Irish Wolfhound History

British Dogs by Hugh Dalziel, 1887, First Edition

To do full justice to this subject is almost impossible, owing to the fact that there has been a generally-received impression amongst modern writers that this noble breed of dog is entirely extinct! That, in its "original integrity", it has apparently disappeared, cannot be disputed; yet there can be little doubt that so much of the true breed is forthcoming, both in the race still known in Ireland as the "Irish Wolfhound" (to be met with, however, in one or two places only), and in our modern Deerhound, as to allow of its complete recovery in its pristine grandeur, with proper management, in judicious hands. It is a fact well known to all modern Mastiff-breeders who have thoroughly studied the history of their breed, that, until within the last thirty or forty years, Mastiffs, as a pure race, had almost become extinct. Active measures were then taken by various spirited individuals, which resulted in the complete recovery of the breed, in a form at least equal, if not superior, to what it was of yore.
Why should not, then, such measures be taken to recover the more ancient, and certainly equally noble, race of Irish Wolfhounds? It may be argued that, the services of such a dog being no longer required for sport, his existence is not to be desired; but such an argument is unworthy of consideration for a moment, for how many thousands of dogs are bred for which no work is provided, nor is any expected of them; in addition to which, the Irish Wolfhound would be admirably suited to the requirements of our colonies. One after another the various breeds of dogs which had, of late years, more or less degenerated - as, for instance, Mastiffs, Fox Terriers, Pugs, St. Bernards, Colleys - have become "the rage", and, in consequence, a vast improvement is now observable in the numerous specimens shown. Let us, then, hope that steps may be taken to restore to us such a magnificent animal as the Irish Wolfhound.
That we have in the Deerhound the modern representative of the old Irish dog is patent; though of less stature, less robust, and of slimmer form, the main characteristics of the original breed remain, and, in very exceptional instances, specimens "crop up" that throw back to, and resemble in a marked manner, the old stock from which they have sprung. For instance, the dog well known at all the leading shows as champion Torunn (now for some years lost to sight), although requiring a somewhat lighter ear and still more massive proportions, combined with greater stature, evidently approximated more nearly to his distant ancestors than to his immediate ones. The matter of ear alluded to here is probably only a requirement called for by modern and more refined tastes, as it is hardly likely that any very high standard, as to quality or looks, was ever aimed at or reached, by our remote ancestors, in any breed of dogs. Strength, stature, and fleetness, were the points most carefully cultivated - at any rate, as regards those dogs used in the pursuit and capture of large and fierce game.
It is somewhat remarkable that, whilst we have accounts of almost all the noted breeds, including the Irish Wolfhound, there is no allusions to any such dog as the Deerhound, save in writings of a comparatively recent date.
The article or essay on the Irish Wolfhound written by Richardson, in 1842, is, it is supposed, the only one on this subject in existence; and whilst it is evident to the reader of it that the subject has been most ably treated and thoroughly sifted, yet some of the writer's conclusions, if not erroneous, are at least open to question. It is a matter of history that this dog was of very ancient origin, being well known to, and highly prized by, the Romans, who frequently used him for their combats in the arena; and also that he was retained at home, in a certain degree of purity, to within a comparatively recent period, when, owing to the extinction of wolves, and, presumably, to the indifference and carelessness of owners, this most superb and valuable breed of dog was unaccountably suffered to fall into a very neglected and degenerate state.
From the general tenor of old accounts we have of this dog's dimensions and appearance, it is to be gathered that he was of considerably greater stature than any known race existing at present, and, apparently, more than equal to the destruction of the wolf.
It is an incontestable fact that the domestic dog, when used for the pursuit of ferocious animals, should be invariably larger, and apparently more powerful, than his quarry, as the fierce nature, roving habits, and food of the wild animal, render him usually more than a match for his domesticated enemy if only of equal size and stature. We know that the Russian Wolfhound, though equal in stature to the wolf, will not attack him single- handed; and wisely, for it would certainly be worsted in the combat.
The Irish Wolfhound, being used for both the capture and despatch of the wolf, would necessarily have been of Greyhound conformation, besides being of enormous power. A heavy dog, such as a Mastiff, would be equal to the destruction of a wolf when caught; but to obtain a dog with Greyhound speed and the strength of the Mastiff, it would stand to reason that his stature should considerably exceed that of the Mastiff - one of our tallest as well as most powerful breeds. The usual height of the Mastiff does not exceed 30 in.; and, arguing as above, we may reasonably conclude that, to obtain the requisite combination of speed and power, a height of at least 33 in. would have to be reached. Many writers, however, put the stature of the Irish Wolfhound down as far exceeding that. Goldsmith states he stood 4ft.; Buffon that one sitting measured 5ft. in height; Bewick that he was about 3ft. in height; Richardson, arguing from the measurements of the skulls of Irish Wolfhounds preserved at the present time in the Royal Irish Academy, pronounced it his opinion that they must have stood 40 in.
It is perfectly certain, from these and many other accounts, allusion to which want of space renders impossible, that the dog was of vast size and strength; and all agree in stating that, whilst his power was that of the Mastiff, his form was that of the Greyhound. The 'Sportsman's Cabinet', a very valuable old book on dogs, published in 1803, which is illustrated with very good engravings after drawings from life by Reinagle, R.A., says: "The dogs of Greece, Denmark, Tartary, and Ireland, are the largest and strongest of their species. The Irish Greyhound is of very ancient race, and still to be found in some few remote parts of the Kingdom, but they are said to be much reduced in size, even in their original climate; they are much larger than the Mastiff, and exceedingly ferocious when engaged." A very good and spirited drawing of this dog is also given, which almost entirely agrees with my opinion as to what the Irish Wolfhound was and should be, though a rougher coat and somewhat more lengthy frame are desirable. The dogs described in "Ossian" are evidently identical with the Irish Wolfhound, being of much greater stature and power than the present Deerhound. From these descriptions, and those given elsewhere, we may conclude that, in addition to the dog's being of great stature, strength, and speed, he was also clothed in rough hair. In support of this, we find that in the present day all the larger breeds of Greyhound are invariably rough or long in coat.
Many writers have incorrectly confounded the Irish Wolfhound with the Great Dane, though the two dogs vary entirely in appearance, if not much in build. It seems more than probable, however, that the two breeds were frequently crossed, which may account for the confusion. The late Marquis of Sligo possessed some of this breed, which he (erroneously) considered Irish Wolfhounds.
