Some Early Illustrations of the Old Irish Wolf-Dog, 1738-1839


This was serialised in a periodical called "The Kennel" somewhere around 1911-1912. Unfortunately, I have only had access to two of the parts - the first and last.

 Ancient Irish Wolf-dog
From the picture presented by the Earl of Antrim to the Kennel Club

The story of the Irish wolfhound is, at any rate in its main outline, one very familiar to all lovers of the breed; how from an early period it was known to inhabit the island, and its fame extended to practically the ends of the earth (there are references to it in literature from the fourth century downwards); how, always a scarce dog, it grew scarcer and scarcer until, at the beginning of the 19th century, it was - at least in its original purity - almost if not quite extinct; and how, starting in 1862, Captain Graham effected its revival by combining certain strains possessing at any rate a modicum of the old true blood, with the deerhound, the Dane, and a dash of the Borzoi.

His efforts and those of his disciples and followers have resulted in the establishment of a breed possessing many, if not all, the attributes of its ancestors, and even promising to rival them in what was perhaps their most notable characteristic - their immense height. For, amidst many things nebulous and controversial respecting the old Irish wolfhound, the fact that it was a dog of huge stature emerges unquestioned; and, at the last Kennel Club Show, with my own eyes I saw a young hound (Mr. C.E. Palmer's Donegal) measured to stand 37 ½ inches at shoulder; surely the tallest dog in the world!

As has been said, in spite of the numerous references to it in literature, it is extraordinary how little is universally accepted as proved concerning the appearance of the Irish wolfhound, and how livelily controversy has raged on the subject. The great points in dispute have been (1) whether it was of greyhound or so-called mastiff (i.e. Great Dane) type, and (2) whether it was rough or smooth haired. H.D. Richardson in his book on British dogs published in 1847, contends that it was of greyhound type and rough haired; and the view has been upheld by Father Hogan in his "History of the Irish Wolf-dog" 1897, a work now unfortunately difficult to obtain, which embodies an immense amount of out-of-the-way information on the breed, the fruit of great research and learning. The adherents of this theory adduce a variety of evidence in support of their case, the most important being (at any rate as regards the texture of coat) the Scott-Reinagle engraving to be described hereafter.

On the other hand, G.W. Hickman, writing in H. Dalziel's "British Dogs" in 1887, without taking any decided line on the greyhound-mastiff question, asserts in the most uncompromising way that the dog was undoubtedly smooth haired, even going so far as to add:- "The few pictures we have all show a dog with a smooth coat, and different from the deerhound. Not a single authority can be quoted who states that the Irish wolf-dog was a rough-coated dog like the deerhound."

This seemed a strong saying; and it was with the idea of trying to throw further light on the subject that I set myself to examine all the early illustrations of the Irish wolfhound which I was able to discover. I was the more wishful to do this because, in the course of the controversy, reference was made to a certain print which Mr. Hickman, rather loosely describing it as the Riedinger print of about 1720, claimed as lending support to his views. Father Hogan had found mention, also rather vague, of this print or prints in Scheber (see infra), the references given being Riedinger Thiere, Tab. 8 and Atterley Thiere, Tab. 68; but he had been unable to see them (the works of Riedinger are rare), and suggested it would be desirable that somebody should examine them and see if they really did represent a smooth-coated dog.

Now Johann Elias Riedinger (born c. 1695, died 1767) bears the reputation of being the greatest delineator of animal life who ever lived. A huntsman himself in his young days, he was accustomed to draw with extreme accuracy from life, and not (as has been the case with certain illustrators) on his imagination or from the works of other people. Moreover he lived at a time when the Irish wolf-dog indubitably existed in its original purity; it was therefore obvious that any work of his would be of the utmost value in settling the questions at issue.

An additional point of interest lay in the fact that an illustration of about this period would be earlier than any other undoubtedly authentic portrait of an Irish wolfhound; and this not withstanding that Father Hogan in his work above-mentioned reproduces four illustrations of a considerably earlier date which he apparently regards as representing the dog.

These are: (2) Hounds engaged in a stag-hunt carved on the pedestal of the tenth-century Cross of Kells. (3) A rude conventional woodcut of an extremely clumsy hound taken from John Derrick's "Image of Ireland," 1581 (which he dates in error 1598). (4) Conventional figures of dogs carved on the Sword of Clonmel, which was presented to the town in 1656. And (as a frontispiece to his work) the frontispiece to Sir James Ware's "Antiquitates Hiberniae,", 1654.

The first three of these can hardly be seriously taken as representing the Irish wolfhound, or indeed any definite species of dog; they are hounds of some kind, and they occur in carvings or in a book connected with Ireland; and that is about all there is to be said for them. The same applies to a certain extent to the frontispiece to the "Antiquitates Hiberniae" (which by the way I was able to find only in the second edition of 1658; the copy of the 1654 edition which I consulted either never having had it or having lost it); but here there is at any rate some sort of case for arguing that the dogs portrayed were intended for Irish wolfhounds.

