By A. Croxton Smith, from Country Life December 27th, 1924
For some reason or other, 36 ins. at the shoulder has always been regarded as the most ambitious effort after which breeders of big dogs choose to aspire the utmost limit they can expect to attain. Several St. Bernards have become historical figures, so to speak, partly because they measured as much as 35 ins., or were believed to do so by their fond owners. One of these, on being subjected to an impartial test, failed to realise expectations, and there are doubts about the correctness of the heights of others. A dog of this breed carries so much coat that one might easily be led astray when running the rule over him. Much depends also upon the manner in which the measurements are taken. Obviously the most satisfactory method is that adopted with regard to horses, and no other can be really satisfactory. It can be proved, however, that Irish wolfhounds have occasionally exceeded the maximum mentioned by more than another inch. One exhibited at the Kennel Club Show ten or more years ago stood 37 ins., but he was not of pleasing formation, being very straight at the hocks and shoulders as well, which gave him a stilted appearance and made him move awkwardly. Some impression of the great stature of these hounds may be gathered from the picture of Mr. Everett's Felixstowe Kilbarry given on this page, but he is smaller than his litter brother, Ch. Felixstowe Kilcullen. In actual life Kilcullen's size seems more remarkable. As he rears his huge form on the bench one simply marvels. I have often taken sporting men to have a look at him, men who were inclined to be incredulous until they saw him in the flesh. What is more wonderful, I am told that he can course and catch a hare. For actual bulk, I suppose, the palm must be awarded to St. Bernards, some of which are said to have weighed 224 lb. Imagine that it would need a sixteen stone man to balance the scales on the other side! Of course, such a weight is unusual, but, on the other hand, fourteen stone would not be out of the way, with a shoulder measurement of 33 ins. A six month old puppy may weigh as much as 130 lb. and his development will proceed on a less progressive scale until he has passed his second year. Knowing the possibilities of selective breeding and a suitable diet in generous quantities, I am not prepared to insist that Kilcullen will never be beaten. We may live to meet the 38 in. hound. One would give much to know what the old dogs were like those that actually hunted and killed wolves in Ireland.
|An enormous youngster, Felixstowe Kilbarry|
Hunting the wolf in the sixteenth century was carried out much in the same manner as it was in Russia when the nobles had their packs of borzois, and could organise the sport on a grand scale: that was by beating the coverts and driving the quarry towards the hounds stationed on the outskirts in the open country. Great pains had to be taken, however, in the old days to ensure that the wolves should lie up where they were wanted, a bullock being killed as a bait and the four legs dragged for some distance through the wood towards the carcass, so that as the animals went out to feed at night they would strike the trail and follow it to the dead body. Many precautions were observed in order to lull the suspicions of the wolves. Unnecessary trouble was caused because the lords and nobles who followed the sport were not accustomed to rise as early as was desirable. One may read all about it in Turberville's translation of 'The Noble Art of Venerie or Hunting', commonly known as 'The Book of Hunting'. The translator, explaining why the chapter was included in an English work, remarks: "The wolf is a beast sufficiently known in France and other countries where he is bred; but here in England they be not to be found in any place. In Ireland (as I have heard) there are great store of them; and because many noble men and gentlemen have a desire to bring that country to be inhabited and civilly governed (and would God there were more of the same mind) therefore I have thought good to set down the nature and manner of hunting at the wolf according to mine author." This reads very much like a non sequitur, there being no obvious reason why people should be told how to hunt wolves because statesmen were anxious to introduce order into Ireland. One regrets that the author has left no description of the hounds used; they are simply called greyhounds. I have no evidence among my records to show if the fame of the Irish wolfhound had extended to the Continent at the period under review, but it is certain that he was known in England, because an old diarist has related how well one acquitted himself in a bear pit. Better than any other, I think he said.
|The unbeaten Champion, Felixstowe Kilcullen, probably the tallest dog ever known|
Ample evidence establishes the fact that great Irish sporting dogs were of considerable antiquity. In the Annals of the Venerable Bede we may read that "they (the Irish) crossed over into Alba (Scotland) bringing with them their great dogs." The Picts and Scots had a little affray over one of these dogs in which a number of lives were lost, and Father Hogan is responsible for the statement that in the first century of the Christian era the Kings of Ulster and Connaught each tried to buy a wolfdog from the King of Leinster, offering 6,000 cows and other things for it, and ending by fighting to decide the matter. But we are more concerned with the dogs of to-day than of yesterdays of the dim past.
|A contemplative expression|
I am not prepared to say that the modern wolfhounds are similar to their earlier progenitors, because the evidence concerning those even of only a hundred and fifty years ago or so is conflicting, artists differing materially in their sketches. At any rate, the imagination is satisfied with the fruits of the work begun by the late Captain Graham, and continued more recently by Mr. I.W. Everett and others. As the accompanying illustrations of Mr. Everett's dogs show, we have now a massive animal framed very much on the lines of the Scottish deerhound, the Great Dane blood, which was apparent twenty years ago in the shape of the skull, having disappeared.
