Irish Wolfhound History

The Hounds of Celt and Gael

Taken from Country Life in America, January 1916

By Walter A. Dyer

Can you tell the difference between a Scottish deerhound and an Irish wolfhound? If you can, it is more than some show judges have been able to do when the dogs have been a little off type, as has been frequently the case in this country. And yet it is easy enough when you know something of the history of these two grand old breeds and their essential characteristics.

Both breeds have been benched not infrequently at the Westminster and other shows, and their popularity seems to be moderately on the increase, though nothing like as great as they deserve.

 Mr. R.M. Barker's Irish wolfhound bitch Edain 193626,
shown for the first time at the 1915 New York State Fair,
where she won two firsts and two specials. She is a dark grey brindle

The two breeds resemble each other in many respects - in general conformation, shape of head, expression, tail, coat, and color. But when placed side by side, the Irish wolfhound should be noticeably heavier and the Scottish deerhound built on speedier lines. The ideal Irish wolfhound, according to one fancier, weighs from 135 to 150 pounds (dogs), and the Scottish deerhound 90 to 125 pounds, though these are not the precise figures of the Standard. The Irish shows a broader head, heavier jaw, heavier shoulders, thicker neck, and thicker body. The true Scottish is built decidedly on greyhound lines, with long head, long neck, and waspish waist. In this country Irish wolfhounds have been shown weighing less than 120 pounds and Scottish deerhounds weighing more, which accounts for the confusion in the public mind, for dogs of these extremes, especially when lacking type in other particulars, are difficult to identify.

The two breeds have been distinct since the twelfth century, though they undoubtedly had a common ancestry and probably the Scottish was an early offshoot from the Irish breed, while the modern Irish wolfhound, as we shall see, is even more closely related to the Scottish deerhound.

To begin with the Irish wolfhound, which was probably the older breed, we find references to a large dog of this general type used for hunting by the ancient kings of Ireland, and the canis graius Hibernicus was known in Old Roman days. Later writers speak of the Irish greyhound or wolf-dog, heavier than a greyhound, probably of mixed origin and not a native of Ireland. There were very likely both rough- and smooth-coated dogs of this breed, but Reinagle's picture, painted in 1803, shows a rough coat.

 Toyon Southport St. Patrick
 The Irish wolfhound Paddy - otherwise Toyon Southport St. Patrick, of California,
owned by Mr. Horace L. Hill, Jr. He stands 36 inches at the shoulder

These dogs must have been powerful, for they were used for hunting not only the great Irish wolf, but also the gigantic Irish elk, which stood six feet tall at the shoulder. Nevertheless, the reported size of the dogs was probably greatly exaggerated. As late as 1820 a dog is mentioned having many of the characteristics of the Great Dane.

When the wolves and elk disappeared from Ireland, the day of the great dogs passed and the breed became well nigh extinct. In fact, for all that the Irish people ever did to preserve it, it might have passed away entirely.

About fifty years ago, Capt. G.A. Graham of Dursley, a Scotchman and an officer in the British army, took an active interest in the breed and determined to revive it. Taking the rough-coated dog as the type, he sought for the best blood extant in Ireland. The ancestry of these dogs was fairly well established, but they lacked type, size, and stamina. Three strains he found which offered promise, and he crossed these with Great Danes¹ to get size, with Scottish deerhounds for general characteristics, and later with Borzois and possibly with Pyrenean and other large dogs. By 1881 he had practically restored the breed as far as form went, but it was fully twenty-five years before a really fine specimen was produced.

At first Captain Graham bred for size, but it was long before he could secure uniformity of type. Toward the end of the last century, however, a distinct improvement was achieved, and finally O'Leary was whelped, a splendid dog, and sire of some of the most consistent winners. Other good ones followed, from the kennels of different breeders, mostly English and not Irish enthusiasts.

The patience and persistence of Captain Graham and his colleague, Major Garnier, mark one of the most interesting and inspiring chapters in the history of dog breeding. The result was, to be sure, a made breed, not the old Irish dog re-established, but it was one of the finest and most successful breeds ever so produced. Captain Graham succeeded remarkably in breeding to his standard, and he produced a dog breeding true to type, combining size, strength, speed, and dignity of carriage, and standing sometimes thirty-three inches high at the shoulder.