Richardson was at very great trouble to get every information as to the probable height of this dog, but the conclusions arrived at by him (chiefly based on the lengths of the skulls he measured) would seem to be decidedly wrong, for the following reasons. He states: "The skull is 11 in. in the bone"; to that he adds 3 in. for nose, skin, and hair, thus getting 14 in. as the length of the living animal's head. The head of a living Deerhound measured by him is 10 in., the dog standing 29 in.; and he then calculates that the height of the Irish Wolfhound would have been 40 in., taking for his guide the fact that the 29 in. dog's head was 10 in. This would appear to be correct enough, though the allowance of 3 in. for extras is absurd. 1½ in. is an ample allowance for the extras, and if the head is taken at 12½ in., the height of the dog will be reduced to 36 in. Moreover, the measurement of 10 in. for the head of a 29 in. Deerhound is manifestly insufficient, as I can testify from ample experience and frequent measurements. A Deerhound of that height would have a head at least 11in.; so, calculating on the same principle, the Irish skulls would have been from dogs that only stood 33½ in. Richardson says that this skull is superior in size to the others, which would prove that the average must have been under 33½ in.; and so we may safely conclude that the height of these dogs varied from 31in to 34 in. In support of this view I would point to the German Boarhound. This dog has retained his character from a very remote age, and, as he is still used for the capture of fierce and large animals, the breed is not likely to have been allowed to degenerate. The height of these dogs varies from 28 in. to 33 in., the latter being probably the limit to which any race of dogs has been known to arrive.
The writer has numerous extracts from various authors, and many engravings from pictures by artists, dating from the middle of the sixteenth century to the commencement of the present century, but want of space will not allow their being introduced, though of much interest. From these sources it is gathered clearly that the dog was such as has been above stated; and from these varied accounts the following detailed conclusions as to the appearance and dimensions of the breed are arrived at, though perhaps they may not be considered as absolutely conclusive.
General Appearance and Form - That of a very tall, heavy Scotch deerhound; much more massive and majestic looking; active, and tolerably fast, but somewhat less so than the present breed of deerhound; the neck thick in comparison to his form, very muscular and rather long.
Shape of Head - Very long but not too narrow, coming to a comparative point; nose not too small, and head gradually getting broader from the same evenly up to the back of the skull; much broader between the ears than that of the present deerhound.
Coat - Rough and hard all over body, tail, and legs, and of good length; hair on head long and rather softer than that on body; that under the jaws to be long and wiry, also that over eyes.
Colour - Black, grey, brindle, red, and fawn, though white and parti-coloured dogs were common and even preferred in olden times.
Shape and Size of Ears - Small in proportion to size of head, and half erect, resembling those of the best deerhounds; if the dog is of light colour a dark ear is to be preferred.
When Sir Walter Scott dog lost his celebrated dog Maida (which, by the way, was by a Pyrenean dog out of a Glengarry Deerhound bitch), he was presented with a brace of dogs by Glengarry and Cluny Macpherson, both of gigantic size. He calls them "Wolfhounds", and says: "There is no occupation for them, as there is only one wolf near, and that is confined in a menagerie." He was offered a fine Irish Greyhound by Miss Edgeworth, who owned some of this breed, but declined, having the others.
Richardson says: 'Though I have separated the Irish Wolfdog from the Highland Deerhound and the Scottish Greyhound, I have only done so partly in conformity with general opinion that I have yet to correct, and partly because these dogs, though originally identical, are now unquestionably distinct in many particulars.'
As the rough Scotch Greyhound is to the present Deerhound, so is the Deerhound to what the Irish Wolfhound was.
It may be of interest to mention here, that the last wolf in Ireland is said to have been killed in 1710, but there is
no accurate information as to the precise date. The height of the European wolf varies from 28 in. to 30 in., and he is, though of comparatively slight form, an animal of very great power and activity.
"Richardson being an enthusiast on this subject, not content with simply writing, took measures to recover the breed. With much patience and trouble he hunted up all the strains he could hear of, and bred dogs of gigantic size, to which the strains now in existence can be distinctly traced. A gentleman of position and means in Ireland deceased some six or eight years, possessed a kennel of these dogs, on the breeding of which he expended both time and fortune freely. They were, though not equal to the original dog, very fine animals. It has been ascertained beyond all question that there are a few specimens of the breed still in Ireland and England that have well-founded pretensions to be considered Irish Wolfhounds; though falling far short of the requisite dimensions."
Since the foregoing was written by Captain Graham, the subject of the Irish Wolfhound has been occasionally brought before the public, both in this country and in America, but no new and authenticated facts have, so far as I am aware, been elicited in the discussion of it; and so, unless we accept statements unsupported by evidence, we are left in the position that, although there are dogs unquestionably possessing some of the original Irish Wolfhound blood, yet none are known to exist of absolutely pure pedigree.
In March, 1878, a sketch of a supposed scion of this race appeared in the Country newspaper of New York, followed by a fair resumé of historical notices of the breed. A month following, a letter appeared in the same journal, from Mr. Frank Adcock, of Shevington Hall, Wigan, in which that gentleman says: "It may interest your readers to know that this dog (the Irish Wolfhound) is still in existence, and exhibits all the various attributes ascribed to him by ancient writers. Those that I possess are blackish-grey and grizzled in colour, with stiff, wiry coats. In shape they resemble the great Scotch Deerhound, but are somewhat more stoutly made, and very much superior in size and courage; the head, also, although as long, is more massive and punishing in character, and the sense of smell is marvellously acute."
I, through the same medium, expressed my surprise at Mr. Adcock's statement that the pure breed existed, and were in that gentleman's possession, yet that he kept such an interesting fact from his countrymen, giving them no opportunity of seeing, even at a Kennel Club Show, one specimen of this rarity; and I suggested that he should substantiate a statement which had astonished many. Unfortunately, the American Country is now more extinct than the Irish Wolfhound; but in its last issue appeared a letter from Mr. Adcock, in response, I presume, to an editorial article on the subject in which occurred the following sentence: "It certainly seems strange that the first intimation of it (the existence of the breed) should have been published in our columns, but we have no complaint to make on that score if Mr. Adcock will make his claim good by proving that he really owns, as he has stated, more than one of the original breed." The letter from Mr. Adcock, however, is headed "Wolfhounds", says a good deal about Spain, and the Pyrenees Wolf dogs, and distinctly adds: "The Wolfhounds I allude to are not to be confounded with these mongrels, but are, more or less, identical with the dog known as the Irish Greyhound or Wolfhound."

