The True Successor

It has recently struck me that we who keep and breed Irish Wolfhunds ought not to take it lying down when we such statements as that made in a standard work on dogs, by someone who should have known better, that the Irish Wolfhound has no relation to Ireland, and is simply a blend of Deerhound with Great Dane.

Having made a fairly thorough study of the origin of the modern Irish Wolfhound, I will now lay before my readers a few of the general conclusions I have reached on this subject.

To begin with, let us consider the question of actual descent. Before the founding of the Irish Wolfhound Club in 1885, Capt. Graham and some others had been at work collecting and breeding our noble breed, but one of the chief difficulties was that they were not only very rare, and somewhat delicate owing to too much inbreeding, but not completely standardized. One of the avowed objects of the show held in 1879 was to try and select the materials from which the old breed could be rebuilt. The winner and third in this show were actual descendants of the original Kilfane and Ballytobin strains, which were the last survivors of a long line of hounds bred in Ireland and whose pedigrees extended to over a hundred years ago. The second prize went to a first cross of Dane and Deerhound.

Capt. Graham himself never actually used a Dane cross; what he mainly used to cross in with his Irish strains were Deerhounds of Glengarry's and Macneill of Colonsay's strains. In his book on "The Irish Wolfhound", first published in 1879, he states that, in looking for fresh blood for his strains, it had always been "his steadfast endeavour to get crosses from such dogs of acknowledged Irish Wolfhound blood as were to be found, in preference to simply crossing opposite breeds to effect the desired object." Mr. Rawdon B. Lee complained, in an article on the Wolfhound of 1894, that some of the Dane and Deerhound crosses were "undignified in manner."

Further light on this matter is thrown by the following extract from Graham's original Standard of Excellence.

"Neck, thick in comparison to his form, and very muscular; body and frame lengthy; head, long, but not narrow, co9ming to a comparative point towards the nose; nose rather large, and head gradually getting broader from the same, evenly up to the back of the skull, and not sharp up to the eyes, and then suddenly broad and lumpy, as is often the case with dogs bred between Greyhound and Mastiff."

In 1888, Graham stated that about six or seven, out of twenty Irish Wolfhounds that were shown, were Dane and Deerhound crosses, but in the others there was no Dane blood "for certainly many generations to my positive knowledge," though there was Deerhound blood.

It is possible to trace the pedigrees of practically all the Irish Wolfhounds we now see, as far back as the time when these breeding experiments were being made, and to make a rough table of percentages of foreign and genuine blood. The Dane percentage, though there were several different crosses of Dane, does not come out very high; it averages less than one-eighth of the whole. The hounds of genuine Irish blood were very much bred in to, and permeate all the other strains, and their proportion, although springing from but one or two individuals, adds up to rather over half of the whole. The rest is mainly Deerhound, with a small fraction of other blood.

Graham's original Irish breeding stock were not as large as our modern champions. His 'Scot' - the third prize winner abovementioned - was only 29 ins. at the shoulder. His Ballytobin red bitch, "Old Donagh", was 28 ins. His largest hounds did not exceed 33 ins., though in 1879 he wrote, "There is no reason why the Irish Wolfhound should be restored to its original height of 33 to 35 inches." Many natural histories and other works of the late 18th and early 19th centuries give a height of about a yard. But this had been allowed to degenerate, and it is not till after the beginning of the 20th century that we begin again to get recorded heights of 36 ins. This size was obtained through crosses of outside blood, of Dane and other breeds, that were introduced about that time. I have given a brief account of this matter in my book (see advert. page).

A photograph has come into my possession, through the kindness of Mr. Baily. It represents Graham standing beside a figure of a dog which has been worked over in the photograph with a paint-brush, and was apparently taken from a life-size model. On the back of it the following is scrawled in pencil, but unfortunately with no date:-

 Capt. Graham and hound model

"Type of old Irish Wolfhound. Exact height 35 inches to shoulder blade. Probable girth 42 inches or more. Weight about 140 lb. G.A. Graham". Graham also had a picture painted in oils, of his ideal Irish Wolfhound, but I have so far failed to trace its present whereabouts. Lord Massereene tells me that the model in the photograph reminds him of an old drawing, dated 1810, that used to be at Antrim Castle before it was burned down.

Graham and others who were interested in the Irish Wolfhound definitely took as their model the painting by Reinagle of which an excellent engraving is reproduced in "The Sportsman's Cabinet (1803)". The original painting is in the possession of Mr. Montagu Scott. Graham considered the ideal hound to be rather longer in the back than this picture, and to have rather more hair about the head and face.

