Irish Wolfhound History

My Interpretation of Irish Wolfhound Type

by John F. Baily, 1927

I confess to a feeling of consternation and dismay at having to say anything on this subject, the one word "type" being the trouble. Now this word is a standing cause of argument and discussion, generally futile, simply because we cannot agree as to the meaning we attach to it. As it is a subtle and elusive term just like "style" and "quality" its definition is extremely difficult and its acceptance by us all doubtful. It is not to be confused with "points" or "character", though to differentiate between the latter and type is not always easy. Coat gives character though its absence does not deprive its owner of type, it may be possessed by a dog with the build and outline of a Mastiff.

If we look around at our domestic livestock we will see a number of life-forms (types) differing in our eye one from another. For example, a horse and a cow are both typical life-forms belonging to different species (types). If we eliminate the bovine element and substitute a horse, a race horse and a Clydesdale, we find two life-forms (types) of the same species (type) belonging to different varieties (types). If we agree to this we have type reduced to the one word "form" and we can realise that a life-form possesses more than one type and that type itself is ephemeral.

"So careful of the type," but no;
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries: "A thousand types are gone,
I care for nothing — all shall go."

I take it the dominating factor in producing type is selection. Nature does it by natural selection, man by artificial, and makes himself the arbiter of type. There are other factors. As all life, including man himself, is the product of the earth, and as all such products vary with their habitat, we see the enormous influence of climate, food, soil, etc. In a word, type tends to conform to its environment.

The subject under discussion being a life-form, possesses in common with other life-forms several types, but it will be sufficient if we refer to two: species, dog; variety, Irish Wolfhound. It is with the latter I shall attempt to say something. Before doing so it may not be out of place to allude to those parrot cries which we have heard of ad nauseum of a made breed, artificial breed, etc., which are the hysterical vapourings of an unbalanced mind wanting force of intellect.

The contention that an outcross is illegitimate in this breed, while legitimate in others is reductio ad absurdum. The object of the outcross being to revive a type not to make a breed. To revive that type has been the object from the start and it is manifest that to do so we have no better guide than the history of the dog himself, as it clearly shows the work he was called upon to do and his apparent ability to do it.

It would be needless to review in detail the historical data — that can be read elsewhere — proclaiming that he was the most valuable and most sought after hunting dog for the capture and destruction of large and fierce game until fire-arms became more perfect and took his place. To do this work it was essential he should possess two predominant characteristics, great speed to get on terms with his quarry and enormous power to finish the job. To possess this speed his form (type) must have been that of a greyhound, indeed he is generally alluded to as "Irish Greyhound", while to possess the necessary power his size must have been gigantic. Of his power we have documentary evidence from the memoirs of Rinucini the Papal Nuncio in the seventeenth century and from the Rawdon Papers and Evelyn's Diary we gather he was more than a match for a Mastiff.

To contend that a fighting Mastiff was unequal to the despatch of a wolf is a strain on one's credulity.

Having established the fact that he was a greyhound, it follows his other characteristics must be in keeping, and greyhoundlike. Beginning with the head, which includes the jaws, and which someone describes as the residence of type it should be as greyhoundlike as is compatible with power or as powerful as is compatible with the greyhound conformation. The square muzzle with a whisker at either nostril after the style of a modern wire-haired terrier, is to me an emetic.

I have been told by some of my friends that my objection to anything in the nature of a stop or indentation between the eyes is unwarranted. I have carefully examined the tenth century skull in the Dublin Museum and there is nothing in its structure to suggest even a semblance of a stop. The painting by Reinagle (1803), the stuffed head (1833) in the Dublin Museum have nothing that could be called a stop. To complete my conception of the head, it should be lengthy, fairly well covered with hair, not so heavily coated as the rest of the body, and having no resemblance to the shagginess of a Bob-tailed Sheepdog or a Kerry Blue. The ears should be small and greyhoundlike in carriage and set rather high.

"An eye of sloe with ear not low,"

completes the picture.

It is unnecessary to refer to limbs, hindquarters, feet, tail, etc., as we are agreed upon what they should be, besides they come rather under the head of "points" with which we are not dealing. There remains the coat.

The apostles of bosh who preached the doctrine that the old dog was smooth-coated like an ordinary greyhound must have abandoned it, as their voices are silent. Their doctrine has now received the coup de grâce from the very powerful, indeed unanswerable, argument put forward by Mr. Everett in "Our Dogs" of the 19th November last, that the climate of Ireland requires a water-resisting coat, and he seems to favour what he calls a good undercoat, or what is sometimes called a "double coat". This supports what has already been said of the effect of climate, soil, etc.

