Irish Wolfhound History

Irish Wolfhound

From the National Geographic Magazine, 1958

King of Canines by virtue of his size and majestic bearing, the Irish Wolfhound boasts a proud lineage that extends back into the mists of Celtic legend and romance.

His debut in Classical history had appropriate impact. "All Rome viewed them with wonder," wrote the Consul Symmachus when seven of the giant dogs from Ireland fought in the imperial circus, A.D. 391.

Clan chieftains in Ireland enlisted the mighty breed as their companions in arms; and as with Scotland's Deerhound, at least one war was fought over the Wolfhound himself. But the dog traditionally was protector of flocks and man against wolves, a role already old when the Jesuit Edmund Campion, in 1571, wrote in his History of Ireland:
"They [the Irish] are not without wolves and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone than a colt. The Irish wolfhound is similar in shape to a greyhound, bigger than a mastiff and tractable as a spaniel."

Fleet in the chase, the Wolfhound also had the power of jaw to dispatch a full-grown wolf. The rangy giant did his work so well that he destroyed the last of his hereditary enemies in his native land in the 1780's.

So great was his prestige, so popular did he become with royalty abroad that in 1652 the export of Wolfhounds was forbidden; depletion of the breed had increased the ravages of wolves on Ireland's herds.

But with the ultimate extermination of the Irish wolves, the great hound had apparently outlived his usefulness and was allowed to languish. By the early 19th century his kind was all but extinct.

In 1862, a British officer, Capt. G.A. Graham, set out to revive the breed. Collecting the last survivors, he skillfully crossed them with the Scottish Deerhound, Great Dane, Mastiff, and Borzoi to restore Ireland's Wolfhound to his traditional appearance and stature. Today's Irish Wolfhound, with his rough, hard coat in gray, brindle, red, black, fawn, or pure white, is the image of his stately ancestor.

Surprisingly, the first of these great dogs to cross the Atlantic apparently did so with Christopher Columbus. Records of the fourth voyage tell of an attack Columbus's Panama garrison repulsed with the aid of an Irish Wolfhound. The Indians, "punished by the edge of the sword and by the dog who pursued them furiously," fled.

So well established is the breed in American life that two huge, shaggy mascots of the old Fighting 69th Regiment lead the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade down New York's Fifth Avenue. A Wolfhound graces the Gettysburg monument to the heroes of Meagher's Irish Brigade who died there in 1863 to preserve the Union.

The big hound still runs down wolves and coyotes on the western plains. His lightning speed and agility also make him effective against smaller game. Yet this powerful giant is the best mannered and most companionable of dogs, with a reservoir of affection and good will as vast as his body. He is aptly personified in his old Gaelic slogan:

 "Gentle when stroked,
Fierce when provoked."

Shoulder height 30-38 in. Weight 105-160 lbs.

Tallest of dogs, an Irish Wolfhound stands victorious after battle. Rivaling a Shetland pony in stature, the shaggy-browed vanquisher of Ireland's wolves here sets his hunting prowess against western America's coyote 
wolfhound and coyote 
 picture by Edwin Megargee

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July 23rd, 2005