 Reinagle portrait

This brings us to our second important point. Having definitely established that our modern breed carries a well-authenticated line of descent from Irish stock, we find we have now to answer those critics who maintain that the real old Irish hound was not of this type at all, but smooth-haired and pied in coloour, and that it dies out well before the end of the 18th century.

Certainly, this type did exist, and there are a number of pictures of it. In fact, there seem to have been a good many different types, some rough and some smooth, some heavy and some greyhound-like, all used against wolves and described in old days as Irish Wolfhounds or wolfdogs, or Irish greyhounds. Wentworth's hound, whose picture was painted by Van Dyck, was mentioned as "the last of his race" as early as the 17th century. In fact, they began to become rare as wolves were gradually exterminated in Ireland. The first record I have of a "last wolf" is in 1654 (Ware), but the actually last recorded killing of a wolf was not till 1786 at Myshall, by Mr. Watson's hounds.

Graham remarked, in 1879, "It will have been noticed that several persons owning Irish Wolfhounds in former days were in the habit of styling them 'the last of their race.' It appears tolerably certain that the breed was gradually being merged into the present breed of Deerhounds, and each successive owner was jealously claiming for his specimen the honour of being the last."

Mr. Richard Mahony wrote, "There was no inducement to extenuate the old powerful dog into the swifter but sparer Deerhound, and the few specimens that remained preserved the original characteristics. In Scotland, the cause that preserved the race from extinction tended to change its qualities and older heroic proportions."

There were a good many Irish Wolfhounds who were called "the last of their race." A few of these were "Windsor", belonging to Mr. Massey's pack, near Limerick, about 1820, who once ran a stag, and killed him, alone; The O'Toole's "Bruno", about 1823; Hamilton Rowan's "Bran", some time before 1834; the one painted by Mrs. Fairholme at Garriricken in 1847; and Nolan's "Oscar" are among those to whom the modern strains ought to be traceable. A pedigree showing the descent of the Kilfane, Ballytobin and Dromore strains back to the beginning of the 19th century was at one time in the possession of the Mahonys or O'Mahonys, but it has been lost for a good many years.

Another claimant to the title of "the last wolfhound" is 'Granua', who belonged to the late The O'Mahony of Kerry, who died in 1930. She was alive till quite recently, but the last I heard of her was that she was failing, and by now she has probably followed her master. He claimed to possess a strain undiluted with any blood more extraneous than Deerhound, and the type is of great interest. It is very heavy in bone for its height, bearing less resemblance in build to the modern Deerhound than does the modern Irish Wolfhound. It is muscular and very active, and the head, which as a rule is large, gives an excellent example of the "gradual widening" that we noticed earlier.


"Windsor" was white, with lemon patches, and slightly broken hair. "Bruno" was dark grey, and "rough, but not long-coated". "Bran" was also dark grey and rough-coated. The Garriricken one was described as "like a Deerhound, only larger." Nolan's "Oscar" was deerhound-like in type, rough-haired and dark with a white breast. "Granua" is dark grey, and pretty heavily coated.

Other pictures than Reinagle's support the claim of our present type. Most of the 17th century pictures, and some of the 18th century ones, show smooth pied hounds, but nearly all the late 18th and early 19th century ones give a somewhat broken or quite rough coat. The rough-haired Irish Wolfhound or greyhound is mentioned by various writers at different times, the earliest one I can lay my hands on being Gervaise Markham in the 17th century, who mentions "long, shaggy-haired, great-boned greyhounds for hunting the wolf."

Our present breed was at one time looked on as 'non-sporting', in fact, it was only recognized by the English Kennel Club as sporting in 1925, though it has always been a practical hunting breed. Graham found there was a good demand for his Irish Wolfhounds in Australia, and some of these distinguished themselves by their great power and courage: I have a letter from Mr. Corfield, who tells of one who was the only dog, out of a mixed or "bobbery" pack, that dared stand up to the Old Man Kangaroo, and, though badly slashed, held on till Mr. Corfield ended the matter with a bullet through the Old Man's head. More recently, three Irish Wolfhounds faced up to a pair of lions in Kenya in defence of their mistress, Mrs. Beynon, and drove them off.

Since this time, the breed has been exported to many places where big game abounds, and has shown itself both physically and morally more able to deal with its quarry than other breeds.

The Irish Wolfhound has always kept up his character of courtesy and gravity as well as boldness, as described by "Orinda" in the 17th century, who said of an "Irish Greyhound" (whom she calls "a lion of another kind") that:-

"......hunger cannot make him rude,
And his behaviour doth confess
True courage dwells with gentleness,"

so that he is as much at home in the drawing-room, the nursery or the show-ring as on the mountain-side or in the jungle.

The Irish Wolfhound Club Year Book 1929-30-31

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