| Ralph Montagu Scott with three Ifold winners at the
1923 - "Morna", Type Cup; "Deirdre", Brood Bitch Cup;
"Eogan", Stud Dog Cup
The History,Character and Description of
The Irish Wolfhound
By Ralph Montagu Scott
Noble in character, majestic in bearing, swift in the chase,
tenacious to the end, a mighty hunter, generous to friend but terrible to foe,
supreme among the canine races for intelligence and an almost uncanny sense of
good and evil, sublime in his devotion, the joy of his master's heart, and
faithful unto death - such is the splendid record of the Irish wolfhound,
gleaned from the mythological legends of the Emerald Isle and taken from the
written page of English history from the dawn of our race unto the twentieth
Today he lives again, rescued from oblivion and recaptured by the love and enthusiasm of those Britons, who, during the past fifty years have carefully worked to secure his resuscitation.
Thanks be to Captain George Augustus Graham, the originator of this work and his associates for their labour of love.
Also let us record our gratitude to Father Edmund Hogan, S.J., for his book, The History of the Irish Wolf Dog, from which most of the facts of the following matter are taken.
Published in Dublin in 1897, almost the entire edition was destroyed by fire, but Mr. Joseph A. McAleenan generously reprinted the work in New York in 1917 in memory of the compiler.
It is a curious coincidence that it is to a member of the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth century that we are indebted for the first description of the form and size of the Irish hound, and again in the nineteenth century to another member of that Society for the first history of the breed.
In the preface to his work, Father Hogan writes, "To the Blessed Edmund Campion, S.J., we owe the first description of the form, size, and use of the great Irish greyhound. In the year 1571 he wrote at Turvey, near Dublin, "The Irish are not without wolves and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt." In the light of these words we understand that his big, wolf-hunting greyhounds were identical in breed with the "Irish dogs", "big dogs of Ireland", "greyhounds of Ireland", "wolfdogs of Ireland", which were sent as highly prized presents to Roman Consuls; to Kings of England, Scotland, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland; to Emperors, Great Moguls, Grand Turks, and Shahs of Persia; to Grand Dukes, Grandees of Spain, Cardinals, Ambassadors, Papal Nuncios, French Princes, and Dutch Noblemen; to Prime Ministers, Noblemen, and highborn beauties in Great Britain."
The Greyhound of England, in past centuries, was not the smooth-coated beauty of to-day. Previous to the eighteenth century he had a rough coat of a coarse or harsh character.
At the great hunt given in 1591 at Cowdray Park by Lord Monacute in honour of Queen Elizabeth, the hounds pulled down "sixteen bucks", and are described as "greyhounds", but from their description would appear to have been more nearly Irish wolfhounds.
The name "greyhound", so frequently applied in history to the Irish wolfdog or wolfhound has probably given rise to the idea that the Irish hound only hunted by sight.
The word "greyhound" is considered by some authorities to have been derived from "gaze hound". Others do not agree with this somewhat far-fetched interpretation, and hold that the name describes a hound of a grey colour. It is unlikely that the ancient hounds of Ireland hunted their quarry by sight alone, and no one who has had the pleasure of hunting with a pack of Irish wolfhounds would ever suggest that the breed was deficient in nose or unable faithfully to track a fairly cold scent. In olden times "greyhound" would seem to be a term given to the larger breeds of hound, and is frequently, or rather generally, applied to Irish wolfdogs, or as we prefer to rightly name them, "Irish wolfhounds", but they are usually described in historical records as Irish greyhounds.
Thomas Thacker, in his delightful work, The Courser's Companion, published in 1834, quotes Lawrence; who alluding to the time of King John, states that "the dog of that day was long-haired, and somewhat resembling those used by Warreners, but probably the larger and more shaggy wolf dog of former time, than any sporting dog of the present day." There can be little doubt that the modern greyhound, in spite of his descent through the seventeenth and eighteenth century outcross with the smooth-coated hounds of Southern Europe, is a descendant of the Irish wolfhound of the middle ages. In 1842, the Museum of Animated Nature says, "Few, we believe, of the noble breed of old Irish greyhounds exist. It appears to us to be the pure source of our present breed" (of greyhounds).
Thacker quotes the translator of Arrian's Cynegeticus, who writes in reference to the name "greyhound": "the terms grewhound, grewnd, graihound, grayhound, canis Graecus, and graius, all indicate a supposed connection with Greece. Grew is often used for Greek by Douglas and Lindsay. Still I cannot believe the genuine Celtic hound to have been known to ancient Greece. I would therefore rather seek the origin of the English name in the predominant colour of the dog". Thacker at first is not inclined to agree, because he thinks that the name is of recent date in comparison with the colour, but after a kaleidoscopic view of the ages, wherein he finds greyhounds mentioned in the Bible (30th Proverbs), claims "Laelaps" as his right from Ovid's seventh book of Metamorphoses, sees him on the plains of Babylon in the exploits of Nimrod, in ancient Greece with the goddess Artemis, and after toying with gaze hounds, grighound of the Anglo-Saxon, and gryphund of the Dutch, returns to the wisdom of the translator of Arrians Cynegeticus, to whom he gives his best thanks for a private communication which concludes with the following decision: "after very close examination of all the etymologies of this most puzzling term, I am most inclined to favour this, and the one already stated in my copious notations, the grey or Greek colour, whence grey or Greek, or grewhound."
Thus our friend Thacker and his classical authority a century ago; but surely the matter was settled in the middle ages when Chaucer wrote it greihounde.
The first authentic record of Irish wolfhounds in history is
Anno Domini 391, when the Roman consul, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, mentions
them in a letter to his brother. He writes: "In order to win the favour of
the Roman people for our Quaestor you have been a generous and diligent
provider of novel contributions to our solemn shows and games, as is proved by
your gift of seven Irish dogs. All Rome viewed them with wonder, and fancied
they must have been brought hither in iron cages. For such a gift I tender you
the greatest possible thanks." These hounds were used by the Romans for
their circus combats, where they would be opposed to gladiators, lions, bears,
or even trained to fight among themselves. For this purpose only the very
powerful and fiercest would be employed, which would account for the remark of
the Roman Consul that the populace thought they had been brought over in iron
cages. Unfortunately we have no record of these encounters, and it is not until
twelve hundred years later that Evelyn in his diary gives us a brief account of
a fight at the Bear Garden, situated near the old Globe Theatre across the
Thames at Southwark, not far from our present day Waterloo Station. In his
entry for the 16th June, 1670, Evelyn writes: "I went with some friends to
the Bear Garden, where was cock fighting, dog-fighting, bear and bull-baiting,
it being a famous day for all those butcherly sports. The bulls (bulldogs) did
exceeding well, but the Irish wolfdog exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a
stately creature indeed, who beat a cruel mastiff."
When Strongbow conquered Ireland in the twelfth century, he probably became keenly interested in the great and ancient race of hunting hounds. It is possible that he introduced them to the English Court, for our Plantagenet kings afterwards made use of them for the chase and their fief lords and barons followed their example. On the 14th May, 1201, King John gave an order at Portsmouth, by the hand of his chamberlain Hubert to Henry Fitzwarin, to find accommodation for his Irish hounds. John made a present of a fine hound to Llewellyn, a Prince of Wales, in the year 1210. This hound was the famous 'Gelert', of whom the Hon. W.R. Spencer wrote,
"The flower of all his race,
So true, so brave - a lamb at home,
A lion in the chase.
