Irish Wolfhound History

Dog Breeds of the World

Their Origin, Development, and Uses Throughout the Ages



From American Kennel Gazette, August 1, 1931

Save in size there is not much difference between the wolfdogs of Ireland and the deerdogs of Scotland. In the modern Irish dogs there is a consanguinity of lineage. Had it not been for the Scottish deerhound, the modern Irish wolfhound could not have been reproduced and the breed resuscitated. The splendidly agile and bold-appearing Irish "greyhound" that Reinagle sketched and committed to his canvas, somewhere at the close of the Eighteenth or early in the Nineteenth Century, gives us an unmistakable line to go by; and shows us that the heroic Irish dog, of considerably over a hundred years ago, was as fast as he must have been capable with his teeth. And, moreover, a very strongly-built, fawn-colored, rough-coated wolf-dog. He would have been able to outrun the fastest of quarries, and possessed that power and courage to tackle and hold on to the neck or throat of any wolf he mighv engage.

Wolfdogs or hounds must have been among the most important of the inmates of the kennels of the mighty men and others of the British Isles, in those days when sporting-dog breeding was as purposeful, and, very likely, quite as "scientific" as it is during our times. Above all, the eugenics that had to do with the reproduction of size, speed and usefulness - this desideratum - must have been ever kept in view.

The wolves did not diminish in height, power, and ferocity; and, so far as one is able to gather, there never were small kinds of wolves in Europe, such as may be found on other of the continents, miniature wolves like the coyotes of North America, and the jackals of Africa and Asia and the dingos of Australia.

Although the wild wolf has long been non-existent in Britain, still the sizes of the different wolf-dogs have been bred up to a height or standard that would be of use to those dogs wherever they might be "tried" in countries where wolves are to be found and hunted.

There is, of course, a lot of sentiment attached to the antiquity of the dogs of all nations. We take a pride in the pedigrees of our domestic animals. Their ancestries are held as almost sacred. The writers on dogs have always found just pleasure when describing the older and noblest dogs of their childhood, the dogs of their heroes, and the dogs of their fathers.

 Sport in the Highlands
After the painting by Abram Cooper, R.A.
published 1845. The Scottish deerhound is

highly typical; a powerful dog capable of
great speed

Wolf hunting is still much practiced in western Canada, and from intimate conversations with those who keep dogs for the purpose of running down prairie wolves, it appeared that the type of the large Scottish deerhound is preferred to the larger Irish dogs - strong as oxen but not possessing quite the turn of speed of a 30 inches at the shoulder, 100-pound weight deerhound.

Over and over I have heard the prairie dogs described as Irish wolfhounds by farmers of Manitoba and farther west. But, as Irish wolfhounds, they were comparatively puny in height, weight, bone and power.

The Irish wolfhound of to-day is a magnificent creature; moreover, the breed is "improving". I have lived and had my being during the resuscitation period of the Irish wolfhound. And let it be written, that I am glad to be privileged to have the opportunity to chronicle here and now, in the year 1931, that the old and common failing of cow-hocks, and extra-heavy ears, have passed. And what is still more satisfactory, it is unlikely they will return to spoil the appearance of the giants of the canine race.

Nowadays, Irish wolfhounds, as an aggregation, are the highest at the shoulder of all breeds; indeed, a 36-inch dog is no longer an extraordinarily statured animal. A 35-inch, 150-pound Irish wolfdog has become quite a common creature.

It is more than likely that the same breed of dog was used for wolf-hunting and deer-running in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. Each of these countries had its wolf-hunting days.

As the cultivation of the soil proceeded, the wild animals retired before the arts of civilization, and have long since been extinct in Britain, where wolfhounds and deerhounds are looked upon as not only an indigenous breed, but dogs of which a nation may be justly proud.

The extermination of the wolf in England was first attempted by Edgar, the Saxon King of England, who died in the year 975.

This monarch remitted the punishment of certain crimes on producing a specified number of wolves' heads; and commuted the tax of gold and silver imposed upon the Welsh, for an annual tribute of 300 wolves' heads.

 Hunting the wild boar
Engraved by W. Unger after Franz Snyders (1579-1657). The largest
dog (right foreground) appears to have approximately possessed the
points of the Irish Wolfhound of to-day (1931). The parti-colored
dogs were probably partly of Russian borzoi blood

The last refuge of these animals in Great Britain was in the Highlands of Scotland; where a wolf was killed by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel in the year 1680, in the Lochaber Mountains, where, from the rugged and frightful nature of the country, it might be naturally enough supposed that these fierce creatures would make their final stand.

In Ireland, wolves continued after this period. The last presentment for killing wolves was made in the County of Cork about the year 1710; though a wolf is mentioned as having been killed in that country so late as the year 1730. So it would appear from these cyclopedic facts there was use for the wolfhound in Ireland, after his occupation, as a wolfdog, had become a dead letter in North Britain.