The last year or two have witnessed a remarkable growth of interest, a number of new kennels having been established with many evidences of keen rivalry. Rev. C.H. Hildebrand, Major J.F. Bradbury, Mr. R. Montagu Scott, Captain T.H. Hudson and Mr. J. Nagle are all prominent, and a notable departure in the history of the breed has to be recorded. As an outcome of Mr. Nagle's efforts to institute a coursing meeting under National Coursing Club Rules the Irish Wolfhound Coursing Club has been formed with a membership of over fifty. The meeting, which will take place on the Wiltshire plains near Amesbury at the end of January, will certainly be a success as regards support. What the work will be like remains to be seen, but I am told that these big hounds can get on level terms with a hare, though, as one would expect, they are not as clever as a greyhound at killing.
At a recent meeting in Sussex, organised by the Irish Wolfhound Association, there were coursing of rabbits and tests in tracking, the trail being laid with a stuffed rabbit skin. It may be said that this is small game compared with the capabilities of the breed, but any attempts to develop the utility faculties of a sporting dog are to be welcomed, and they should serve to emphasise the important of soundness. It cannot be said too emphatically that the Irish wolfhound is not a chien de luxe. Captain Graham, when embarking upon the task of breathing life into ashes that were almost dead, wrote that a noble animal of this character should never have been permitted to waste away while curs of the lowest degree were petted and pampered and carefully provided for, adding prophetically: "In America, particularly the Irish wolfdog could be made of special service, and would find in the chase and extermination of the wolf a wide field for his prowess, and as a companion and friend of man his fidelity and devotion have never been called in question."
|Ch. Felixstowe Kilshane|
Mr. Everett, who has bred consistently for soundness and activity in combination with size and character, has exported many dogs to the United States, Canada and other places for work on game worthy of their mettle. They are useful to the Canadian farmers in destroying the coyotes that ravage the flocks; they have been imported into Russia; Mrs. Beynon had some in Kenya which probably saved her life when, in the vicinity of her farm, she encountered a lion, lioness and cubs occupied with a 'kill'. Only the other week Mr. Everett had enquiries from Italy, Cyprus and East Africa, and an Australian is talking of introducing them on to his sheep run for the purpose of killing dingoes. Holland and Belgium are going in for breeding them seriously, so that altogether the outlook is most promising. Ten years ago no one would have believed that at the Kennel Club Show of 1923 Irish wolfhounds would be the most numerous of the heavy breeds; but they were, much to the pleasure of all who realise that aliens are not the repository of all the virtues. No one favours catholicity of taste more than I do, but, because some have a liking for novelty, that is no excuse for neglecting the indigenous breeds. There is room for all.
The illustrations give a good idea of the imposing character of the hounds at their best. Ch. Felixstowe Kilcullen is probably the tallest dog ever known, his should measurement being 37¾ ins. With it all he is dead straight, his girth is remarkable, and his hocks are well let down. Indeed, he is one of the few giants of all time that have been well proportioned all through. The coat is perfect in texture and quantity, the neck is graceful, and properly set in at the withers, and the shoulders slope at the correct angle.
Ch. Felixstowe Kilshane, a 36 in. hound, is built on somewhat heavier lines throughout, and is conspicuous in any company if Kilcullen is out of the way. But for a trifle too much width of skull, Ch. Felixstowe Killcao could not well be improved in any respect, her body properties being everything that could be desired. Felixstowe Roscrea, a bitch of fine outline, has won one challenge certificate. Scarcity of coat has kept Felixstowe Fota away from shows; but in shape of head, neck and body she is excellent, and as a matron she is doing good service to the kennels. Her daughter, Felixstowe Kilbirnie, is beautifully sound and characteristic. Bridget is another that is prized for her breeding capacity.
|Ch. Felixstowe Killcao|
A. CROXTON SMITH
July 28th, 2005