Irish Wolfhound History

The Complete Book of the Dog by Robert Leighton

Published 1922 by Cassell and Company, Ltd.

The Irish Wolfhound. - There is little to be gathered from ancient writings concerning the size and appearance of the Irish Wolfhounds in early times. Exaggerated figures are given as to height and weight; but all authorities agree that they were impressively large and imposing dogs, and that they were regarded as the giants of the canine race. It seems extraordinary that so little should have been accurately known and recorded of a dog which at one time must have been a familiar figure in the halls of the Irish kings. It was no mere mythical animal like the heraldic griffin, but an actual sporting dog which was accepted as a national emblem of the Emerald Isle, associated with the harp and the shamrock; and there is no reason to suppose that it ever became extinct. Most students now agree that the late Captain Graham was near the truth when he gave the opinion that the Irish hound which was kept to hunt wolves is still represented in the Scottish Deerhound, only altered a little in size and strength to suit the easier work required of it - that of hunting the deer. This is the more probable, as the fact remains that the chief factor in the resuscitation of the Irish Wolfhound has been the Scottish Deerhound.

The result of Captain Graham's investigations when seeking for animals bearing some relationship to the original Irish "Wolfe Dogge" was that three strains were to be found in Ireland, but none of the representatives at that time was anything like so large as those mentioned in early writings, and they all appeared to have deteriorated in bone and substance. Sir J. Power, of Kilfane, was responsible for one line, Mr. Baker, of Ballytobin, for another, and Mr. Mahoney, of Dromore, for the remaining strain. From bitches obtained from two of these kennels, Captain Graham, by crossing them with the Great Dane and Scottish Deerhound, achieved the first step towards producing the animal that he desired. Later on the Russian Wolfhound, better known as the Borzoi, an exceedingly large hound, was introduced, as also were one or two other large breeds of dogs.

Ch. Ballyshannon
Ch. Ballyshannon, bred by the Rev. C.H. Hildebrand

The intermixture of these canine giants, however, was not at first very satisfactory, as although plenty of bone was obtained, many were most ungainly in appearance and ill-shaped animals that had very little about them to attract attention. Captain Graham, however, stuck to his work, and very soon the specimens that he brought forward began to show a fixity of type both in head and in general outline. Brian was one of his best dogs, but he was not very large, as he only stood just over 30 inches at the shoulder. Banshee and Fintragh were others, but probably the best of Captain Graham's kennel was the bitch Sheelah. It was not, however, until towards the end of the last century that the most perfect dogs were bred. These included O'Leary, the property of Mr. Crisp of Playford Hall. O'Leary is responsible for many of the best dogs of the present day, and was the sire of Mrs. Percy Shewell's Ch. Cotswold, undoubtedly the grandest Irish Wolfhound ever bred. In height Cotswold stood 34½ inches and was therefore perhaps the largest dog of any breed whose measurements are recorded.

In 1900 Mr. Crisp bred Kilcullen from O'Leary, this dog winning the championship at the Kennel Club Show at the Crystal Palace in 1902 under Captain Graham. This was the year in which the Irish Wolfhound Club presented the hound Rajah of Kidnal to the newly formed Irish Guards, who have ever since kept one of the breed as a regimental mascot. Rajah (renamed Brian Boru) was bred by Mrs. A. Gerard, of Malpas, who owned one of the largest kennels in England and was breeder of the wonderful brood bitch Cheevra, the dam of Rajah and also of Ch. Cotswold Patricia, who was one of the tallest of her race, her height being 33 inches at the shoulder.

Mr. J.W. Everitt, of Felixstowe, is one of the most successful breeders. His Kilronan and Yirra were among the best of his early hounds, but these have since been excelled in many instances, and at present his Kilgerran and Fota are as good specimens of the breed as one can expect to see. The Rev. C.H. Hildebrand has recently come forward as a prominent breeder and exhibitor. His Ballyshannon and Maureen hold a high position as typical Wolfhounds. Mr. R. Montague Scott is the owner and breeder of several admirable hounds.

Ballyshannon was the only hound pictured in the book, but I have pictures of several of those mentioned, so here they are:

Ch. O'Leary  Mr. Crisp's Ch. O'Leary 

 Ch. Cotswold Ch. Cotswold Patricia 
 Ch. Cotswold  Ch. Cotswold Patricia

Cheevra   Cheevra (dam of 74 puppies)

 Rajah of Kidnal, 1st mascot of the Irish Guards  Rajah of Kidnal

Felixstowe Kilronan   Felixstowe Yirra
 Felixstowe Kilronan  Felixstowe Yirra (black and tan)

 Felixstowe Fota  Felixstowe Fota

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