All evidence points to the fact that the Scottish deerhound is a more nearly direct descendant of the old Irish wolf-dog than the present Irish wolfhound, though more greatly altered from the original type in size, strength, and conformation. Whether the original ancestor of the Scottish breed was actually brought over from Ireland is not known, but it may be confidently stated that the Irish and the Scottish were really two strains of the same breed, altered by circumstances and environment, of which the Irish was probably the older, with the Scottish claiming the more direct descent. In any case, the beginnings of the Scottish breed are lost in antiquity, for it was known as a distinct breed and recognized as a native dog in Scotland in early times. They were famous hunters in the days of the Picts and Scots, and were used for hunting wolves as well as deer. The ancient Earls of Caledon are said to have owned Irish wolf-dogs, and it is possible that the Scottish breed sprang from them.

With the decline of sport in Scotland, the deerhound became less in demand and consequently diminished in numbers, but it never approached so near to extinction as did the Irish wolfhound. Prince Albert, Sir Walter Scott, and Sir Edwin Landseer were among those who helped to keep the breed up to standard and to revive hunting with dogs, and succeeded in making the dog popular for its own sake by 1850.

Some fifty years ago borzoi and Pyrenean blood was introduced to some extent, but the attempt to get greater size was fortunately not persisted in, and it is probable that the best of our dogs to-day are very similar in type to those with which the Highland chiefs pursued the stag in the days of Roderick Dhu.

The two breeds were used for much the same purposes, and it is not easy to see why the Irish bred the heavier and the Scotch the speedier dog; but the fact remains, and should be kept constantly in view in breeding or judging. Lines of strength are cardinal points in the former, lines of swiftness in the latter, though the Irish is by no means a slow dog nor the Scottish a weak one. And the Irish wolfhound should be something more than merely a heavier edition of the Scottish deerhound; every effort should be made to keep the type distinct.

The British Standard states that the Irish wolfhound should be not so heavy or massive as the Great Dane, but more so than the Scottish deerhound, which breed it should in other respects resemble. A muscular but graceful dog is called for; coat, rough and hard on body, legs, and head, especially wiry over the eyes and about the jaws; color, gray, brindle, red, black, white, fawn, or any color that appears in the Scottish deerhound. The Standard calls for dogs 31 inches high at the shoulder and weighing 120 pounds; bitches, 21 inches², 90 pounds. This is the minimum size and weight, and those best competent to judge ask for a dog standing between 32 and 34 inches and weighing upward of 140 pounds.

The Irish wolfhound has never been widely popular in this country, and has been shown here for only a few years. Now at every big show half a dozen are benched, and one or two at the smaller shows, though these dogs are often lacking in type. At the Westminster Show in 1915, five Irish wolfhounds were shown, Miss V. Moore's Dromore Gweebarra taking first honors, with her Dromore reserve, both dogs beating Miss Bonnie Glass's Kildare, which later won at Mineola. Dromore Gweebarra is probably the best representative of the breed ever brought to this country, and it is to be hoped that the report of his serious illness has no foundation.

The West is usually ready to take up a large, active, useful breed, and interest in the Irish wolfhound has been slowly growing on the Pacific Coast. Mr. Horace L. Hill, Jr. now has a notable kennel of them at Los Altos, Cal. His stud chief is Toyon Southport St. Patrick, a big, typical specimen, bred by Mr. I. Everett of Felixstowe. Mr. Hill's young home-bred bitch, Toyon Sheilah, won over her sire at the San Francisco and San Mateo shows last spring.

In a country big enough to harbor Great Danes and borzois, there is every reason why the Irish wolfhound should become more popular. He is a fine, hardy dog, alert as a terrier, good-natured and intelligent, and wonderfully companionable. Of course, he needs exercise and may be expected to develop less desirable qualities if confined.

Mr. Hill writes: "From my own experience, I feel confident that these dogs need only to be known to be very generally liked. They are true sports and gentlemen, naturally healthy, most good-natured and long-suffering with children, never quarrelsome among themselves nor with smaller dogs, fighting only under extreme provocation, but on such occasions never failing to put up a nervy fight and to stop as soon as the other dog cries enough."