What is a water-resisting coat?

He seems to place too much reliance on the undercoat. That it keeps its owner warm is very probable, that it keeps out the water doubtful. It is generally woolly, absorbs damp like blotting paper and is kept from drying by the outer coat. Otter hunting convinces one that it is density of coat keeps the water out, but I shan't labour the point.

The shaggy or sheepdog coat is objectionable as it is foreign to the breed and was introduced in the nineteenth century by using heavy-coated dogs as an outcross. Glengarry did it; so did Captain Graham and probably others besides. Reinagle's picture does not depict a shaggy dog, neither does Ridinger's plate, or the stuffed head in the Dublin Museum, and it is interesting to note, according to McNeill (Scropes: Deer Stalking) that the Highlanders regarded a hard wiry coat as a criterion of breeding in his Scotch brother and doubtless the Irish held the same view. While on the subject of coat, a trifle which is significant and interesting and probably not well known is that Wolf in Irish means Wild Greyhound cu allaid also called faol-chu.

If I may presume to advise the new recruit I would say study the Club's Standard, it can't be improved upon; study Reinagle's picture, and add perhaps a trifle more coat and substance and a mind picture should be the result which ought to be a guiding star. To produce a dog of great power built on galloping i.e. Greyhound lines has been the difficulty so far, but it should not be insurmountable.

This may be somewhat outside the scope of our present discussion and may be pardoned.

MacNeill and others quoting Buffon regard this dog as identical with the Albanian dog of the ancients' and on the authority of Professor McKenzie the Albanians maintain that the Scots (Irish) are the descendants of the Albanians. (Races of Ireland and Scotland) Whether he came from the Mediterranean or not, the word Greyhound seems to be of Nordic or Germanic origin.

If I have peptonized my remarks for the intellectual dyspeptics; if I have helped to stimulate my fellow-countrymen to remove the stigma so often and so deservedly cast at them of neglecting this, their national dog; if I have afforded any interest and relaxation to my numerous friends, and above all if I have infused into those able and astute breeders of this noble hound, an enthusiasm to turn out more and more good specimens instead of turning their present ones into cash, I have not written in vain.


John F. Baily (sometimes spelled Bailey) lived in Dublin and registered his first wolfhound in July 1886. The dog was one he had purchased from a farmer in County Cork and which was registered as Cuculain, breeder and pedigree unknown, date of birth about June 1883; colour, black grizzle brindle. (Note: In Graham's Pedigrees the name is given as Cuchullin, and it was elsewhere spelled differently). Captain Graham called him a "Poor beast". Father Hogan said he was bred by Hawkes of Kilcrea and Mr. Baily said 'no pedigree but strain kept up at Kilcrea, Co. Cork, since before 1848.'

"Cu-chulainn was a well-made dog, and in bone and coat it was hard to find one to beat him. He had a wonderfully well-developed chest, and stood on a set of the best legs and feet. But he was beaten at a show of 1886 by one of Captain Graham's dogs, yet in 1890 he was first in his class and won the special, beating Mr. Beynon's Fingal who later on won the Challenge Shield presented by the Club." (the Kennel, September 1891

One of the other early hounds owned by J.F. Baily was Evir, by Mr. Sawtell's Blucher ex Mr. Clifton's Lufra, and whelped Jan. 28, 1886. Blucher was a Gt. Dane, pedigree unknown. According to KC records, Lufra's pedigree was unknown. Evir's colour was said by the KC to be brown brindle but is listed in Graham's Pedigrees as red brindle.

John Baily bred a litter from Evir on March 11, 1890, by Miss Fraser's Fingal of Ardcandrisk (a deerhound), from which he kept Cromlech and Lady Banshee. However, he later changed Lady Banshee's name to Deirdre, which may have been because he took on another bitch called Banshee, although there is mixed information about this bitch. She is listed in Graham's Pedigrees as belonging to Captain Graham, but she is listed twice in Kennel Club records, first as belonging to the Rev. Hayward (having previously belonged to Colonel Garnier) and then as belonging to J.F. Baily (having been bred by Colonel Garnier). The KC gives her breeding (for both listings) as by Boru out of Col. Garnier's Hecla, while Graham's Pedigrees gives her breeding as by Bhoroo out of Hecla. From this Banshee, Baily had a litter and kept Luath, which was not listed in the KC registrations but did appear once in the KC Stud Book. Luath was by Mr. Beynon's Fingal and was whelped June 27th, 1893.