'Twas only at Llewellyn's board
The faithful Gelert fed;
He watched, he served, he cheered his lord,
And sentinelled his bed.
In sooth he was a peerless hound,
The gift of Royal John."
But the faithful Gelert died by his master's hand in tragic circumstances. One day when leaving for the chase, Llewellyn left his infant son in charge of the hound. On returning later he found the child's room in complete disorder, with blood everywhere, but no sign of his son. On hearing Llewellyn enter, the hound, covered in blood, crawled out from a corner to his master's feet, when, in a blind fury at the thought that the hound had killed the child entrusted to his keeping, Llewellyn slew Gelert. It was not till then that he saw the infant safe and sound sleeping in the corner where the hound had been, while near by was the body of a great gaunt grey wolf, slain by Gelert, who had thus saved the life of his master's son. Llewellyn built a chapel to the memory of Gelert
About 1280 Edward I ordered some hounds to be sent to him from
Ireland. On 24th August, 1335, Edward III sent his huntsman, Reginald, to bring
over some nineteen hounds he had received from various Irish lords. It is very
probable that the great hounds of the Black Prince were descendants of
During the troubled years of the Wars of the Roses we find no reference to Irish wolfhounds, but with the coming of Tudor times there was a great revival in their favour, brought about by the renewed intercourse of the Court of England with Ireland. In 1535, Philip Roche of Kinsale, sends a brace of hounds to Thomas Cromwell. Perhaps these came to the notice of his King, for later on Henry VIII writes to the Lord Deputy and Council for an annual grant of "four greyhounds out of Ireland", to be sent to a certain Spanish Duke and his son. The Deputy sent them on the first occasion, but apparently had difficulty in doing so, for he wrote to James Hancock, of Dublin, reproaching him for "his wilful obstinacy, by which His Majesty was in danger of being disappointed as to certain dogs for a nobleman in Spain, which he, the Deputy, had promised."
In November, 1562, Shan O'Neill forwarded to Elizabeth, through the Earl of Leicester, two hounds. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries foreign monarchs repeatedly sent to Ireland, or to friends in England, to procure them Irish wolfhounds. On December 29th, 1595, Henry the Great of France, writes to Essex: "To the other obligations that I am under to you I must add this one, that you procure for me a greyhound of Ireland and a bitch of the same race, in order that I may keep up the breed. You know how much I love the chase, and this gift will enable me to while away time, and sometimes to capture wild boars, and essay, if the goodness of these dogs is equal to the reputation that they have. Believe me, I will be fond of them, and will keep them for your sake; in return for this present you can command my service in any way you wish."
The Duke of Tuscany also sent Essex a request for Irish hounds. King John of Poland imported a large number, five hundred couples it is stated. Many of these he presented to the Czar of Russia, which the Czar used to cross with a greyhound of the South, possibly a hound similar to the Saluki, or Persian greyhound, and thereby produced the race of Russian wolfhounds, from which is descended the modern Borzoi. A few years later the Great Moghul asked Sir Thomas Roe, the English Ambassador to his court, to send for some Irish wolfhounds, and these were procured for him.
Meantime the gentlemen of England were discovering the strength and virtue of the aristocrats of dogdom. The English nobility were foremost in securing hounds, and soon it became increasingly difficult to discover enough in Ireland unless that country was to be depleted of the race. Walsingham secured a fine couple. Lord Willoughby had them in his kennels. Chichester, the Irish Deputy in 1605, writes to Lord Cranbourne, the son of Lord Salisbury, "I endeavour my best to get fair dogs for you, of the which the country is very scarce, the Lord Deputy having sent so many as he can get already into England. Seeing you desire them, I will henceforth breed some for you, and in the meantime send such as I can get." In 1605, Deputy Chichester sent to Salisbury "some dogs and a bitch great with whelps; they are good and the fairest that this kingdom affords." In 1606 he sent him "the fairest dogs in this kingdom, thinking he would have occasion to dispose of them upon the coming of the King of Denmark." It would appear from the calendars of Irish State Papers that the Cecils were successful in getting about thirty of them in four or five years. The Earl of Shrewbury also secured some.
In Scotland there were many Irish wolfhounds. Originally brought over by the Celtic invaders, they followed with the stream of Ulster emigrants, and were constantly imported thereafter. As late as 1591 it is recorded that an Irish chieftain, Brian O'Ruaire, arrived at Glasgow with four greyhounds for King James. The poet Taylor was present at a hunt given by the Earl of Mar in 1615, and briefly but graphically describes the slaughter: "All the valley being waylaid with a hundred couple of strong Irish greyhounds....they are let loose upon the herd of deer.....in the space of two hours four score fat deer were slain."
On August 23rd, 1623, the Lord Deputy Falkland wrote to the Earl of Cork, "I have lately received letters from my Lord Duke of Buccleugh and others of my noble friends who have entreated me to send them some greyhound dogs and bitches out of this kingdom, of the largest sort, which I perceive they intend to present unto divers princes and other noble persons. And, if you can possibly, let them be white, which is the colour most in request here."
The continued and increasing demand for Irish wolfhounds in England and abroad had begun to cause a serious shortage in their native land. Dr. Caius, the naturalist, referring to this in 1605, writes, "We Englishmen are marvellous greedy, gaping gluttons after novelties, and covetous cormorants of things that be seldom, rare, strange, and hard to get." Chichester's letters also confirm it, but it was an Englishman, whose memory is cursed to this day by the Irish for what he did in Ireland, who took the first official step to prohibit their export.
Oliver Cromwell is known to have been a lover of Irish wolfhounds. In 1652 the following declaration against transporting wolfdogs was published, "Forasmuch as we are credibly informed that wolves doe much increase and destroy many cattle in several partes of this dominion, and that some of the enemie's party who have laid down arms, and have liberty to get beyond the sea, and others, do attempt to carry away several such great dogges, as are commonly called wolfe dogges, whereby the breed of them, which are useful for destroying of wolves would (if not prevented) speedily decay. These are therefore to prohibit all persons whatsoever from exporting any of the said dogges out of this dominion, and searchers and other officers of the customs, in the several partes and creekes of this dominion, are hereby strictly required to seize and make stopp of all such dogges, and deliver them either to the common huntsman appointed for the precinct where they are seized upon, or to the governor of the said precinct." Because of this it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain specimens of the breed from Ireland, and it is interesting to note the famous Dorothy Osborne's request to Henry Cromwell. Henry was a serious admirer of Dorothy and had promised that the "highest functionaries of Dublin" should secure for her a fine Irish hound. This was evidently not an easy matter even for him, for in 1653, Dorothy wrote to her future husband, Sir. W. Temple, as follows: "You shall do one favour for me. When your father goes into Ireland, lay your commands upon some of his servants to get you an Irish greyhound. I have one that was the General's (i.e. Cromwell's), but 'tis a bitch, and those are always much less than the dogs. I got it in the time of my favour there, and it was all they had. Henry Cromwell undertook to write to his brother, Fleetwood, for another for me; but I have lost my hopes there. Whomsoever it is that you employ he will need no other instruction, but to get the biggest he can meet with; 'tis all the beauty of those dogs, or of any kind, I think. A mastiff is handsomer to me than the most exact little dog that ever lady played withal. You will not offer to take it ill that I employ you in such a commission."