It is believed that the first really representative Irish wolfhound to arrive in the United States came to the country during the late '70's of the last century.

This was a red-fawn colored rough-coated dog, whelped and reared in Ireland, where the dog was secured by Dion Boucicault, the actor, and presented, in New York, to his brother treatrical man, Mr. Wallack. Later on, the portrait of the first American-owned Irish wolfhound will be presented. It will be acknowledged then that there were also "giants" among the very first of the re-established breed of Ireland's national dog.

 King James, Prince Charles, and Nigel
Published 1836. The Scottish deerhound has not much
difficulty in pulling down a roebuck, the smallest of the
deer kind known in Britain. A brace of deerhounds are
in this picture

Just 100 years ago a writer in London, England, related that wolves in America were hunted by hounds or ordinary American foxhounds, probably descended from long-eared French hounds or a harrier type of hound, as was then to be found in Britain. The narrator, in Johnson's Sportsman's Dictionary (1831) relates that soon after Israel Putnam, the American Revolutionary soldier - born in Salem, now Danvers, Massachusetts - removed to Connecticut, the wolves, then very numerous, broke into his sheep fold, and killed 75 sheep and goats, besides wounding several lambs and kids.

The wolf cubs were commonly destroyed by the vigilance of the hunters, but the old one was too cunning to suffer any one to approach within gunshot of her. Upon being closely pursued, she would generally fly to the western woods, and return the next winter with another litter of cubs. It was known that, having lost the toes from one foot by a steel trap, this wolf made one track shorter than the other. By this peculiarity, the pursuers recognized in a light snow the route of the animal. Having followed her to Connecticut River, and found she had turned back in a direct course towards Pomfret, they returned, and by ten the next morning the hounds had driven her into a den, about three miles from Mr. Putnam's house.

The people soon collected with dogs, straw, fire and sulphur, to attack the common danger. With this apparatus, several unsuccessful efforts were made to force the wolf from her refuge. The hounds came back badly wounded and refused to return. Eventually, on the third attempt, Mr. Putnam shot the wolf and dragged her from the den.

Along with this trophy, he was hauled up the face of the cliff by the same men who had lowered him by means of a rope. As the historian has it: "with no small exultation" on the part of the other hunters.

It is probable that greyhounds or greyhound-like dogs were among the farmers' dogs; but they, like the hounds, were "badly wounded and refused to return".

Blount, writing in 1680, said: "'Wolves in Ireland of late years in a manner are destroyed by the diligence of the inhabitants and the assistance of Irish greyhounds, a wolfdog."

Again, in Barlow's pictures, etched by Hollar, in 1671, we see red deer coursed with large, smooth-coated greyhounds.

The "Irish greyhound", as seen through German eyes, as may be observed in the Ridinger print on this page, was a short-coated, coarse-made greyhound rather than an Irish wolfhound, as we are used to and admire in our own times. Ridinger was born 1698 and died in Augsburg in 1767.

George R. Jesse in his Researches into the History of the British Dog (Hardwicke, London, 1866) says that Henry VIII of England, about the year 1516, coursed stags in the meads of Chertsey, and used greyhounds for the purpose. "About this period", continues Jesse, "mention begins to be made of the stately greyhound or wolfdog of Ireland. This creature, the most superb of the canine race, was frequently selected as a gift for kings and men of distinction.

"Philip Roche, merchant of Kinsale, was employed by the Government to build a fortress bordering on M'Carthy Reagh's country, and had a license for importing corn. In 1554 he had one to export from England to Ireland 1,000 quarters (8,000 bushels) of wheat, beans and malt.

"Before this, in 1535, he wrote to Cromwell respecting his patent and the walls of Kinsale. A present accompanied the communication, and he said: "Your mastership shall understand that I have sent with your servant, Davy Shihan, to be presented to your mastership, two falcons and three merlins, and a sparrow hawk, two greyhounds, and I trust before long to have a goshawk to send to your mastership, and for any hawks or greyhounds that your mastership shall lack, write to me and I will purvey to your mastership by God's grace."

"In 1591 an Irishman, named Brian O'Rourke, from Connaught, arrived at Glasgow (Scotland) with six fair Irish hobbies (hawks) and four great dogs, to be presented to the king, but he was seized as a rebel, Elizabeth writing a letter to James expressly about him."

It should be to the late Joseph McAleenan of Brooklyn, New York, that admirers of the Irish wolfhound must ever feel indebted for having reprinted 200 copies of Father Edmund Hogan's work, The Irish Wolfhound.