Feeling strongly interested in the recovery or resuscitation of the Irish wolfhound, this controversy led us to make further enquiries respecting the breed, but there are few indeed who appear to know much of it or take any practical interest in it; and for the following notes referring to the last known pure strains we are indebted to the writer of the foregoing article, who possesses a more thorough knowledge of the breed and all concerning it, who has had more practical experience in breeding up to standard of the true Irish wolfhound than any man living, and who has in his dogs various combinations of, as far as we know, the only strains that possess authentic claims of descent from the original stock.
Captain Graham writes us:
"With regard to the Caledon breed of Irish wolfhounds, the present lord tells me that his father kept them, and that he can just remember them in his extreme youth. He very kindly made strict enquiries when on his Irish estates last year, and from the older keepers and tenants he has gathered the following particulars, which he filled in on a form containing a series of questions which I sent him. The Irish Wolfhounds kept by the late Earl of Caledon were as tall as the largest Deerhound now seen - if not taller - of a stouter make throughout, broader, and more massive; the ears were similar to a Deerhound's; rough, but not long coated; fawn, grizzly, and dun in colour; some old men have mentioned a mixture of white.
"The late Earl of Derby had a similar breed, I am assured positively by a gentleman (a clergyman) who had a specimen given him many years ago (over fifteen, probably twenty): but from Knowsley direct I have not got any information, though I wrote; probably the old keepers who had charge of the menagerie have disappeared, and knowledge of the dogs has died out. A clergyman to whom one of my dogs was given some nine or ten years ago, told me that the present Lord Derby had seen this dog, and considered him a finer specimen than any he had formerly possessed. I understand this dog grew to be very high (32 in.), and massive in proportion; his sire was only 30½ in., but his grandsire was 32 in., or considered to be so.
"Richardson, in his essay on this breed, says: 'Sir William Betham, Ulster King at Arms, has stated it as his conviction that the Irish Wolfdog was a gigantic Greyhound, not smooth-skinned, like our Greyhounds, but rough and curly-haired.' In the face of this, Sir William Betham's son, the well-known archer, wrote me some years ago to call my attention to a specimen of the Irish Wolfhound which was to be purchased in his neighbourhood; his description of the dog, however, showed him to be distinctly a Boarhound, or Great Dane, of no great size.
"A Mr. Mahon, of Dromore - a large property near Muckross - had, about twenty years ago, a breed of these dogs, but they have been allowed to die out. He had them, however, from the late Sir. J. Power, and the same blood is now in my possession. He described them fully to me as being similar to the Deerhound, but more massive and powerful, and not so high on the leg.
"Two of these dogs of the Power breed were the property of a lady living at Ryde, Isle of Wight, and of them I have photographs; they are, however, dead, and left no produce. I, at great trouble, traced out the Mr. Carter who is referred to by Richardson, but only to find that his breed of dogs had passed into oblivion."