Dorothy writes to Sir W. Temple again in 1653: "As little room as I have left, too, I must tell you what a present I had made me to-day - two of the finest young Irish greyhounds that ere I saw. A gentleman that serves the General sent them to me. They are newly come over, and sent for by Henry Cromwell, he tells me, but not how he got them for me. However, I am glad I have them."
With the coming of the Restoration this edict would be repealed or ignored, for in 1662 the Earl of Winchelsea sent to the Ambassador at Constantinople two large and comely Irish greyhounds, and a few years later the Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, then the Duke of Ormond, wrote to the Duke's half-brother, "I have received commands from the Earl of Ossory to put you in mind of two wolfdogs and a bitch which his Lordship wrote to you about for the King of Spain; he desires they may be provided and sent with all convenient speed, and that two dogs and a bitch be also gotten for the King of Sweden."
Another cause now began to hasten the declining numbers of the Irish hounds in their native Isle. An alderman of Cork writes in 1698: "Wolves indeed we have and foxes, but these are now rather game and diversion than noxious or hateful.". Half a century later, in the reign of George II, Harris says: "The English mastiff was in no way comparable to the Irish wolfdog in size and shape. The Irish wolfdog has been thought a valuable present to the greatest monarchs, and is sought after and sent abroad to all quarters of the world. This has been one cause why this noble creature has grown so scarce among us, as another is the neglect of the species since the extinction of the wolf."
In 1775, the great French naturalist, Buffon, wrote: "The dogs of Tartary, Albania, North Greece, Denmark and Ireland are the biggest and strongest of all dogs. Those dogs that we call the dogs of Ireland have a very ancient origin, and are still kept up, though few in numbers, in their native country. They were called by the ancients dogs of Epirus and Albanian dogs. Pliny describes a combat between one of these dogs first with a lion, and then with an elephant. These dogs are much bigger than our mastiffs. In France they are very rare, and I have seen only one of them, and he seemed when sitting to be about five feet high, and resembled in figure what we call the great Dane, but differed from him a great deal by the enormity of his size. He was all white and of a gentle and quiet disposition. The mâtin, greyhound, big Danish dog and the dog of Ireland, have (besides the resemblance of form and the long muzzle) the same dispositions. The Irish dog is the tallest of all dogs."
Fifteen years later Goldsmith wrote in his Animated
Nature: "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. This animal, which is very rare even in the only country in the
world where it is to be found, is rather kept for show than use, there being
neither wolves nor any other formidable beasts of prey in Ireland that seem to
require so powerful an antagonist. The wolfdog is, therefore, bred up in the
houses of the great, or such gentlemen as choose to keep him as a curiosity,
being neither good for hunting the hare, the fox, nor the stag, and equally
unserviceable as a house dog. Nevertheless, he is extremely beautiful and
majestic as to 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 above 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 rather more robust, and inclining to the figure of the
French mâtin, or the great Dane. His eye was mild, his colour white, and
his nature seemed heavy and phlegmatic. This I ascribe to his having been bred
up to a size beyond his nature; for we see in man, and all other animals, that
such as are overgrown are neither so vigorous nor alert as those of more
moderate stature. The greatest pains have been taken with these to enlarge the
breed, both by food and matching. This end was effectually obtained, for the
size was enormous; but, as it seemed to me, at the expense of the animal's
fierceness, vigilance and sagacity. However, I was informed otherwise; the
gentleman who bred them assuring me that a mastiff would be nothing when
opposed to one of them, who generally seized their antagonist by the back; he
added, that they would worry the strongest bulldogs in a few minutes to death.
But this strength did not appear either in their figure or their inclinations;
they seemed rather more timid than the ordinary race of dogs, and their skin
was much thinner and consequently less fitted for combat. Whether with these
disadvantages they were capable, as I was told, of single coping with bears,
others may determine; however, they have but few opportunities in their own
country of exerting their strength, as all wild carnivorous animals there are
only of the vermin kind. Mr. Buffon seems to be of opinion that they are the
true Molossian dogs of the ancients; he gives no reason for this opinion, and I
am apt to think it ill-grounded. Not to trouble the reader with a tedious
critical disquisition, which I have all along avoided, it will be sufficient to
observe that Nemesianus, in giving directions for the choice of a bitch,
advises to have one of Spartan or Molossian breed; and among several other
perfections, he says that the ears should be dependent and fluctuate as she
runs. This, however, is by no means the case with the Irish wolfdog, whose ears
resemble those of the greyhound, and are far from fluctuating with the animal's
motions. But of whatever kind these dogs may be, whether known among the
ancients, or whether produced by a later mixture, they are now almost quite
worn away, and are very rarely to be met with even in Ireland. If carried to
other countries they soon degenerate, and even at home, unless great care be
taken, they quickly alter. They were once employed in clearing t6he island of
wolves, which infested it in great plenty; but these being destroyed, the dogs
are also wearing away, as if nature meant to blot out the species, when they
had no longer any services to perform."
In 1789 Gough says, in his edition of Camden; "Under the article "Greyhounds", Camden seems to place the wolfdogs, which are remarkably large and peculiar to this kingdom (of Ireland). The race is now almost extinct; there are not perhaps, ten in the country; the Earl of Altamount, at his seat at Westport, possesses a few of the true (breed of) Irish wolfdog, a species of animal considered as worthy the acceptance of kings. They are large, noble, handsome, remarkably quiet, patient in anger till really provoked but then truly formidable, their hair standing erect, and they never quit their hold but with certain destruction. They are, generally, about three feet high, sometimes larger; they are white, or white with a few black or brown spots."
In 1790 Bewick says, "The Irish greyhound is the largest of the dog kind, and its appearance the most beautiful. It is only to be found in Ireland, and is now extremely rare. These dogs are about three feet high, generally of a white or cinnamon colour, somewhat like a greyhound, but more robust. Their aspect is mild, their disposition peaceable, their strength so great that in combat the mastiff or bulldog is far from being equal to them. They mostly seize their antagonist by the back, and shake them to death, which their great strength enables them to do."
So with the death of the last wolf in Ireland we pass to the new century and what Father Hogan terms, "The Nineteenth Century Claimant". The Sportsman's Cabinet of 1803 published a drawing from life by Reinagle, a Royal Academician. Hogan describes it as "a spirited drawing of the Irish wolfdog, which, though faulty in some minor points, gives an admirable idea of what this grand dog was; it represents a gigantic rough greyhound of great power." The text says: "The Irish greyhound is of ancient race, is still to be found in some remote parts of the kingdom, though they are said to be reduced (in size) even in their original climate. They are much larger than the mastiff, exceedingly ferocious when engaged."
|Reproduction of a print from Scott's Sportsmen's Repository, of the picture executed 1803 by Reinagle, R.A., entitled "An Irish Wolf Dog".|
Ireland remained the Ireland of past centuries and there can be little doubt
that the Irish wolfhound was "still to be found in some remote part of the
kingdom". The Earl of Caledon still bred them, also Lord O'Neill and Lord
Castletown, and the Earl of Derby bred them in England. Their courage remained
undaunted as Major Strictlands testifies in his Two Years in Canada,
published in 1825. "We started off for the place where the bear had
been seen. I took 'Neptune' with me, a remarkably fine Irish greyhound, one of
the most powerfully-built dogs of that breed I had ever seen, and well he
proved his strength and courage that day. When we had proceeded two miles,
Neptune raised his head and looked around; in the next instant dashed in full
chase of Mr. Bruin, who was making the best of his way up the hill. We were not
in time to witness the set-to between these savage opponents. While we were
gaining the brow of the hill a desperate fight was going on only a few yards
from us, Neptune sometimes having the best of it, sometimes Bruin. I found it
impossible to fire for fear of killing the dog; we tried to pull Neptune off,
so as to enable me to shoot the bear; this was equally difficult, the dog had
such a fast hold of the bear's throat, and was perfectly furious. With the aid
of the dog, etc., etc., the bear was slung to a pole alive, and the homeward
Sir Walter Scott describes his famous hound, 'Maida', as a wolfdog. After her death he was presented by Glengarry and Cluny MacPherson with a brace of gigantic hounds. He said to Glengarry, "there is no occupation for them as there is only one wolf near, and that is in a menagerie." A decade later and the great hound of Ireland is nearly extinct, although his blood was flowing in diluted measure in most hunting dogs. The famous Massy pack of buckhounds, which hunted in County Limerick were said to be half-bred Irish wolfhounds.
