Irish Wolfhound History

The Irish Wolfhound

By H. Boycott Oddy, Country Life May 15th, 1909

An eye of sloe, with ear set low,
With horse's breast, with depth of chest,
With breadth of loin, and curve in groin,
And nape set far behind the head -
Such were the dogs that Fingal bred -

Probably no breed of dog has been the subject of greater controversy than Ireland's historic hound. About thirty years ago a long and important discussion was carried on in the Press on the nature and history of the Irish wolfhound. The principal writers were Captain Graham, the Rev. W.B. Wynne and Mr. F. Adcock. The chief point at issue was whether the hound of that day was descended from the Canis Graius Hibernicus, or whether it was a dog evolved from a combination of two or three other breeds. Some of the writers contended that the original type was extinct, but Captain Graham held, and, I think, rightly so, that the ancient breed was still extant, though the examples were few and degenerate in type. Working upon that assumption, he gave much time and labour to the resuscitation of the breed. To him, more than to anyone else, all lovers of the Irish wolfhound are indebted for the present handsome dog, whose history has for so many centuries been associated with that of the Emerald Isle. The antiquity of this breed is beyond question. The first authentic mention of it is made by Consul Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, A.D. 391, who sent seven of these dogs to Rome, where they were used in the arenas to fight lions, bears and captive Saxons. The wolfhound is frequently mentioned in Irish history. The old chieftains called it the Mil-Chu. Wolfhounds were used in war, as well as in the chase, and were held in great reverence, only princes and chiefs being allowed to keep them. The coat of arms of the early Irish kings was composed of the harp, the shamrock and the wolfhound, with the motto underneath, "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked."

 Three hounds

In the ninth century the Welsh laws contained clauses entailing heavy penalties on anyone injuring the Irish wolfhound. About 1336, Edward III is said to have sent his huntsman to Ireland for wolfdogs with which to hunt the wolves which, at that time, were numerous in England. Staniland, writing about the middle of the sixteenth century, in his description of Ireland says, "Ireland is stored of cows, excellent horses, of hawkes, fish and fowle. They are not without wolves and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt." In 1562 the Irish Chieftain, Shan O'Neill, sent to Queen Elizabeth, by the Earl of Leicester, a present of "two horses, two hawkes, and two Irish wolfdogs." Evelyn, writing about 1566, in describing the savage sports of the bear garden, says, "The Irish wolfhound was a tall greyhound, a stately creature, indeed, and did beat a cruel mastiff. The bulldog did exceeding well, but the Irish wolfdog exceeded."

 Cotswold Watch

In 1614, James I. granted a patent to one of his Irish subjects to keep twenty-four wolfdogs in each county to protect the farmers' flocks from the ravages of wolves. Previous to this there had been a great demand for them in many foreign countries, and they had been exported to Sweden, Denmark, France, Spain, Persia and India. Indeed, so much were they sought after that they became scarce in Ireland, and in consequence wolves increased so rapidly 6that Cromwell issued an order prohibiting the exportation of "Wolf-dogges". With the extermination of the wolf in Ireland about 1710, less interest was taken in the breeding of these hounds, and they soon deteriorated in numbers and quality, and eventually were kept only for State ceremonies.

 Ch. Cotswold

Some wonderful stories are told of the size of these ancient dog. Oliver Goldsmith says that while on a visit to Ireland he saw several of great size, the larges of which was 48in. high. Dr. Johnson tells us that during his tour of Ireland he saw a wolfhound's skull which was as large as that of a donkey. The statements of these literatuers must be taken with reserve. Goldsmith, not withstanding his "Animated Nature", "was more elegant as a writer than accurate as an observer", while the great lexicographer had a weakness for the use of hyperbole. In the museum of the Royal Dublin Society there are two Irish wolfhound skulls, the size of which points to a dog of, perhaps, from 30in. to 32in. in height. The modern specimen is taller, the height generally looked for in a dog being about 34in. This is sometimes exceeded. One of the dogs (Felixstowe Kilronan) illustrated here stands 35½in. at the shoulder, and being not yet fully developed, he will probably reach 36in.

 Cotswold Dermot

The Irish wolfhound, for its size, is surprisingly active and fast. Major Shewell told the writer that his dog, Champion Cotswold, who stands 34½in. high and weighs 154lbs., cleared a five-barred gate in chasing a hare, and that while out exercising on the Cotswold Hills he gave chase to a stray stag and ran him close for six miles. The stag only escaped by leaping a park wall nearly 7ft. high. The neck of a wolfhound should be thick and muscular, the head long and fairly thick, tapering towards the nose, which must be large and black; the ears should be small in proportion to the size of the head, and carried half erect, like a greyhound's; the body must be rather long, with loins well arched, and the chest deep and wide, while the legs should be strong, straight and muscular; the tail must slightly curved; the coat should be either a black, grey, brindle, red or fawn colour, though white was common at one time; it must be long and coarse in texture, giving a somewhat shaggy appearance.

 Cotswold Bloom

The ancient Irish harp, known as the harp of Brian Boriumlea, which is preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, is ornamented with the figure of a rough-coated wolfhound. In the painting of an Irish wolfhound by P. Reinagle, R.A., the dog has a very rough coat. In selecting a good specimen the principal faults to avoid are: too light or heavy a head, large ears and those which hang flat to the face, a short neck, too narrow or too broad a chest, a sunken, hollow or straight back, bent fore legs, twisted feet, weak hind-quarters, too curly a tail and a general want of muscle.

