Irish Wolfhound History

The Dogs That Fingal Bred

By A. Croxton Smith, Country Life October 17th, 1914

a group of puppies 
 Youngsters a few months old

Which were the dogs that Ossian sang and Fingal bred? "The shrill sound spreads along the wood. The sons of healthy Cromla arise. A thousand dogs fly off at once, grey-bounding through the heath. A deer fell by every dog; three by the white-breasted Bran. He brought them in their flight, to Fingal, that the joy of the King might be great. One deer fell at the tomb of Ryno." What a mighty hunting, worthy of great heroes! Shades of Fillan and Fergus! If thy ghostly horn-blowing could but summon such a pack again would that I were there to see. There was once an iconoclast who in claiming that the collie was the old indigenous dog of these islands, declared that Bran was an exceptionally strong and intelligent member of this race. I am unconvinced. Perhaps sentiment warps my judgement, making me read in the evidences of history merely what predilection disposes me to find there. Fingal's dogs were grey and long-bounding; exceptional speed and strength were theirs. Surely the Irish wolf-hound or Scottish deerhound more closely resembles what we believe these dogs to have been than any other.

Ch. Lindley Hector 
 Ch. Lindley Hector. Probably the tallest dog living

I may be told that we know nothing of the poems of Ossian, son of Fingal; that it is only James Macpherson speaking to us. What matters? We know that the Irish wolf-dogs can fairly claim considerable antiquity. They were formerly used as supporters to the arms of the old Irish monarchs. They were collared or, with the motto, "Gentle when stroked — fierce when provoked." — a description which very well fits their descendants of the present day. Katherine Phillips aptly described them in a poem that deserves wider recognition:

 Behold the creature's form and state!
Him Nature surely did create,
That to the world might be expresst
What mien there can be in a breast;
More nobleness of form and mind
Than in the lion we can find;
Yea, this heroic beast doth seem
In majesty to rival him.

Yet he vouchsafes to man to show
His service and submission too.
And here we a distinction have;
That brute is fierce — the dog is brave.
He hath himself so well subdued
That hunger cannot make him rude.
And all his manner do confess
That courage dwells with gentleness.

Ch. Lindley Lupin
Ch. Lindley Lupin
Ch. Felixstowe Gelert 
 Ch. Felixstowe Gelert
Major Percy Shewell's Irish Wolf-hound

The paucity of evidence as to the characteristics of the ancient Irish wolf-dog is somewhat remarkable, considering his importance and wide distribution, for his fame seems to have spread far beyond the confines of his native land. Some writers class him among the greyhounds, with rough hair, and others speak of him as being smooth-coated, with more resemblance to the Great Dane. Mr. F.H. Purchase has done good service to the breed by his researches among old prints, and he very rightly attributes much importance to a drawing by J.E. Riedinger (1695-1767). This he considers the earliest undoubtedly authentic illustration of the dog. Here we have a long-legged animal of greyhound build, weak in muzzle, and with very slightly broken coat. The body colour is white, with presumably brown or yellow markings. "Gross Irlaendisch Windspiel" is the title affixed to it, and in the descriptive letterpress is the sentence: "The rough-haired kind are hardier than the other."

Of the great Irish greyhound we learn that "they are excellent for overtaking a swift stag." In another extant Riedinger print we have a representation of an enormous dog of somewhat similar type, which Mr. Purchase considers was an Irish wolf-hound. Mr. Purchase lays stress upon Riedinger's qualifications as a delineator of animal life. "A huntsman himself in his young days, he was accustomed to draw with extreme accuracy from life, and not (as has been the case with certain illustrators) on his imagination or from the works of other people. Moreover, he lived at a time when the Irish wolf-dog indubitably existed in its original purity."