Here is a tale told by "Shamrock" of this pack in the New Sporting Magazine, quoted by Colonel Wyndham-Quin in his book, The Fox Hound in County Limerick. A tale well worth the hearing, telling as it does of the debut of the famous hound 'Windsor', who had clearly inherited the merits of his wolfdog ancestors in full measure. "Shamrock" says of him, "Windsor, who indeed deserved the name of Ultimus Romanorum, was the noblest buck hound I ever saw, although I have been in their company almost from my infancy. His colour was white, with a small spot of yellow upon each ear, and a large mark of the same colour upon his right flank. He stood about thirty inches high, and showed all the points of that lordly breed....The Massy buck hounds were the crack pack of that day, being a cross of the old Irish wolf dog....Of those hounds and their nose, one particular, which many living can attest, may not be deemed out of place. In running their game over Tipperary Mountains, night very often came on, so when the darkness precluded hunting any longer, the hounds were stopped by the Hunt servants riding before them and cracking a whip. A stake was then placed in the ground as a mark, and the hounds were brought to the spot the next morning when, in most instances, they succeeded in taking up the scent and recovering their game.
"Windsor was most difficult to rear, as from the constant breeding in and in, and it not being possible to procure fresh blood from any other kennel, the pups were very delicate, and several of them had to be reared in flannel. I myself saw Windsor stretched out one day to all appearance dead, and little did I imagine that the glory of the future pack was so near departing. A strong and constant fomenting saved him.....Windsor recovered, became a very promising hound, and made his debut with the pack at Castleroberts Bridge, near Adare, in April, 1820. There was an unusually large field out, consisting of the gentry of Limerick and the adjacent counties, besides several English sportsmen, who had come over for a month's hunting with those celebrated hounds. The day was beautiful and the view from Castleroberts Bridge formed as pretty a coup d'oeil as ever I witnessed.......The thirteen couple of stately hounds were in a large grass field close to the bridge, and ever and anon they sent forth a chorus which was re-echoed from the wooded vale around. Pink coats in all directions and many ladies......
"Now there is no dog that I know of with the exception of a foxhound that will bear to be ridden close up to. The buck hound is particularly timorous and with good reason, for very few of this pack has escaped being knocked down at one time or another, such misfortunes almost always occurring from the folly of neophytes at the start. It so happened on this occasion, with the result that after leaping the first bank which, from their quick fencing, gave them some advantage, the hounds all ran straight for the other and opposite side of the field, more anxious to get out of the horsemen's track than for having a scent carry at the time. All, did I say? No, the pup leaped the fence with the others, but turned at once and ran hard down the near side of the field; in this position he was twice struck by horses coming off their fences, which was not observed in the general confusion. The consequence of this dread of self and horse and jealousy of others soon became apparent, for in the very next field the hounds threw up their heads, and a check ensued. "Very well, gentlemen," said Mr. Tuthill (the best tempered man with his field I ever met), "perhaps you are now aware what good riding over hounds does." "Aware," said that mirror of sportsmen, Mr. Richard Parsons of Cragbeg, upon Lily-of-the-Valley (for which he got a high price afterwards, although only up to eleven stone), "aware they never will be until we climb Knockfierna, then let them beware." The conversation ceased, for at the distance of two fields ahead was heard a deep melodious cry. "The pup for a thousand," says Hugh Massy of Riversdale, sitting fourteen stone upon his thoroughbred stallion, "Hark to Windsor." "You are right," cries his father, the Hon. G. Eyre Massy, upon his favourite mare, Smellers, "You are right, it's the old Massy blood again." Up comes Michael the huntsman. The pack join the pup, the veterans acknowledge his veracity, and away they go racing through the bottoms of Kilfinny, and as they get well together and the fields become deeper and more enclosed and the fences stronger, their stride and leaping begin to tell, and as they cross the road to Ballingarry and head up for the mountain 'tis but a diminishing band of horsemen that ride the line. Mr. Parsons and Lily now begin to appear in the front rank. Black George Fosbery takes a half hitch on his cap to bring his glass fair, and a slight pull at the "Babe's best son." Captain Hugh Massy of Glenville (commonly called the Widow Hugh and the darling of the county) gets over the ground with Tip Top as if on the flat; Long Jack Adamson, riding some sixteen stone on his little grey mare, jumps off her back with "bad luck to you, Knockfierna." A few are pointing for the road to Liskennett, while many a good man with a dead beaten nag learns the lesson that pipes are no good without wind to fill them and, as he turns sorrowfully towards Croom, makes a mental vow against all racks full of hay and all horses short of work. Suddenly the front rank disappear, and Michael alone climbs the hill, the pup leading and the rest of the pack in a nutshell. Johnny Walsh is close behind them, but a farthing's worth of whipcord would be too much for his hounds, and with many a sob the huntsman and he at length gain the aerial abode of the "good people" (Hibernian Fairies).