This frontispiece represents an allegorical figure of Hibernia accompanied by a brace of smooth hounds - strongly resembling present-day greyhounds; that the artist intended them for dogs of the national breed is quite likely; it is also quite likely that he (not being a special painter of animals) had never seen the scarce Irish wolfhound in his life, and that the dogs are as allegorical as the lady.

After which somewhat lengthy preliminary, I come to the subject-matter of my article, only just further premising that all the illustrations in my list proper represent the Irish wolfdog, not probably but certainly; and that they have all been examined by me at first hand and not merely described from hearsay.

1. J.E. Riedinger "Enturfweiniger Thiere" 1738-55, Plate 8.
This work, published in seven parts, is a collection of 126 plates of various animals with very short letterpress description in German. The first part (dated 1738) contains 18 plates of dogs, plate 7 being the common greyhound, plate 9 the Turkish greyhound, and plate 8 the "Gross Irlaendisch Windspiel." This is the print referred to by Hogan (following Schreber) as Riedinger "Thiere", Tabula 8, and by Hickman as the Riedinger print c. 1720. It is the earliest undoubtedly authentic illustration of the Irish wolfhound, and represents a long-legged dog of grey-hound shape, resembling no existing breed of dog very closely, but perhaps more like a large Borzoi than a present-day wolfhound or deerhound. The plate is not coloured, but the colour is evidently white with brown or yellow markings. The muzzle is extremely snipey, the ears carried greyhound fashion, and the coat very slightly broken or wire haired - nearly smooth in fact. The short letter-press description brackets plates 7, 8 and 9 together and says - I translate the German - inter alia: "The rough haired kind are hardier than the other." Now, whether this sentence applies to the common greyhound alone (two kinds of common greyhound are illustrated in plate 7, the rough and the smooth haired) or to all three species of hound is not absolutely clear, but I certainly gather from the wording that all three kinds are indicated. Of the great Irish greyhound alone all that is specially said is that they "are excellent for overtaking a swift stag."

The only writer on the subject who has seen the plate is apparently Mr. Hickman; if, indeed, he has seen it, for he gives the date as c. 1720 instead of 1738, and makes a glaring misstatement about the letterpress description. He says, "The coat is smooth and is so described in the text." The coat is smooth or very slightly broken, but it is not so described in the text. The description in the text is as quoted above.

(This plate 8 is reproduced coloured, but otherwise with the most trifling alterations in plate 87 of Vol. III of J.C.D. Schreber's "Saugthiere in Abildungen nach der Natur," 5 vols. 1775 - c. 1795. The colouring is white with yellowish markings, and the plate itself is labelled "Canis Familiaris", but it is practically nothing but a reproduction of the Riedinger plate. Schreber in his few lines of text makes no allusion to the roughness or smoothness of the dog.)

2. "Representations des Animaux," by M.E. and J.J. Riedinger, from original drawings by their father J.E. Riedinger. (No date, but c. 1768.)
This contains about 130 unnumbered coloured plates of various animals. Of these, seven represent dogs, one of which (bound up as plate 82 in the copy I examined) is labelled Greyhounds and Dachshounds and portrays four hounds in a landscape background, two small of the dachshund and two large of the grey-hound type. One of the latter is pure white except the skull and ears which are a yellow-brown, the coat (like that of the dog previously described) either smooth haired or only very slightly broken, the muzzle snipey, the ears, semi-pricked. The other, distinctly the larger, is a brownish-grey with a splash of white on the chest, and a remarkably long, snipey head and muzzle, ears semi-pricked, and a decidedly rough coat. On the whole, not unlike a present-day wolfhound of the lighter type, except that it is exaggeratedly long and snipey in fore face.

The letterpress description of the two larger dogs, which is both in German and French, translates as follows:- "There are two kinds of greyhounds; the larger and the smaller. Some have the hair smooth; others are more shaggy and rough. Those of Ireland are the larger, but those of Turkey are considered to be the more enduring…… As regards colour, they differ greatly from each other, and one often finds some which are beautifully marked." There can be no question, from the above description, that the taller brownish-grey dog represents an Irish wolfhound, and the somewhat smaller white animal with yellow markings a Turkish greyhound.

This is perhaps the most interesting engraving of the Irish wolfhound ever published, being as it is the only coloured print of the dog known which was taken from life as early as the eighteenth century (Schreber's being nothing but a reproduction). And it must be further remembered that although not published until 1768, after the death of J.E. Riedinger, it is expressly stated to be taken from his drawings, which were probably made at a considerably earlier period. It is quite unknown to Hogan and to all other writers on the subject as far as I have been able to discover.

There are three other prints of J.E. Riedinger which bear a strong resemblance to the Irish wolf-dog, and may very probably represent it; but as the text does not specifically describe them as such, the matter must be left open. It must be remembered that there were at that period a number of large species of hounds with a strong family likeness; and when they are depicted on separate plates, so that no comparison of size is possible, and with insufficient accompanying description, it is almost impossible to identify them with certainty. I do not include them therefore in my list proper, but give a short reference to them so that they may be rendered accessible to anyone interested in the matter.