According to Father Hogan, whose magnum opus contains much out-of-the-way information, deterioration began to set in about 1750. By that time the last wolf in Ireland had been dead some forty years, and it may be that breeders had become careless. About the date mentioned, Father Hogan tells us, the Earl of Chesterfield had been trying for two years to get some of the larger dogs, and at the end of that time a brace sent to him contained a mixture of Danish blood, which made them clumsy. Doubtless the familiar print by P. Reinagle, R.A. (1803), was taken from a survivor of the true breed, and it is to this standard that modern enthusiasts have conformed. The general conclusion will be that Captain Graham and those who succeeded him have performed their task admirably, completing a "restoration" far more satisfactory than such efforts usually are. They have given us today a dog of great beauty, enormous stature, much dignity and withal capacity for hunting at speed. If one did not know their powers the impression would be that they are too heavy to catch a wolf or clear a fence at a bound, but this is not so. Their well let down hocks and powerful loins fit them for almost any work.

head study of Lindley Hector 
 Ch. Lindley Hector
(Possesses particularly powerful jaws)

I think it may fairly be claimed that the Irish wolf-hound is the tallest dog we have, reckoning the average. Occasionally, perhaps, a St. Bernard or Great Dane may attain 36 in. at the shoulder, but so rarely does this occur that one would require most careful verification. A year or two ago we published a photograph of a wolf-hound exhibited by Mr. Palmer that exceeded 37 in., and Mr. I.W. Everett's expatriated giant, Champion Felixstowe Gweebarra, could be made to reach the magic standard, although he was so beautifully proportioned and so heavy in bone that he scarcely looked that height. He weighed about 175 lb. I do not know what are the proportions of his famous son, Champion Felixstowe Gelert, whose picture appears this week, but they must nearly approach those of the sire. Gelert is now in the possession of Major Shewell of Cotswold, Cheltenham, who has a select kennel of these imposing animals. I had the pleasure of seeing Gelert as a puppy, and prophesying in these pages that hewould make history. On coming out he was a full champion within a few weeks; it could not well have been otherwise with his merits. Last year he won five of the few challenge certificates offered for this variety, and whenever he appears he goes on from victory to victory with a consistency that must be gratifying to his owner. Two other full champions also belong to Major Shewell, these being Lindley Hector and Lindley Lupin. Both are sound hounds of real good quality, and Hector, the dog, is striking on account of his size. He stands an easy 37 in. at the shoulder, measured conservatively, and is, therefore, I should say, quite the tallest living dog. Although Major and Mrs. Shewell have had many of the leading hounds through their hands for a number of years past, it is doubtful if at one time they have given accommodation to a better trio. Fitting successors are they in every respect to old Champion Cotswold and Champion Felixstowe Kilronan.

head study of Felixstowe Gelert 
 Ch. Felixstowe Gelert

Frankly, the Irish wolf-hound is not the dog of the poor man, unless he happens to be breeding for the sake of profit, since his appetite is on a par with his size. To keep one in the pink of condition he may well be allowed 3 lb. of meat a day in addition to supplementary rations, such as biscuit, brown bread, oatmeal, etc., and a litter of puppies must of necessity be a heavy expense if justice is to be done to them. Breeders who have made a reputation, however, are able to sell young stock at substantial figures. For the man who can afford one, I can imagine no more pleasing acquisition in the way of canine flesh. If carefully broken, their manners are excellent, after the rollicking days of puppyhood they take up very little room, and they are certainly formidable as guards.

 head of Lindley Lupin
 Ch. Lindley Lupin

Dogs for the Dominions

Many an Englishman taking up residence in some lonely part of the Empire is perplexed to know what dogs would be most suitable to accompany him as companions. A man who is shortly proceeding to a thinly populated district of British Columbia has just purchased from Mr. I.W. Everett of Felixstowe a brace of young Irish wolf-hounds. He could not well have chosen more wisely, for these powerful animals, apart from being excellent friends, are also formidable guards, while being strong enough to tackle marauding wolves. Personally, I should feel perfectly safe anywhere with two of them about me. The steady demand for these dogs from foreign sources proves how genuinely they are esteemed in the outposts of the world. No matter where the average Englishman goes, he carries his sporting taste with him, and we find British dogs in every part of the habitable globe. Thus, the earliest colonisers of Virginia imported foxhounds from the old country, descendants of which are to be met to-day in the Southern States of North America. These, as one would expect, have changed somewhat in form from their long residence in other climates; but many Americans claim that they represent more truly the old English hound than those to be found in our fashionable packs. Many packs of foxhounds are constantly being sent out to India to hunt the jackal.


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August 2nd, 2005