 Cotswold Patricia

Unfortunately, this breed has never been popular to the extent some other large breeds are. Why, it is not easy to say. There are, however, some very good kennels in England at the present time, the best of these being owned by Major and Mrs. Shewell of Cotswold, Cheltenham. They own what is, unquestionably, the finest team of Irish wolfhounds ever exhibited from one kennel. Chief among them is Champion Cotswold, who is admitted by authorities on the breed to be the best specimen ever benched. To look at him is to see what a typical wolfhound should be. He is wheaten in colour, and has a long head and good body, with great bone and girth and is absolutely straight on the legs. He was bred by his present owners, who are, naturally, very proud of him. His sire was Champion O'Leary and his dam Princess Patricia of Connaught, the mother of the kennel. He is seven years old. In the show-ring he has an unbeaten record. At the Kennel Club shows he has won the challenge certificate six years in succession, thus creating what is, probably, a record in all breeds. No fewer than twenty-three championships have been awarded him, and his number of prizes totals sixty-nine. He has now retired upon his laurels, and is to be reserved for stud purposes. As a sire he commands the highest fee ever known for a show dog. His progeny includes some of the best hounds exhibited. Another hound at Cotswold of scarcely less merit is Felixstowe Kilronan. He is only eighteen months old. To try to enumerate his good points is unnecessary. He was bred by Mr. Spooner, who sold him to Mr. Everett, from whom Major Shewell bought him after the Birmingham Show. This dog's show career opened at the Ladies' Kennel Association Show last June, when he was placed first in the limit and second n the open class. At the recent Birmingham Show he was given the premier position in his classes, and also the challenge certificate. Kilronan is not yet fully developed, but when he is, he will be one of the best dogs of any breed in England.

 Felixstowe Kilronan

Cotswold Watch is another young dog. He is 33in. in height and weighs 130 lb. He was bred in the Adel kennels. He was first shown at the Botanic Gardens last June, where he was given first place in the novice class. At Dublin four prizes were placed to his credit. He also won a third in the limit class at the Kennel Club Show last October. Cotswold Dermot is a good dog, and a home-bred one. His pedigree is of the best: a son of Champion Cotswold out of Iris (Marquis of Donegal out of Meala). In 1907, at Cruft's, he took first limit, second open, silver challenge shield and silver shield for the best dog in open and limit classes; Dublin - first limit; Belfast - first open, challenge certificate and special for best in the open class; Edinburgh - first open, challenge certificate and gold medal. Dermot is a grey brindle standing 34¼in. He is a powerful dog, with good bone and coat, and that perfect temper which is one of the characteristics of this breed. Since the photographs for this article were taken he has been sold to America. Major and Mrs. Shewell own not only the best Irish wolfhound dog, but also the best of the opposite sex, viz., Champion Cotswold Patricia. She is by Wolfe Tone out of Princess Patricia of Connaught, and is a home-bred one. Her colour is light brindle. She has a great deal of bone and is very active, being able to run a rabbit down with ease. In the showring she has beaten every bitch she has been shown against, and has won thirteen challenge certificates at the following shows: Kennel Club (3), Cruft's (3), Dublin (2), Ladies' Kennel Association (2), Belfast, Richmond and Birmingham. Her prize list totals thirty-five wins, all of which are firsts but two, when she was shown in mixed classes and was beaten by Champion Cotswold. In 1905 at Richmond she won four firsts, also the silver challenge shield for the best bitch and the ladies' silver challenge cup; at the Crystal Palace she was awarded two firsts, a special, also the ten-guinea challenge cup; at Belfast one first, and at Birmingham two firsts and a second. In 1906: Crufts - first open, silver shield and silver bowl; Birmingham - second open and silver medal. In 1907: Cruft's - first open, special for best of her sex in the show; silver shield and silver medal. In 1908: Cruft's - first open; Dublin - first open; Ladies' Kennel Association - first open; and at the last Kennel Club Show - first open, silver shield, silver medal and a silver bowl.

Champion Dhudesa is a dark grey in colour and almost perfect in type. Her certificates were all won in 1907 at three of the principal shows in the lands of the rose, thistle and shamrock - London, Edinburgh and Belfast. She has won the principal prizes for her breed at Dublin, Ladies' Kennel Association, Belfast, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Richmond, etc.

Cotswold Bloom is not fully matured and has only been shown once, when she took first in all her classes but one, where she was beaten by Cotswold Patricia. She is litter sister to Felixstowe Kilronan, and is a light brindle, measuring nearly 33 in. and weighing about 110 lb. If given the opportunity she will do a great deal to uphold the high reputation of the Cotswold kennels. In addition to the hounds mentioned, many fine specimens have borne the Cotswold prefix, amond which are O'Leary, Cross, Paddy, O'Shea, Wolf and Astore; and added to these must be Felixstowe Dromore, Wolf Tone, Kilcullen, St. Canice, Iris, and Artara Astore.

Ch. Dhudesa 

Major and Mrs. Shewell are devoted to their hobby, and grudge neither time nor money to further the interests of what has been called the "king of dogs". Major Shewell, who until two years ago was the hon. secretary of the Irish Wolfhound Club, was an admirer of the breed long before he kept them. He says: "I remember as a boy seeing Captain Graham's hounds, and thinking them the handsomest, biggest and gentlest dogs living, and I now know them to be all this."

H. BOYCOTT ODDY May 15, 1909

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August 30th, 2005