The Noble Irish Wolfhound


The fact that last week the first coursing meeting for Irish Wolfhounds ever held in England took
place at Boscombe Down, near Amesbury, lends special interest to this article describing the
breed, almost extinct a few years ago, but now rapidly increasing.

The Irish wolfhound, aristocrat of dogs, with a pedigree going back 2000 years or more, is once again coming into favour, and trials held last week at Amesbury serve to bring his great qualities before the public. During the War the breed became almost extinct, for the Irish wolfhound is a great meat-eater, and when food rationing was necessary the authorities decided that his existence could not be officially recognised. Two breeders carried on without certificates during those dark days, and, so far as this country is concerned, saved the breed from disappearance. Since 1921 the story has been a happier one. The breed has gone ahead by leaps and bounds, and the Irish wolfhound is now the most popular of the large sporting dogs.

 Patrick of Brabyns
Miss Joan Southey with Patrick of Brabyns

Imagine an animal as big as a donkey and as heavy as a man, and there you have the Irish wolfhound, without doubt the largest and tallest dog in the world. A very usual height for a dog is 36 inches at the shoulder and for a bitch 33 inches, the average weight being between 170 and 180 lbs. It is the oldest known breed in these islands. In the early history of England they were imported not only into England and Scotland, but also into the Continent. From them descended the Scottish deerhound, and they were crossed with other varieties of hounds. The Russian Borzoi is descended from them.

Mention of the Irish wolfhound was made in Roman history, and many were taken overseas to be led in triumph through the streets of Rome by the returned invaders. He has figured in many legends, of which the story of Gelert is, perhaps, the best remembered. We know from our books of childhood's days how the mighty Llewelyn of Wales one day returned from his hunting, and, seeing the overturned and bloo-stained cradle of his little son, slew the hound, concluding that he had killed the child. Then underneath the cradle he found the boy sleeping peacefully near the body of a wolf. All their history the Irish wolfhounds have been known for their wonderful intelligence, speed and endurance in the chase.

 Grevel hounds
At the first Irish Wolfhounds' Coursing Meeting at Boscombe Down last week

When the last wolf was killed in Ireland, at the end of the eighteenth century, the hounds began to die out, and about 1880 the late Captain Graham decided to make an effort to save the breed. He searched Ireland for specimens with which to breed in England, and crossed them with the Scottish deerhound - going back to their own blood. Other breeders crossed them with the Borzoi, and even, in order to gain size, with the Great Dane. The latter cross, while gaining size, did not get type, for the Great Dane is not a sporting hound, and brought in certain qualities which it has been difficult to eliminate. Breeders today, however, have succeeded, and the Irish wolfhound is re-established as the premier sporting hound.

Today there are a good many breeders in England, and the hounds are being exported all over the world as sporting dogs. They are being used in all manner of hunting. Mr. Montagu Scott, who keeps a pack at Ifold, in Sussex, has recently sent hounds to Rhodesia to be trained for lion hunting. He has also sent them to Norway for elk hunting, to India, and to America for the great variety of big game abounding there. There are possibly not more than about five hundred Irish wolfhounds in this country today, but every month sees an increase, for the popularity of the breed steadily increases. Cruachan of Ifold, one of Mr. Scott's dogs, leads the Irish Guards with dignified mien, and is one of the celebrities in the animal world of London.

 Patrick of Ifold
Mr. Montagu Scott's Patrick of Ifold

Although not exactly the sort of dog for the drawing-room, the Irish wolfhound is not in the least clumsy, his natural dignity preventing this. He is not too demonstrative, is a splendid guard and is devoted to children, and, while brave and chivalrous, will sheer off if troubled by a smaller dog, for unless in the face of the enemy he will not bite unless it is absolutely forced upon him.


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August 28th, 2012