Irish Wolfhound History

Everybody's Dog Book

By Major A.J. Dawson, published June 1922

The author and dogs 
 The frontispiece of the book

Of all the breeds of dogs known to the English-speaking peoples, few are of more ancient or honourable lineage than the royal race of Irish Wolfhounds; and the dog-loving public owes a debt of real gratitude to such enthusiasts as Captain Graham for their timely, persevering, practical and most valuable services, which may be said to have saved this magnificent breed from extinction at the most critical juncture of its history, in the latter part of the last century. But for their patient efforts, at a time when public knowledge of and interest in the Irish Wolfhound had become a negligible quantity, it is probable that there would have been no true specimen living to-da; and it would not be easy to conceive of any more signal or regrettable loss for the canine race than this would have been, since no nobler or more beautiful hound exists than the Irish Wolfhound, and none has a longer or more interesting history.

To-day, thanks largely to the influences and efforts just mentioned, and, of course, to the exceedingly attractive qualities inherent in the Wolfhound himself, the breed flourishes, and fine specimens are frequently finding their way overseas to the homes of appreciative purchasers in America, Africa, Australasia, and other parts of the world. The Irish Wolfhound Club (whose Hon. Secretary is Mr. J.F. Baily, of Whitechurch, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin) is slowly but steadily increasing its membership, and the breed is growing all the time in public favour. Withal, and despite the magnificent specimens of the breed that were being exhibited in the early part of the present century, and down to the War, the writer has no hesitation in saying that, even now, the Irish Wolfhound has not obtained a tithe of the public knowledge, recognition, and wide appreciation to which his altogether exceptional excellences, his unique merits, undoubtedly entitle him. There would seem to be something strange, if not unnatural in the fact that, even now, the general public knows a good deal more about such alien importations as the St. Bernard, the Great Dane, and the Borzois - splendid and attractive varieties all - than it knows of the modern representatives of a breed whose fame was firmly established as far afield as the Mediterranean, as long ago as the period of the Roman occupation of England.

The Irish Wolfhound were war dogs then, not in the sense in which dogs were employed on the battlefields of France and Flanders in the recent European War, but as combatants, and as very redoubtable and greatly feared fighters at that. And it is safe to say that no finer specimens of the race have ever been seen, either in the days of the warring Irish Kings, or in the last of the Irish wolf-hunting periods, than in the Irish Wolfhound classes of some of the chief English dog shows held between the periods of the South African and the European Wars. The reign of King Edward VII witnessed a very remarkable and welcome revival in the progress of this historic breed, and in the very beginning of that epoch the present writer succeeded in breeding and rearing Irish Wolfhounds which attained the great height of 35 inches at the shoulder, and weighed up to more than 150 lbs., whilst retaining in their own persons all the grace, very much of the agility, and, perhaps, more than all the dignity and picturesque beauty which are properly associated with the Deerhound. (The reader may be referred in this connection to two books: "Finn, the Wolfhound" and "Jan, Son of Finn"; and to Captain Graham's monograph on the Irish Wolfhound).

Visitors to the Natural History Museum at South Kensington often admire there the beautiful remains of the great Irish Wolfhound, Champion O'Leary, without guessing that the progeny of that noble hound are available to-day in the kennels of at least half a dozen well-known breeders and exhibitors. From Tynagh, a daughter of the great O'Leary, mated with the redoubtable Champion Dermot Asthore, the writer obtained some of the finest and most beautiful specimens of the breed, including the famous Gareth, who, in the capable hands of Mr. A.S. Hall, won his full championship in very early life, and whose portrait will be found in this volume. The following measurements of this typical Irish Wolfhound may be found of interest:-

Height at shoulder, 34¾ inches
Length of head, 13½ inches
Length of neck, 17 inches
Length from nose to tip of tail, 87½ inches
Chest girth, 40 inches
Neck girth, 20 inches
Girth of skull above the eyes, 18½ inches
Girth of muzzle below eyes, 14¼ inches.

Standing erect on his hind feet, he comfortably rested his fore-feet on the top of a fence exactly 76 inches in height.

Ch. Gareth 
 Mr. A S Hall's Champion Gareth
One of the largest puppies bred by the author

In the light of these figures, and having regard to the fact that the general public, even now, knows less of this noble breed than of many others, space must be found here for the following official description and standard of points, as laid down by the Irish Wolfhound Club:-

General Appearance - The Irish Wolfhound should not be quite so heavy or massive as the Great Dane, but more so than the Deerhound, which in general type he should otherwise resemble. Of great size and commanding appearance, very muscular, strongly though gracefully built, movements easy and active, head and neck carried high, the tail carriage in an upward sweep with a slight curve towards the extremity. The minimum height and weight of dogs should be 31 inches, and 120 lbs.; of bitches, 28 inches, and 90 lbs. Anything below this should be disbarred from competition. Great size, including height at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage, and symmetry.

Head - Long, the frontal bones of the forehead very slightly raised and very little indentation between the eyes. Skull not too broad. Muzzle, long and moderately pointed. Ears, small and greyhound-like in carriage.

Neck - Rather long, very strong, and muscular, well arched, without dewlap or loose skin about the throat.

Chest - Very deep. Breast wide.

Back - Rather long than short. Loins arched.

Tail - Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness and well covered with hair.

Belly - Well drawn up.

Fore-quarters - Shoulders muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping. Elbows well under, neither turned inward nor outward.

Legs - Fore-arm muscular, ad the whole leg strong and quite straight.

Hind-quarters - Muscular thighs and second thighs, long and strong as in the greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor out.

Feet - Moderately large and round, neither turned inward nor outward. Toes well arched and closed. Nails very strong and curved.

Hair - Rough and hard on body, legs and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw.

Colour and markings - The recognised colours are gray, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any colour that appears in the Deerhound.

Faults - Too light or heavy a head, too highly arched a frontal bone; large ears and hanging flat to the face; short neck; full dewlap; too narrow or too broad a chest; sunken or hollow or quite straight back; bent fore-legs; over-bent fetlocks; twisted feet; spreading toes; too curly a tail; weak hind-quarters, and a general want of muscle; too short in body.

Accepting this official standard as sound, there can be no question about it that the past twenty years have witnessed a very marked and notable development in Irish Wolfhounds. Just as the writer knows of no more handsome animal in the whole canine race, so he is unable to name any variety whose individual members are more distinguished by the nobility and natural sweetness of their characters and dispositions. No dog is more emphatically a gentleman than the Irish Wolfhound; no hound could possibly be a more delightful companion, and none adapt himself more gracefully and completely to the domestic life of a household.

Tynagh as a youngster   A mother of Irish Wolfhound heroes, twenty years ago
 After her first litter: Tynagh, Champion O'Leary's beautiful daughter and the mother of 'Finn, the Wolfhound', Champion Gareth, and other notable hounds.  Tynagh as an adult

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