At the Irish Kennel Club Show, held at Dublin, April, 1879, a class was made for dogs showing the nearest approach to the old Irish wolfhound as described by sporting writers of the past, and the committee did us the honour of appointing us to judge. The class was composed of dogs differing very widely in character, and what we considered our duty was to select for honours the elements out of which the old race could be rebuilt. We therefore gave first prize to a dog of very distinct deerhound type, but enormous stature - a dog, indeed, wanting nothing but more bone and substance to be our ideal of an Irish wolfhound. These are great wants, no doubt, but in the class brought together in this, the first public attempt to resuscitate the breed - an attempt that redounds to the honour of the Irish Kennel Club, and in a marked degree to Mr. St. George, who laboured hard in the interest of the breed - the judge had to deal with elements and possibilities only; the actual has to come, and was not even looked for in this, the first show of dogs under this name. The winning dog, Mr. Percy H. Cooper's Brian, is by Captain G.A. Graham's Swaran - Dr. Lammon-Heming's Linda. The latter is a well known deerhound bitch, while Swaran, we believe, has as much of the genuine old Irish wolfhound blood as any dog living; and it was with a view to forward the resuscitation of the Irish wolfhound that the litter, of which Brian is one and the better-known Ingleside another, were bred.
The second prize was awarded to a puppy shown by Mr. Frank Adcock, no pedigree given. He had a strong look of the Great Dane, with a good deal of the shape and style of the deerhound - dark, grizzled, and with a hard useful coat, although rather short; he was a puppy of great power and substance, the right stamp of head, although just a trifle too heavy, and in a cross with a sister to this dog and such a dog as Brian, we should expect to see the nearest approach in form to the old Irish wolfhound that has existed in this century, and in them we should also expect to get courage, a most essential attribute in a dog that has to cope with large and fierce game, and without which, indeed, he is worthless.
The third prize was awarded to Captain G.A. Graham's Scot, a dog with more authentic Irish wolfhound blood in him than anything shown, and, in shape and style, correct, but wanting in coat, and, what is more important, size and substance, for he was small almost to weediness.
The Irish Kennel Club give a challenge cup of £15 15s value and I hope this and the other means they are taking to encourage the restoration of this noble breed will eventually prove successful. The demand for such a dog for the hunting of fierce game in our colonies and abroad is unlimited, and with that view alone Ireland should encourage the restoration of the Irish wolfhound.

 Captain Grahm's Scot
 Graham's Scot


I cannot find even the name of Frank Adcock's puppy (the second prize winner), let alone a picture of him, and I have not been able to find, either, a picture of the first prize winner, Brian. However, Linda, the well-known deerhound bitch mentioned by Hugh Dalziel is shown here:


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