Irish Wolfhound History

Country Life September 20th, 1919

"THE NOBLEST OF THE KIND" by A. Croxton Smith

head of Felixstowe Garryellen   head of Jess of Midlothian
 Felixstowe Garryellen  Jess of Midlothian

"Bevis was the noblest of the kind which 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." This was the "large wolf-dog, in strength a mastiff, in form and almost in fleetness a greyhound," which is so familiar to all readers of "Woodstock". A student of the history of this interesting breed, hoping by Scott's assistance to discover an authentic verbal portrait of the dog as he appeared a century ago, will be disappointed, for we learn from a note that "Bevis, the gallant hound, one of the handsomest and most active of the ancient Highland deerhounds, had his prototype in a dog called Maida, the gift of the late Chief of Glengarry to the author." Actually, then, Bevis, though so described, was not a wolf-dog at all, but a deer-hound, and Scott, contrary to his usual practice, confuses the mind still more by speaking of him in the opening pages of the story as "the faithful mastiff, or bloodhound." We may be grateful to the novelist, however, for his delineation of the character of the dog, which has been repeated many times since in slightly different form without variation of the substance. Sir Henry Lee, believing that Bevis had deserted him, accepts the old superstition that instinct teaches dumb animals to fly from misfortune, illustrating his point from the fact that some birds and animals will kill any sickly or wounded member of the family. "That may be true of the more irrational kinds of animals among each other," rejoins his daughter, "for their whole life is well-nigh a warfare; but the dog leaves his own race to attach himself to ours; forsakes for his master the company, food, and pleasure of his own kind; and surely the fidelity of such a devoted and voluntary servant as Bevis hath been in particular, ought not to be lightly suspected."

head of Felixstowe Kilgerran   head of Felixstowe Kilgerran
Felixstowe Kilgerran
Studies in expression

If, in our quest of information, we forsake romance and turn to the works of the naturalist or other writers, little satisfaction is to be gained. Some illustrations depict dogs with smooth coats, others with rough; in some we have the greyhound type preponderating, while in others the subject is reminiscent of a Great Dane. Mr. F.H. Purchase, who has gone exhaustively into the matter, reaches the conclusion that originally the Irish wolf-dog was of greyhound shape, and that the coat was either rough or smooth. About the year 1750 his is convinced so much Great Dane blood was infused that in fifty years pure-bred specimens had almost disappeared. Evidence of this assertion comes from the Lord Chesterfield of 1750, who wrote that he had been trying for two years to get some of the large dogs of Ireland, but that the breed had grown ex- tremely rare, and that he had had two sent him six months earlier, but that he discovered in them a mixture of the Danish blood, which made them clumsy.
The modern animal, of which some beautiful illustrations appear in this number, had his beginning in 1862, when Captain Graham started reviving the breed by using strains which were understood to possess some of the true blood, and combining them with the deerhound, the Great Dane and, possibly, a limited amount of Borzoi. How far the present dog resembles those of two hundred years ago, I cannot say, but at least we know that he is one of the hand- somest of the canine race, possessing speed, power, and liberty of action to a remarkable degree. In appearance he follows the deerhound more closely than the Dane, and one can easily picture him as a descendant of the dogs that Fingal bred as described in the old Celtic poem:

An eye of sloe, with ear not low,
With horse's breast, with depth of chest,
With breadth of loin, and curve in groin,
And nape set far behind the head -
Such were the dogs that Fingal bred.

 Felixstowe Garryellen Felixstowe Garryellen
Felixstowe Graigue  Felixstowe Graigue
 Felixstowe Kilgerran Felixstowe Kilgerran

On my first becoming interested in Irish wolfhounds, as we now call them, the Danish mésalliance was distinguishable in the head of many, but that has practically vanished, leaving us an animal that breeds true to type. One of our oldest and most successful breeders is Mr. I.W. Everett of Witnesham, Suffolk, whose dogs are illustrated this week. Chief among them is Felixstowe Kilgerran, championship winner at the last Cruft's show. A light brindle in colour, he stands 35½ ins. at the shoulder, and weighs about 180 lbs. Yet, notwith- standing this great size, he is so perfectly put together that he gallops like a greyhound, and is as active as a terrier. If he were not beautifully proportioned this would not be possible. He has heavy, straight bone carried well down, his girth is remarkable, and he is strong behind the withers, with no suspicion of being dipped there, which is a fault that so often disfigures the big breeds. His sire, Felixstowe Navan, was sold to a gentleman in Massachusetts for a considerable sum. Felixstowe Graigue promises to make a giant, as he was only seven months when photographed, and he then measured 33 ins. Probably by the time this article is published he will have sailed for Brazil, which will be a distinct loss to the country, as in every respect he is an extraordinarily good hound. A great type of brood bitch is the dark brindled Jess of Midlothian, whose only fault is that she wants more size, barely reaching 30 ins. I suppose Felixstowe Regan may claim to be the tallest dog in the country with his measurement of 37 ins. For all that, he has none of the defects apparent in most abnormally big hounds, being of splendid type all through, and it is doubtful if Mr.Everett will ever own one with a better outline. He fractured one leg at the elbow as a puppy, but the resultant stiffness did not prevent him receiving the challenge certificate at Cruft's in 1916. Felixstowe Garryellen is a raking big bitch standing over a lot of ground, bought purposely for mating with Kilgerran. Strong in loin, deep in girth, and with powerful hindquarters she is fitted to become the mother of a great race, and her breeding - Champion Fodhla Patrick out of Lindly Brenda - brings sound blood into the kennels.

 Felixstowe Regan
 Felixstowe Regan

As was the case with most big breeds, the last two years of the war sadly reduced the Irish wolfhound stock in the country, but it is thought that sufficient bitches remain to permit of an early recovery. Although there is no work for the breed to do in the United Kingdom, beyond serving as guards for lonely houses, we act as the producing mart for the rest of the world. In all parts of the civilised world, and on the outskirts of Empire these noble dogs are highly prized. Mr. Everett has sold them to farmers in Western Canada for the purpose of destroying coyotes and other marauders that take a heavy toll of sheep and pigs, and the results seem to be most satisfactory. Others have gone to protect flocks in Australia, there, I suppose, against the depredations of the crafty and bloodthirsty dingo. The famous Champion Felixstowe Gweebarra went to America at the price of a first-class hunter some years ago, the idea of the purchaser being to use him in his preserves for bringing bears to bay. It is a common thing for wolfhounds to be bought with the object of infusing courage and size into breeds of native dogs.

 Felixstowe Regan & Jess of Midlothian
Felixstowe Regan and Jess of Midlothian 

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