

Fionn has a champion pedigree and has won awards at Cruft's and other dog shows. He was presented by the Irish Wolfhound Club in 1967. He weighs 156 pounds and stands six feet tall on his hind legs when licking the face of his handler, Lance-Corporal Robert O'Toole. Fionn has been featured in an Aer Lingus poster, a chocolate bar advertisement on television and a film with Stanley Baker.

On parade, Fionn has a collar with a nameplate and regimental badges and wears a blue-grey cape in cold weather. He is well disciplined to commands. At "'Shun" he stands, at "Stand at ease" he sits and at "Stand easy" he lies down. Yet despite his obvious talents he has been refused a war-dog course. Explained Corporal O'Toole: "They told me that any dog over 130 pounds would be too dangerous if taught to be aggressive."

The wolfhound's instinct is to kill attackers. Cruachan disposed of two greyhounds belonging to the Italian ambassador and Shaun dispatched seven alsatians who provoked him. Neither would it be wise to take the micky out of Fionn. "It would take him about ten seconds to kill another dog, catching him by the neck and throwing him over his back," pointed out Corporal O'Toole.

However, the wolfhound has been described as "gentle to stroke, fierce to provoke". Fionn, in fact, is wonderful with youngsters, who love to ride on his back, so he is a very welcome visitor to children's hospitals. He is especially fond of Corporal O'Toole's baby daughter. "He lets her pull his ears and tug his beard," said the corporal. "He has only to toss his head to send her flying through the air, but he never would." Fionn, who lives in the O'Toole married quarters, once saved the baby from suffocating when she slipped and a pillow pressed her face into the sofa. He barked and pulled her clear.

Pawnote: The name of Corporal O'Toole's daughter is Fionna.

From SOLDIER, The British Army Magazine, Vol. 26, No. 2, February 1970

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October 5th, 2008