"'They are all beaten!' cried Michael, as he steers Oronooko down for the bottom of Liskennett, having given him a "good puff" on the crown of the hill. But soon he is undeceived, for from out the valley between him and Liskennett covert shoots forth Mr. Richard Parsons, with Lily going like a racer, and the Massys and Fosberys in close pursuit. As yet no difficulties are appearing among the chosen few, but as Mr. Parsons emerges from his long-headed cast, he throws an inquiring glance to his right hand, and there Oh! 'Arab to his sight' are still to be seen the same horsemen at the same apparent distance as before, and going along at their own pace without any appearance of distress. Why does the veteran shake his head, and why does he cast a warning glance at the Captain, who he thinks is making too free with Tip-Top? His practised eye long ago discovered the workmen, one tall and soldierly man, heavy from bone and not from flesh. He is riding a long, low thoroughbred-looking nag with that absence of meat and that outbreak of muscle which proves him up to the mark. Aye, and he is riding him like a sportsman and a gentleman. No hurry, no interference, no visible enthusiasm save now and again a wave of the hand as the pup, Volunteer or Marmion, strike the key-notes of the heart. The other, scarcely nine stone, is on, as we would say in Ireland, 'the morial of the other', who is going along as if guided by a midge. The veteran again shakes his head as he thinks the big one is too cool by a half, and that the wee lad is riding what must be his second horse. So with a muttered wish that the best blood of County Limerick should hold its own, he takes the opportunity of a slight check at Ballinvreena road to call to the Captain and the others to be wary, for that they had caught a Tartar in yon dark man. Hugh Massy drops near to the stranger. Black George says nothing but looks as close at the two horsemen as an apple woman does at a caul doyle (a bad penny). Red George says 'Bother man, and I upon Babe', while Captain Hugh, as he rams Tip over the high bank off the road, wishes that fifty tons weight of Connemara marble may be over him if he does not show that silent gentleman the temps de jure. Away go the pack for Coolruss, and close to them, still riding their own line, are the dark man and his imp. The deep bottoms receive them, the fetlock drags at each uplift of its heavy load. The upfences are taken with severe exertion, and ere Coolruss Hill is gained, many a bungle and many a short leap tell the toil and wearisomeness of the 'clotted plain'. Just at the last fence but one to the hill, Johnny Walsh is down and extricating himself from his namesake. The old horse's head is on the bank, his struggles have nearly ceased, Johnny slips from under him, his face reeking with the yellow mud, and the old horse makes 'one struggle more', and gains half his body on the field; Johnny holds him hard by the snaffle, and at length he rolls out, but as he rises, his quivering limbs forbid a renewal of the chase, and as he totters into the little village at the foot of Coolruss, it is only too plain that 'repose, the foster nurse of nature' must do her work, and that many a day will elapse ere the gallant old horse shall 'forward to hounds once more'. But no whipper is wanted. Two couple of the old hounds have given in, and are being led home by the 'Gossoons,' while eleven couple more are carrying the scent right up Coolruss Hill, the pup still at the head. Michael rides Oronooko zig-zag up it. Mr. Parsons goes straight at it upon Lily-of-the-Valley. Hugh Massy here makes his first cast from sheer necessity, the stallion having been called up so often that he is quite ready to cry 'not at home.' The Widow clings to Tip-Top's mane, whose mien is not so lofty as before. The Fosberys (par nobile are to the right with the two strangers, and while it is plain that the weight and deep bottoms have somewhat told upon the big one's horse, the wee one is at his ease and still hard held. And now they all close up for the next fence. The huntsman takes a 'big hold' of Oronooko's head, and lands him safe at the other side. There, alas, he falls heavily, and while the hunt and earth have faded from Michael's eye, Lily is over, and Mr. Parsons dashes for the lead, determined that, come what may, Ireland's best hounds should never want a son of Erin to command them. Tip's head is up, and the Captain is close to the fence when he sees the dark man approaching, so with a wave of the hand he says, 'At it, sir, at it, never trouble about me; Tip-Top can spare an opening to a sportsman if greyhounds were in the race.' Over go the dark one and his groom, and bang almost in to his pocket is Tip-Top. Babe and Hawthorne show their Kerry breeding and touch and go over, while with somewhat lessening pace the hounds are going away for Garryfine. The river is gained. 'He's over this ten minutes, yer Honours,' cries a Patlander, out of a cabin, with the boiled esculent of his country in his hand. 'Did he stop long in the river, and was he fresh?' asks Mr. Parsons. 'By the Virgin,' replied the man, 'it's meself thought he was bet and coming down, but whiniver he got the wather you'd imagine 'twas a strame of whiskey he was in, in regard of the frishining it gave him.' Mr. Parsons drops Lily in, washes her mouth, and lets her have a swallow. They are all over now, and the buckhounds, renovated by immersion in the friendly element, are again heading with a burning scent for the black top of Garryfine Hill. 'Are you hurt, Hugh?' cries the Captain, as the stallion and Hugh Massy disappear into the trench on the off side of a bank. 'Not a bit, Captain, but get on with the hounds and never mind me.' 'Are you done?' quoth the Captain. 'Pumped out,' says Hugh from the left corner of his mouth, and with a melancholy nod. Up they go from the bottom to the slant of the hill, and there before them, with its high bank, and deep, yawning ditch, stretches the bogdrain of Garryfine. 'Bravo, Lily,' and 'Well leaped Tip-Top!' Ah, Smellers falls back! The high bank has proved a Caucasus to her. Black George is over at a firmer spot. Red George gets on the fence with a struggle and off with difficulty. But here comes the dark man at the boundary double. Well gets he on to it, but as the bold horse strains the utmost for the off ditch, the clammy soil holds him, and, without the power to stop, he falls headlong into it, with his gallant rider under him, and there he lies with his neck twisted, while the heavy and laboured breathing, the swollen flank, and the blood-red eye proclaim 'nature's bankruptcy' and humanity with no uncertain voice cries, 'Hold, enough!' The attendant imp is off and engaged in liberating his master. The latter rises, gives one look at his over-marked horse, throws his flask to his servant, and with the words, 'Don't spare the brandy on him,' is on the fresh one, and racing for his place once more. And now Windsor, True Boy and Caroline are placing the wood at Miltown between them and their gallant followers.
Tip-Top is still in front; but the Captain's hat is over his brow, and he is not so free with his horse as before; he drops him off the fences, and chooses his ground more particularly; and as they pass the back of Miltown House, and the long fallows of Ballyhea in the County of Cork appear, and he sees the water splashing round the buckhounds, he prays for a check, fearful at the same time of check-mate, for he thinks that if things last, the Wattle stoutness and the Ebony speed of Tip-Top will shortly become only a kippin (A small switch) in the hands of Old Father Time. Black George has gotten close up to Lily; and Mr. Parsons shouts to him, 'Bravo, George, the tale of this day will do for old age and crutches!' Red George sees his own heights of Castle Oliver, and longs for the relay that stands in its stables; for the sob and slack fencing of the Babe's best son shows that he is in infancy once more. He rides him out of the fence of Aghlishdrinah, but as he gets off, his fore-legs bend, the head falls, the mouth is dead, so with a wave to Richard Parsons and a shout to Black George to keep Hawthorne together for the honour of the family, Red George leads his exhausted nag towards the cross of Buttevant and home. Now Kilmaclenan is passed to the left, and as the gallant Captain ascends the hill of Ballybeg, but slowly wends his generous steed - the struggle is all between pluck and nature. Long has Hugh Massy known that nature's claims were becoming predominant; but the blood of centuries, which makes the Babe resemble the bye-gone, sportsmen forbids a stop, and he takes him to the top of the fence into the covert. Here Tip surrenders; over they go, and the Widow goes to ground in the Widow's earth. The dark man shakes up his second horse and goes clean over him, and as he lands, that son of sport cries out, 'Go on, sir, with your second horse. Bad luck to the one horse in Ireland, barring the lad lying here that could have brought fourteen stone so far; however, I wish you luck, although you have come Ducrow over me!' The grave man smiles, and as he sees Black George stop up in the field, near Ballyclough covert, he thinks to himself that the game is nearly over, as both the Fosberys had given up; so he creeps up to Lily, although it becomes a matter of consideration with him, how long he may stay even with her. But who appears galloping the road with a cravat around his head, and his face covered with blood? It is Michael, the huntsman, upon a fresh horse, Monarch, the best in Mr. Harte's stable. He shouts to Windsor; and as Mr. Parsons sees the huntsman once more in his place, he takes a pull at the brave little mare, and says, 'Michael, you have still eight couple of hounds, and an improving country. I would have gone on as long as Lily lived, had you not got up; as it is, I shall try to keep my place to the end.' Michael shouts 'Faha for ever!' and as the park walls of Castle Cor come in view, the pack are running all but mute, with the pup nearly half a field ahead. He leaps into the road, and the country people shout - Michael races at the wall - Lily is put to her best speed - the stranger touches his second horse with the spur, and as they too gain the road, the gallant stag and Windsor roll back together from the demesne wall, and all is over. Michael wipes the blood from his brow - Mr. Parsons jumps off Lily - the dark man gives his first cheer, which is heard o'er hill and dale, and pats the neck of his reeking horse. Mr. Parsons looks more closely at him, pulls out his watch, and taking off his cap, he says, 'My lord Charles Manners, (General Lord Charles Manners was the second son of the Duke of Rutland) you are welcome to the end of twenty-eight miles with a County Limerick deer.'"