L.O. Starbuck of Augusta, Michigan, tells us that Father Hogan devoted years searching modern and ancient classics for all references to this great hound and evidences of its character, size and appearance. The finished work became a cyclopedia and an authority on the breed. A disastrous fire, Mr. Starbuck continues, destroyed almost the entire edition. Only a few books escaped the conflagration.

 Gross Irlaedisch Windspiel
Large Irish greyhound as described by the
German sporting artist, John Elias Ridinger
(1698-1767). A declared to be short-haired
Irish dog

One of these copies came to Joseph A. McAleenan of New York and in 1917 he had 200 copies privately printed, as a tribute to Father Hogan, S.J., and with the idea of presenting them to lovers of the breed. Mr. McAleenan says: "I believe this, the only authoritative book on the subject, will excite interest and will be the means of spreading an intimate knowledge of a dog that typifies the greatest stature, intelligence, courage, loyalty and affection of all the dog family." Several copies have been placed in the libraries, but the edition is now exhausted.

A commencement was made to reproduce this book in the 1927-28 official records of the Irish Wolfhound Club of America, of which Mr. Starbuck is secretary-treasurer. The second chapter appeared in the biennial report, 1928-29. I have no hesitation in writing that these already prized publications will become of rare value, because of the written results of the untiring research and high scholarship of Father Hogan, F.R.V.I.

At this time and season one cannot fail to mention the pleasant memories of a great and honored friend, the late "Joe" McAleenan, to whom, it seemed, nothing was too great a sacrifice, so that the claims of the dogs, the wolfdogs and red terriers of Ireland, might be given their fullest and just dues. Still in the fullness of his manhood, Mr. McAleenan, while examining the roof of his residence at Moriches, on Long Island, New York, fell and received fatal injuries. That was about two years ago (1929).

The McAleenans came from Newry, in the north of Ireland, but Joseph was born in New York. When he heard or recognized some old Irish colloquialism or expression, he used to express himself: "'Tis a long time since I heard that word!"

It is thought it was at the instigation of McAleenan that an Irish wolfhound was first given its place in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York. Also, following his suggestion, a large banner bearing the presentment of the noble dog of Erin, found its place among the flags and emblems borne aloft on similar occasions. Mr. McAleenan was a big game hunter, and shot the large kodiak bears of Alaska. He also travelled with high dignitaries of the Roman Catholic Church into remote possessions of the United States of America.

Hogan declares that to Edmund Campion of the Society of Jesus "we owe the first description of the form, size, and use of the great Irish greyhound. In the year 1571, he wrote at Turney, near Dublin, 'The Irish are not without wolves, and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt.' In the light of these words we understand that his big, wolf-hunting greyhounds were identical in breed with 'the Irish dogs', 'big dogs of Ireland', 'greyhounds of Ireland', 'wolfdogs of Ireland', which were sent as highly-prized presents to Roman Consuls; to Kings of England, Scotland, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Poland; to Emperors, Great Moguls, Grand Turks, and Shahs of Persia; to Grand Dukes, Grandees of Spain, Cardinals, Ambassadors, Papal Nuncios, French Princes, and Dutch Noblemen and high-born beauties in Great Britain."

It will be realized that the old breed of Irish wolfdog or greyhound was considered a dog of great distinction and value.

That a type of running dog approximating in size and other characteristics of a large Scottish deerhound or small Irish wolfhound was in Flanders during the last quarter of the Sixteenth or first 50 years of the Seventeenth Century, we have pictorial evidence to prove, as witness the print on page 23. (Shown again below) This engraving, by W. Unger, is after the canvas by Franz Snyders, Flemish painter, born in Antwerp, 1579, and died there in 1657.

 Hunting the wild boar

The dog in the right foreground possesses more of the Irish dog's points than those of the Scottish deerhound. In this boar-hunting picture also is seen parti-colored, long, straight-haired greyhound-like dogs, with somewhat unusual markings in the present-day wolf and deerhounds of the British breeds.

True, the Russian wolfhounds, as show dogs, are preferred with markings on a body ground of white. But the Irish and Scottish dogs are self-colored: blue, brindle, fawn, with white hairs rather than patches distributed through the darker coats.

This picture, after Snyders, may be looked upon as of great value, as it gives to us, better than any letter press may present, a truthful representation of the kind of long dogs employed even for wild-boar hunting.

It is reasonable to suppose that the more powerful boarhounds proper, or Great Danes, as we now know the German breed, must have been more or less the "correct" or proper breed of dogs for this highly dangerous class of boar-hunting work.

Snyders may be looked upon as authority regarding the pure-bred hunting or coursing dogs of his time - roughly 300 years ago. In 1602, he was elected master of the Guild of Saint Luke. In his early life, Snyders painted fruit and flowers. Rubens engaged him to paint still-life accessories in his pictures; and in turn Rubens often painted the figures for Snyders' canvases. The latter's pictures are found in all the great galleries of Europe.