 Challenger, one of Mr. J.B. Kirkpatrick's winning
Scottish deerhounds

In general, the required points of the Scottish deerhound are similar to those of the greyhound, only he should be a shaggy dog, but not over-coated. The Standard calls for a hard, wiry coat, 3 or 4 inches long, flat and close, similar to that of the Irish wolfhound but softer on the head, breast, and belly. The build should be racy but strong, with deep chest and powerful legs. The body should be like that of the greyhound though with somewhat greater bone, the belly more upcurved than that of the Irish wolfhound, and the shoulders not so heavy. Dogs should stand 28 to 30 inches at the shoulder and weigh from 85 to 105 pounds; bitches 26 inches or over and weighing 65 to 80 pounds. Larger dogs are acceptable if they do not tend to coarseness, but greater size, approaching that of the Irish wolfhound, is not generally desired. The head should be longer and narrower than that of the Irish wolfhound, and the muzzle more pointed. Shaggy eyebrows, a long, prominent moustache, and some beard are necessary to give the proper deerhound expression. The ears are lifted in excitement, otherwise laid back. The neck should be similar to that of the borzoi, a little stronger than that of the greyhound, but longer and less muscular than that of the Irish wolfhound. The blue-gray color is preferred, but the lighter grays, brindles, yellow, sandy-red, and fawn are acceptable. White never has been desired in the deerhound.

In England the St. Ronan strain has long been famous, and there probably never was a finer specimen of the breed than St. Ronan's Rhyme, who was champion of champions at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1906 and best dog in the Edinburgh show the same year. The blood of these and other good British dogs is to be found in our best American specimens.

 Hafed  Ch. Heather King
 Hafed, a celebrated Scottish deerhound,
from the painting by Sir Edwin Landseer
 Mr. Kirkpatrick's deerhound
Ch. Heather King. Note the points in
common with Hafed

The Scottish deerhound breed, while it has not lacked for enthusiastic adherents, has never been widely popular among British fanciers and less so in the United States. Nevertheless, we have some excellent dogs here. One of the earliest and best to be brought over was Champion Chieftain, owned by Mr. John E. Thayer of Boston. Chieftain beat everything in England and America in his day, though he was one of the largest of his breed, standing 31 inches high. His kennel mate, Wanda, was also famous. Perhaps the best ever brought to America was St. Ronan's Ranger.

Mr. J.B. Kirkpatrick of West Caldwell, N.J., has some of the best of the present day. At the New York show in 1915 seven dogs were benched. Mr. Kirkpatrick's Ch. Roderick of Abbotsford was first in winners and his Fair Rosamond of Abbotsford reserve. At Wilmington, Asbury Park, and Lancaster this last year, Mr. D. Norton Down's McGregor was adjudged first winners, and good dogs of the breed were also shown at Islip, Louisville, and Danbury. Other good ones which Mr. Kirkpatrick has had at his Closeburn Kennels are Midlothian Martinet and Midlothian Mirthful, descendants of St. Ronan's Ranger, Ch. Heather King, and Ch. Cleopatra. Ch. Midlothian Martinet and Ch. Closeburn Clavers are now owned by Mr. Hill in California. Other representatives of the breed on the Coast are Ch. Margot of St. Heliers and Cragwood Ranger, both of the Cragwood Kennels, Palo Alto.

 Harry Rawson's Scottish deerhounds
 On their native heath - Mr. Harry Rawson's Scottish deerhounds,
St. Ronan's Royal, St. Ronan's Robena, St. Ronan's Rebecca,
and Ch. St. Ronan's Rhyme

The Scottish deerhound is a handsome dog, the picture of grace and majesty. Though large and rangy, he is not a troublesome dog and is eminently faithful and affectionate. Mr. Kirkpatrick says: "The Scottish deerhound is an all-round fine dog and should be better known. I feel confident that, if the American people can only become acquainted with this magnificent breed, there will be few country estates without one. They are swift, faithful, intelligent, and companionable, and in my opinion better than the borzoi in every respect except the fine white coat. They should be in great demand in the West. On one Wyoming ranch it has been proven that the Scottish deerhound is a better wolf killer than either the Irish or the Russian wolfhound."

The one present danger with both these breeds is that, because of their comparative scarcity, they may be weakened by inbreeding. There is a need for more good importations.

[Mr. Dyer will be glad to answer any questions relating to dogs; for convenience, kindly address Readers' Service, COUNTRY LIFE IN AMERICA, Garden City, N.Y. - THE EDITORS]


¹ Captain Graham did not himself carry out any crosses with Gt. Danes, although he did use dogs from these crosses in his breeding programme.

² The British Standard for the Irish Wolfhound actually calls for bitches to be 28 inches minimum to the shoulder, not the 21 inches given here which is presumably a misprint.

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