By the middle of the nineteenth century, pure specimens of the breed were
few and far between. Yet some did exist, though perhaps lacking the giant
proportions of their ancestors. Unable to hunt their natural quarry or allowed
to be used on the diminishing herds of deer, the only existed as the friends of
their masters and the guardian of his home.
Youatt, in his Book on Dogs, published in 1837, states "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 for use, the wild animals which he seemed powerful enough to conquer, having long disappeared from the kingdom. The beauty of his appearance, and the antiquity of his race are his only claims, as he disdains the chase of stag, fox or hare, although 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 a greyhound, but stouter;" and the only dog which the writer from whom this account is taken ever saw approaching to his graceful figure, combining beauty with strength, is the large Spanish wolfdog.
Many Irish wolfhounds had been sent to Spain in past centuries, and with the later continuance of the wolf there, it is possible that this Spanish dog mentioned by the writer was himself a scion of the noble race.
The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana of 1845, Vol. III, states: "The Irish wolfdog is now very rare, is the largst of the species, standing about three feet high; the head is long, the forehead broad, the ears short and semi-dependent; the legs long, very large and powerful; the body large and of proportionate size with the other parts of the animal without being fat. Its general colour is white or crimson; its aspect is mild, its temper good, its strength great."
In 1847 Denis Florence MacCarthy thus describes MacEoin's famous hound:
"As fly the shadows o'er the grass,
He flies with step as light and sure,
He hunts the wolf in Trosstan's Pass,
And starts the deer by Lissanioure.
The music of the Sabbath bells,
O Conn! has not a sweeter sound
Than when along the valley swells
The cry of John MacDonnell's hound.
His stature tall, his body long,
His back like night, his breast like snow,
His foreleg, pillar-like and strong,
His hindleg like a bended bow;
Rough, curling hair, head long and thin,
His ear a leaf so small and round;
Not Bran, the favourite hound of Finn,
Could rival John MacDonnell's hound.
Wood's Natural History of 1859 says: "The Irish greyhound is
four feet in length, and very firmly built; it is of a pale fawn colour, and
much rougher than the smooth English greyhound. Unless excited by the sight of
its game, or by anger, it is a very peaceful animal; but when roused, exhibits
a most determined spirit. In these days their numbers are comparatively few.
When fighting it takes its antagonist by the back and shakes the life out of
its foe by main strength."
The Gazetteer of the World in the same year states: "The Irish greyhound is now seldom met with, its appearance is beautiful and majestic, its height about three feet, its courage and strength so great that the mastiff or bulldog is far from equal to it."
In the Live Stock Journal for the 20th August, 1880, "A Practical Farmer", writing of some years previously, tells us, "Staying with some friends in a southern country, I was taken to see an old Irish wolfdog belonging to a gentleman of means. He was then said to be the last of his breed in England, was old, perfectly white, and much after the style of a Scotch deerhound, but larger and considerably more powerfully built; and he had the deepest-toned and most melancholy bark I ever heard."
Thus it was when Captain Graham commenced his Crusade of Revival. Diligently
he searched Ireland for specimens of the race. From the material gathered he
set to work to recall the spirit of the past by cross breeding with the known
descendants of the Irish wolfhound family. First and foremost the Scottish
deerhound. There can be no doubt that these are heavily endowed with Irish
wolfhound blood. The original hounds came over from Ireland at the time of the
invasion by the Celts of Ulster. Thereafter Ireland would have been the natural
source for supply of fresh blood or fine specimens.
Until the Act of Union in the seventeenth century they are described as Irish greyhounds. Scotland was free from wolves at a much earlier date than Ireland, and in consequence of this their principal quarry became the deer, and the wolfhound became the deerhound. Possibly the race was crossed with a smaller rough-coated hound, and this in some measure would account for the loss in size. Yet the blood was there, and supplied the first and principal outcross for the work that Captain Graham commenced.
Mr. Ralph Clifton gives an interesting account of his visit to Captain Graham's kennels in 1885. "I went especially to see Captain Graham's breed. His fine stud dog, 'Brian', is a splendid fellow, of dark brindled colour, about thirty-one inches high, as straight on his legs as a terrier, and of immense bone. He seemed too heavy to be active, but I changed my opinion when Isaw him clearing fences six feet high without any trouble. His head is very long, without any of the weakness of the deerhound about it. He has also immense girth of chest, and a body well proportioned for speed. But, I think, he lacks quantity and quality of coat, especially on the head. 'Wolf', the dog of our Zoological Gardens, cannot compare with Brian, though, I believe, there was never a more typical wolfdog head than that of Wolf.
"Sheelah, the best bitch in Captain Graham's possession, is too heavy in bone for her height, which is about twenty-seven and a half inches at the shoulder. This is a grand fault in her, for as a rule, it is quite the reverse, as is seen in my own dog Runa. Runa's head is as good as Brian's, but she is also wanting in coat, both on body and head. The texture of her coat is A.1, body of great length, with really good foot, and colour iron-grey. I saw a litter of puppies three months old, by 'Scot' out of Sheelah - all of immense bone, evidently taking after the dam, as Scot was a very heavy dog, I believe. Their coats were of a better texture than anything in Captain Graham's kennels, being as hard as the best-coated Irish terrier, and of a dark-red colour.
Type was beginning to be recovered, but size was still lacking. This brought about a certain infusion of Great Dane blood. Care was needed and the frankest exchange of ideas between breeders was necessary to prevent the obvious evil that would arise from too free use of the blood of this non-sporting dog. There is evidence that the Great Dane had been used in Ireland previously as an outcross. Witness the remarks of the famous Lord Chesterfield in a letter to a distinguished French lady in 1750: "I have been trying for these two years to get some of those large dogs of Ireland; but the breed is grown extremely rare there by the extinction of their enemies, the wolves. I had two sent to me six months ago, which I intended to give to the Prince de Conti, but I discovered that there was in them a mixture of the Danish breed which had made them clumsy, so I sent them back again. I expect soon some of the true kind, which I shall do myself the honour to send over immediately to his Highness."
The Danish blood certainly gave size, and the judicious use of the Russian Borzoi, bringing as he does the Irish blood from afar, helped to restore the balance, but skill and patience had to be exercised to successfully use and not abuse these outcrosses. Fifty years should mean nearly fifty generations in the life of a race of hounds.
Captain Graham has left us for the happy hunting grounds, where be sure, he found his favourite hounds awaiting him. Did not the Irish warrior, Oisin, say to St. Patrick: "To the son of Cumall and the chiefs of the Fiann it is sweeter to hear the voice of hounds than to seek mercy. O, son of Calpurn, wilt thou allow to go to heaven my own dog and greyhound?"