Once again it is desired to point to the great advantages enjoyed by a writer called upon to describe the pure breeds of dogs kept and honored as sporting or pet animals down through the centuries. The written word is often the result of hearsay or plain copying. Words may be changed, misunderstood or garbled, but art lives.

There is a suspicion of the Russian wolfhound type in the lower left-hand side dog in the Snyders' print. Or might he not be better described as of the order of the Russian greyhound rather than the larger and deeper bodied wolfhound of the Muscovites?

King James I of England, of whom a legendary picture appears on page 23, was much addicted to the chase.

"I dare boldly say," says Osborne, "that one man in his reign might with more safety have killed another than a rascal (lean) deer."

Knollys remarked to Walsyngham in 1585, says Jesse: "The King loves hunting better than the Church."

He had his buckhounds, harriers, otterhounds, greyhounds. It appeared to be customary to give or receive gifts of representative hounds and dogs. So it was that "swappings" took place between the King of France and the King of England. The former sent hawks, horses, and ten or twelve "setting dogs" to James; and, in return, received six geldings, six greyhounds, and twelve couple of beagles from James' Queen.

Jesse also writes that James frequently used the name of "beagle" as a term of endearment. In writing his instructions to his dearest son, Henry the Prince, the King termed "the hunting and running with houndes as the most honorable and noblest sport thereof."

 Ch. Killabuck of Ambleside
Ch. Killabuck, bred and reared at Ambleside,
Augusta, Michigan. Owner: R.R. Mackey,
Richmond, Indiana. L.O. Starbuck is standing

It will also be of interest to note that James was fond of possessing wild animals. In 1609, the East Indies received orders "for reserving all strange fowls and beasts." Hawks appear to have been imported from Newfoundland, but, as Jesse remarks, no mention has been observed of any dogs from thence.

The King of Spain presented James with an elephant and five camels. No person was allowed to see the former. The charge of keeping the elephant and four keepers yearly was around $1,377, besides a gallon of wine daily from September until April, when his keepers said the elephant must drink no water.

Only recently I was told by Mrs. R. Muller of New York, who exhibits some very good pug dogs, and who owns and performs the "white" elephant, Big Rosie, that the pachyderm consumes almost two trusses of hay a day. When I spoke to her about King James' elephant and its taste for wine, the intrepid little trainer smilingly remarked: "Well, that elephant came from Spain."

Father Hogan remarks, in the paragraph already quoted, that Irish greyhounds or wolfdogs had been among the presents sent by Europeans of rank and station to potentates in the Far East. Sir Thomas Roe, Ambassador to the Great Mogul "Iehan Guire, the Mighty Emperor of India" says, in his journal, that the King told him he was "pleased extremely with the mastiff dogs, and that he must needs help him to one of our large horses, to a brace of Irish greyhounds, dog and bitch, and other dogs of all sorts for game."

"Malefactors", writes Jesse, "were at that period (James I of England) thrown to the dogs. The Indian prisoners were divided into several quarters of the town and executed in the streets, as is one by my (Sir Thomas') house, where twelve dogs tore the chief of them in pieces."

There appears to have been a great demand for mastiffs, Irish greyhounds, and well-bred water spaniels in those India days, during the reign of James I, the central figure in Stain's engraving, after A. Chisholm, on page 23.

An instance of the love of country, as experienced in the pride that the national has for the dogs of his people, may be seen in a reduced reproduction of a bond printed on behalf of "The Irish Republic" in New York, in 1866. This note was issued at the time of the Fenian Rebellion against the British Government. However, to-day, there can be no use in opening up old wounds or sores.

Suffice it to write that the pictorial embellishment of the old document, printed in green, has as its central figure, that of an allegorical figure of Erin, in America. She is pointing across the waters, to the rock-bound coast of Ireland with its old tower-like castle or monument plainly seen on the horizon.

At the feet of the chief form, a half-kneeling soldier in American Civil War uniform is picking up a two-handed sword, while an Irish wolf-hound looks on the man's action with an interested, appreciative and watchful mien. An Irish harp completes the metaphor, that of the taking up of arms on behalf of Ireland. The original script is 10½ x 7 inches, and the property of Mrs. Margaret Merwyn of Mount Airy, Croton-on-Hudson, New York, who kindly loaned it to me for the purpose of illustrating these writings.

The bond was purchased by the lady's father, Mr. Stephen Leary. It is an interesting engraving that symbolizes the Irish feeling and sentiment as it more or less exists at present.

Irish Republic Bond 
An "Irish Republic" bond issued in New York during the period of the Fenian Uprising and attack on
Canada in 1866. An allegorical figure of Erin is seen, with an Irish wolfhound at its feet, symbolizing watchfulnes, fidelity, speed, determination and bravery. The face value was $20, payable on the establishment of a "republic"

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