John Baily was for many years on the Irish Wolfhound Club judging list, was Secretary of the Club from 1923 to 1925 and then became a Vice-President. In 1926 he was invited by the Irish Wolfhound Club to judge the show at the L.K.A. in 1927, at which he gave the Dog CC to Mrs. Nagle's Ch. Sulhamstead Conncara and the Bitch CC to Mr. Everett's Felixstowe Kilbagie. He also judged Belfast that year (and the previous year).

It does not appear from the KC records that he showed his dogs to any extent and he bred few litters - or, at least, few litters that were registered with the Kennel Club. The above article was printed in the Irish Wolfhound Club Year Book for 1927.

John Baily judged the Dublin Show in 1898, and wrote of his entry: "This was quite a record show of Irish Wolfhounds for Dublin, both as regards numbers and quality, which must have been very pleasing to their admirers. In Dogs, Brian II was so lame behind (hurt on the boat crossing, I was told) that I refused to judge him at all, which I think, perhaps, was the fairest thing to do. Had he been himself, I think I should have put him first. I could not decide between Dermot Asthore and Thiggum Thu, and therefore awarded them equal firsts. As there was the question of championship and a challenge cup to be decided, I thought the best thing to do under the circumstances was to call in a referee, and I accordingly asked Mr. Gresham, who gave the championship and cup to Dermot Asthore. In stature there is nothing to choose between them, so far as I could see when placed side by side. Dermot is the younger and more active dog of the two, and he moved the better; indeed, Thiggum was very dull and listless in the ring, as if he were sick. Dermot possesses great stature, a long head spoiled by heavy flat ears, a good neck and good back, fair arch of loin, and wonderfully good hind legs and hocks. He has not, however, the best of forelegs, is inclined to be flat sided (this perhaps is not so great a fault in a dog required for speed), is short in body and light in frame, though his limbs are large and muscular. As he comes of a giant family, his blood ought to be of immense service to the breed. Thiggum Thu is tall and typical, his head is a trifle short, but his ears and coat are particularly good; he stands well in front, and his ribs and girth are good. His defects, as compared to one's ideal of what a wolfhound should be, are want of arch of loin and muscular hind quarters. He is undoubtedly a grand dog.
I had no hesitation in placing King Dathy second. He is a tall powerful dog, of a taking grey colour, possessing good legs and feet, a strong and well arched loin, and well developed and muscular hind quarters. His chief defects are a heavy skull, which takes from his length of head, and a rather short body. Bann III is not so tall as any of the others just mentioned, but he has got a nice and typical head, rougher than any of the others, and well-carried ears. A strong and active dog, spoiled by a rather light eye. In Bitches, Shilela II, with her long and characteristic head, well covered with bristly hair, good ears, legs, and feet, and shaggy coat, I put first. She is small, but this I think was always a feature of the breed. That it was so in 1653 we can see from a letter of Dorothy Osborne to Sir Wm. Temple, in which she asks him to procure for her an Irish Greyhound, and says she has one which was Cromwell's, "but 'tis a bitch, and those are always much less than the dogs." Agala, second, is a nice tall bitch, with a long head, which, however, is spoiled by ears which are large and flat, set too low, and lying close to the head, which gives her a houndy appearance. She wants substance and could do with more coat. Third, Cheevra, I thought a beautifully-framed bitch, with lots of quality, but as she is totally deficient in coat, had to put up with third. Her daughter, Wanda, was quite the largest and most powerful bitch in the class, but her head and ears are bad. As a brood bitch she should be of great value. Comely Colleen, r, is typical, but much undersized. Captain Graham, in his admirable brochure on the wolfdog, thinks it probable that formerly this breed was often crossed with the Great Dane. That such crossing did take place we have absolute proof from a letter of Lord Chesterfield, who had been Viceroy of Ireland.
In conclusion, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I think the breed has made great strides, not only in the specimens themselves, but also in popular favour. Size - the main point - has been obtained, but I think we still want more character and more uniformity of type. I hope I am not presumptuous, but I think these can be obtained if a little more attention was paid to pedigree, the value of which depends not on the number of winners it contains, but in the knowledge it should supply of the antecedents of an individual, of the crosses that have taken place, and of the power of a sire or dam to transmit its likeness to its offspring."

He also judged the LKA in 1908 and his report on this can be seen here. Another report by him, this time at the Kennel Club Show in 1911, can be seen here.

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Updated 10/20/2008