The good work has been carried on. Hounds have been bred up to a shoulder height (correctly measured) of thirty-seven inches. Type and stamina have been recovered. Grace and dignity revived. The spirits of the great hounds of Ireland stalk the earth again, for to-day the Irish wolfhound lives and moves and has his being as the Monarch of the canine world.
The early literature of Ireland has much concerning Irish wolfhounds and their mighty deeds. True, these accounts cannot be claimed as actual history beyond the fact they prove, that the ancient breed of hounds existed in the earliest Celtic times as the beloved guardians and companions in the chase of the Kings of Ireland. There are many hounds named in these legends and their nomenclature alone provides a ready description of their prowess.
Hogan, with his love and knowledge of Irish mythology, is quite at home
among them. He says, "In size and shape hounds were tall, straight,
slender and handsome; there are the epithets seang, slim, caol,
slender, aluinn, handsome, and the names Ard-an-fheirb, Ard-an-sealg,
Ard-an-seang, Seangaire, Coir-bheann, Coir-dubh, High one of the cow (or of the
roe), High one of the Hunts, High one of the slender ones, Slender, Straight
one of the peaks, Straight black one, etc..... Let us endeavour to form an idea
of him from the various allusions made to him. He was carefully bred
(saoi) for the work he had to do. He was to run down and kill, unaided,
boars, wolves, badgers, hares, and deer; it was necessary that he should be
strong, fierce, swift, and enduring. These are the attributes ascribed to him.
"Swiftness, as the multiplicity of names and epithets that denote it prove, was the first quality sought for. Hounds are called luath, swift, mear, quick, luth, active, gniomach, nimble, ainmhear, very quick. Ciar-thoill, which outstripped every hound, Iosgadur. swifter than a blackbird. Luas or Luadhas, speed, Rinnruith, star of running. In the prose tale of MacDatho, which is probably based on an earlier poem, we are told of:-
"Ailbe, his famous cunning splendid hound,
From whom is the renowned plain of Ailbe;"
a hound so swift that it could run through all Leinster in one
day. According to the author of the prose, Ailill and Medb, of Connaght, and
Conchobar, of Ulster, sent envoys at the same time to MacDatho to buy his
hound. They each offered on the spot 6,000 milch cows and a chariot with two of
the finest horses to be got, and as much more after twelve months. Breeders of
good dogs were certainly not without encouragement when they could look for an
offer like this; it cannot have been worth less than £60,000. But MacDato
dared not choose between such powerful purchasers; by gratifying one party he
made an enemy of the other. Accordingly, at his wife's suggestion, he promised
the hound to each separately, and arranged that both should come the same day
with their forces to receive it. When they came they very naturally fell by the
ears; in the heat of the fight MacDatho let loose his hound to choose for
itself; it sided with Ulster and set to tearing the men of Connaught. Ailill
and Medb mounted their chariot and drove towards Connaught, but Ailbe pursued
them and seized the chariot-pole. The charioteer, leaning forward, dealt the
hound a blow that severed the body from the head, but even in death the strong
jaws held their grip from Ballaghmoon in Kildare to Farbill in Westmeath. In
Farbill the head dropped from the pole in a ford, known afterwards as Ath Cind
Chon, Hound's Head Ford. All this will hardly be accepted as a statement of
facts; it shows however that when the tale was told, hounds were valued at a
high price, and esteemed in proportion to their swiftness, fierceness and
"Ferocity and courage, as the tale of Ailbe shows, were reckoned scarcely less necessary in a good hound than speed and endurance. Some,. it is true, are commemorated with different characteristics, as Cos-luath (swift-foot) the gentle; Gruaim, the merry; andEachtach, of the tricks or feats; for the great hound was also a companion; but the greater number are praised for their sterner qualities."
Another wonderful dog was Failinis, the hound whelp of the King of Iruaide. Evidently a red wheaten from his description, "more beauteous that the sun in his wheels of fire."
Cormac, King of Ireland, had a great kennel of hounds and the Master of Hounds was the famous Finn.
"Now he whom Cormac had for chief of the household and for stipendiary master of the hounds was Finn, son of Cumhall; for the primest leader that the King of Ireland had was the master of the hounds always." - Silva Gadelica.
"Great was the fury of thy fierce hounds, O Finn, said the Crecian giantess when by her magic she had slain them all but Bran; Dairmaid's hounds were well-bred, fierce and swift; among those at Sliabh Truim were two fierce hounds, Uchtar and Ardnafheirb, the slender; Fuath, the victorious; Cuillseach, the firm in contest; and Crothach Geal, the triumphant; together with one significantly named Marbh-nag-Cat, or Death-of-the-Cats, not the harmless necessary cat of the fireside, but the wild cat of the woods, which few dogs would care to face.
"Of the strength of a hound there is a striking example in the Lay of the Enchanted Pigs. These pigs were the warriors turned into that form by a Tuatha De Danann wizard for the purpose of killing Finn's hounds.
"Finn of the Fianna was amazed
At seeing each pig as tall as a deer;
One pig before them of boisterous mien,
Blacker was she than smith's coals;
Longer than an erect mast
Were the bristles of her face and ears;
Like that of a brake was the colour
Of the hair of her eyelids and old brow."
We may assume that she was a dangerous customer - Bran tackled her at once.
"Bran broke forth from her leash
And left the hands of the king.
She takes the pig by the neck
And assumes the difficult task.
She takes the pig by the neck,
The hold was the hold of a foe;
She did not suffer the pig to escape
And never became breathless."
It is to be noted that the dexterity or "cleverness"
of Bran's hold is specially commended; this was a point to which the old
hunters paid attention."
Cormac's hounds, we are told, numbered three hundred, and two hundred puppy hounds.
"Finn had a favourite greyhound, named Conbec, and not in all Ireland might any stag whatsoever, at which he was slipped, find covert before he would head him off and run him back right up to the Fiann's main pack and to their attendants; neither did hound other than he sleep in the one bed with Finn. Here, at Traig Chonbicce, he was drowned by Goll, son of Morna (a rival of Finn); here a tidal wave washed him ashore, and so he lies under yon green cairn that thou seest about upon the beach. On him Cailte uttered the lay:-
"Piteous to me was Conbec's cruel death,
Conbec of perfect symmetry,
I have not seen a more expert of food
In the wake of wild boar or stage.
A pang to me was Conbec's tragic fate,
Conbec of the hoarse deep voice;
Never have I seen one more expert of foot
At killing of a buck without delay.
A pang to me was Conbec's death
Over the high, green billows,
His cruel death was a cause of strife,
His fate was most pitiful."
The first of a long series of what Hogan terms "dog stealings or exports" is also mentioned by him in relation to Finn: "A Briton in his service stole away to Britonland with the greyhounds, Bran, Sceolaing and Adnuall; but the dogs were recovered by a hard-fought battle in Britain."
So down the centuries we have the great size, noble character,
courage and intelligence of Irish wolfhounds, historically recorded. In the
fourth century "All Rome viewed them with wonder". In the ninth
century a hound 'Vig' "was killed while defending his Scandinavian
In the tenth century Olaf, the Norwegian Viking, said of him, when presenting a hound 'Sam' to his friend, Gunnar, "It is part of his nature that he has man's wit, and he will bay at every man whom he knows to be thy foe, but never at thy friends. He can see, too, in any man's face whether he means thee well or ill, and he will lay down his life to be true to thee."
In the eleventh century the Dalcassian soldiers at Clontarf are compared to "the terrible, nimble wolfdogs of Ireland for strength and courage."
1581. A Spanish agent writes to the Holy See: "In six months, while I was in Ireland, I did not see dogs quarrel."
1596. One of the greatest Spanish poets, Lope de Vega, who had been a soldier of the Spanish Armada, wrote a sonnet on the Irish greyhound, where he describes one surrounded by an army of curs, barking at him, and says:
"This highborn greyhound, without heeding them,
Lifted his leg, wet the projecting angle of the wall,
And through the midst of them went on quite at his ease."
1596. Gervaise Markham said of him: "The long
shaggy-haired, great-boned greyhounds are held most proper for vermin or wild
beasts - the wolf, fox, and such like."
A few years later, there is a description given from some ancient frescoes. "In one of them two gigantic dogs of the rough greyhound type are represented seizing a boar," It goes on to say, "their heads long and pointed, the frontal bones of the forehead being very slightly raised, the muzzle long, and the line of profile arched, the coat long and rough with an open curly wave. Two of such greyhounds had strength and courage enough to dispose of a wild boar, and would have been tall and powerful enough to seize a wolf across the loins, and trot off with him as easily as a greyhound can a hare."
1646. Rimuccini, the Papal Nuncio, describes the hound presented to him as "a most noble mollussus, very well able to overcome wolves and stags in fleetness, fighting and power; an animal, which by his majesty, great size, the marvellous variegation of his colour, and the proportion of his limbs, is so valuable as to be a gift fit to be presented to any emperor in the world."
1654. Sir James Ware says, "they are endowed with extraordinary strength, size, and beauty."
1688. Dryden wrote:
"Ten brace, or more, of greyhounds, snowy fair,
And tall as stags ran loose about his chair....."
1689. The Reverend T. Ovington, who had been in Persia, says,
"A couple of Irish wolfdogs were so prized in Persia that they were taken
as a welcome and admired present to the Emperor himself."
1691. It is recorded that "an Irish officer killed in the battle of Aughram, had a dog who found his master's boy on the field, and for six months kept guard over it, and none dare approach to disturb his master's bones, but he was finally shot by a soldier he attacked."
1694. Ray, the naturalist, writes, "The greatest dog I have yet seen, surpassing in size even the molossus, as regards shape of the body and general character is the Irish greyhound."
1779. Gabrield Beranger, the artist, in his diary, says, "They are amazing large.....of the make and shape of the greyhound, only the head and neck somewhat larger in proportion."
1801. Shaw, in his General Zoology, has "The Irish wolfdog is said to be the largest of the dog kind, as well as the most beautiful and majestic in appearance."
1807. Pinkerton's Geography says, "The Irish hound is one of the noblest animals of the class."
1840. Sir W. Beatham, Ulster King at Arms, wrote of him as a "gigantic greyhound....very gentle," and says that Sir John Browne allowed them to come into his dining-room, where they put their heads over the shoulders of those who sat at table. Their coat he describes as "rough and curly-haired".
1842. Chambers' Information for the People says, "The Irish greyhound ranks among the noblest of the canine race. His mien is striking, full of dignity, and his conformation beautiful. In his general shape he bears a striking resemblance to the common greyhound, but is much taller and more robust."
1892. The Kennel of February 20th, says, "An Irish wolfdog bred by Mr. Townshend, and exported by him to the Rocky Mountains, killed forty wolves single-handed during one winter."
The coat of the Irish wolfhound was a garment of harsh, even
wiry hair, not unduly long, with a short but dense undercoat. The eye well
browed, the muzzle feathered, the under-jaw evenly bearded and a well-covered
As to colour, let us glance at the historical record.
Hogan writes in reference to the mythological accounts, "...it was regarded as a matter of little importance. In the Book of Rights, the hounds presented by chief-kings to their inferior princes were white; but in these lays the white hound and the brown one, the red one and the black one, are equally commended. 'Bran' herself, most famous of her race, displayed a variety of markings which must have been transmitted through a many-coloured ancestry."
"Yellow legs had Bran,
Both sides black and her belly white,
Above her loins a speckled back,
And two crimson ears very red."
The following refer to some one or two particular hounds, except those in italics, which are a description of the breed.
|Early 16th century. "Dark grey brindle."
1585. "One black, one white."
1596. "Bay coloured, dark striped from head to haunch."
1623. "Let them be white."
1646. "Marvellous variegation in colour."
1668. "Snown fair."
1770. "His colour white."
1789. "White or white with a few black or brown spots."
1790. "White or cinnamon."
1794. "Brown and white, black and white."
1797. "Black and white or brindle."
1812. "Fawn, grizzly or dun."
| 1825. "Colour generally white or cinnamon."
1825. "Tawn-coloured like a lion."
1830. "Dark fawn."
1840. "Perfectly white."
1841. "Iron grey, with white breast."
1845. "General colour white or cinnamon."
1847. "Dark brindle brown."
1848. "Blue-grey brindle, light fawn, dark grey."
1859. "Pale fawn."
1859. "Iron grey."
1869. "Pale fawn."
1882. "Pure white."
With his grace and dignity of giant form, his majesty, sublime
courage and noble devotion of spirit, so let us leave him, the creature most
worthy of our love, and conclude with the description, written a hundred years
ago by Sir Walter Scott, in his novel, Woodstock, where, in describing
Bevis, he actually portrays his own hound, 'Maida'. "At this moment
another auxiliary rushed out of the thicket to the knight's assistance. It was
a large wolfdog, in strength a mastiff, in form and almost fleetness a
greyhound. 'Bevis' was the noblest of the kind that ever pulled down a stag,
tawny coloured like a lion, with a black muzzle and black feet, just edged with
a line of white round the toes. He was as tractable as he was strong and bold.
Just as he was about to rush upon the (Cromwellian) soldier the words,
"Peace, Bevis," from Sir Henry Lee, converted the lion into the lamb,
and instead of pulling the soldier down, he walked round and round and snuffed,
as if using all his sagacity to discover who the stranger could be, towards
whom, though of so questionable appearance, he was enjoined forbearance.
Apparently he was satisfied, for he laid aside his doubtful and threatening
demonstrations, lowered his ears, smoothed down his bristles, and wagged his
tail." This hound was captured by Cromwell, whose officer Pearson said to
him, "Your Excellency, the old knight hath a noble hound here. If you can
but get him to hunt without his master, which may be hard, as he is
"Hang him up!" said Cromwell.
"What - whom - hang the noble dog? Your Excellency was wont to love a good hound."
"It matters not," said Cromwell. "Let him be killed. Is it not written that they slew in the valley of Achor not only the accursed Achan, with his sons and daughters...but every living thing belonging unto him? And even thus shall we do to the malignant family of Lee."
When the Lees were executed, Pearson interceded again, saying, "There remains only one sentenced person, a noble wolfdog, finer than any your Excellency saw in Ireland. He belongs to the old knight, Sir Henry Lee. Should your Excellency not desire to keep the fine creature yourself, might I presume to beg that I might have leave?
"No, Pearson," said Cromwell, "the old man, so faithful himself, shall not be deprived of his faithful dog. I would I had any creature, were it but a dog that followed me because it loved me, not for what it could make of me."
The illustrations in the foregoing History of the breed are of the Author and some of the Hounds of the Ifold Kennel.