A. Neue Thiere Reis Buchl, 1728. Plate 12.
This represents an immensely tall and powerful dog of the greyhound type, the coat very slightly broken, the colour mainly white with darker markings, and the head very long. There is no letterpress description, but in my opinion it represents the Irish wolfhound, and it is most interesting, being on a considerably larger scale than any of the others, and ten years earlier in date than the Enturf einiger Thiere print. Indeed this, perhaps more than any other of the Riedinger prints, conveys the impression of a dog of immense height, size, and power. I have found no reference to it in any of the authorities.


9. T. Brown, Anecdotes of Dogs, 1829.
This contain a very conventional woodcut of the Irish greyhound. It is of the mastiff wolf-dog type; a smooth dog resembling in shape and head a Great Dane as much as it resembles anything; but it is altogether a very wooden animal, not in the least likely to have been taken from life. The text says that it is pale cinnamon or fawn in colour, and in shape resembles the common greyhound (in which case the cut sadly belies it) but is much larger and more muscular and quite unserviceable for hunting either the stag, fox, or hare. (Note how much heavier and clumsier the dog has grown since Riedinger's day, when it was "excellent for overtaking a swift stag.") Brown evidently derived most of his information (and misinformation) from Goldsmith and Bewick; we have the old yarn of how in fighting they seize their opponent by the back, and the old inaccuracy how Buffon supposes the Irish wolfhound to be only a variety of the Great Dane. Altogether neither in cut or letterpress is there anything to suggest that Brown ever saw an Irish wolfhound.

This exhausts the list of illustrations which I have set myself to describe. There are various others, such as the plates in the "Dublin Penny Journal" of January 7th, 1832, in E. Jesse's Anecdotes of Dogs, 1846, and in H.D. Richardson's Dogs 1847, all of which I have examined, but which are of no special interest and too late in date to have much value as representations of the original Irish wolfdog. A few oil paintings mentioned by Hogan as probably portraying the dog I have been unable to see, and therefore make no reference to. Certain other authorities, which describe it but give no plate, do not come within the scope of this article. I have, however, consulted several of these, such as Goldsmith's 'History of the Earth and Animated Nature' 1st Edition, 1774, Buffon's 'Histoire des Quadrupedes' (1777-89 was the edition I saw), Pennant's 'Quadrupeds' 1st Edition, 1771, etc.

At the beginning of this article it was stated that my attention was directed to the subject of the old Irish wolf-dog mainly with the view of trying to throw further light on certain problems connected with it. The conclusion to which the foregoing (and other) evidence have led me is that originally the Irish wolf-dog was of greyhound shape, and that (as was undoubtedly the case with the greyhound proper) in some specimens the hair was rough, in others smooth. But that about the year 1750, or perhaps even earlier, they began to be so much crossed with Great Dane and possibly other blood that the original pure-bred specimens became scarcer and scarcer, until about 1800 they were almost extinct, and the product of the various crosses, a heavily-built smooth-coated animal (the so-called mastiff wolf-dog - itself a scarce dog) usurped their place and became known as the Irish wolf-dog.

 Berwicks Irish Wolf-dog
 The Irish greyhound or wolf-dog. From T. Bewick's "History of British Quadrupeds". Described as the largest of the dog kind, only being Found in Ireland, and now (1761) extremely rare.

The evidence that they were originally of greyhound shape appears overwhelming. All the early authors, e.g. Campion (writing in 1571), Camden 1594, Fynes Moryson 1617, and Ray 1693 (Hogan, pp 29, 30, 33 and 46) describe them as greyhounds. The various Riedinger prints seem to clinch the matter; they both (or, if the authenticity of the doubtful ones is accepted, all five) represent a dog of greyhound shape; and they are, I believe, the only illustrations in existence before about 1790 which unquestionably represent the Irish wolf-dog.

 Howitt's Irish wolf-dog
 Irish greyhound or wolf-dog from a plate by Howitt, in Bingley's "British Quadrupeds". It is described as "the largest of all dogs, and very rare".

The theory that the breed began to lose its purity about 1750 or earlier seems also unquestionable. The Earl of Chesterfield, writing in 1750 (Hogan, p. 48), says that he had been trying for two years to get some of the large dogs of Ireland, but that the breed had grown extremely rare, and that he had had two sent him six months ago, but that he discovered in them a mixture of the Danish blood which made them clumsy. A.B. Lambert's description of the Earl of Altamont's hound in 1794, and the Earl's own letter, written in 1797, throw further light on the subject, and show how widely the deterioration had by that time spread. Then, too, writers of the later period, such as Buffon and Goldsmith, describe the dog (as they knew it) as somewhat resembling a Great Dane; and finally the illustration of Bewick (1791), Lord Altamont's dog (1794), Earl of Antrim's dog (c. 1798), Bingley (1809), Donovan (1820), and Brown (1829), all show a dog more or less of the Great Dane type, and having a smooth coat. The only exception is the Scott-Reinagle print (1803-4), which represents a dog of greyhound type and with rough coat; and it is only reasonable to suppose that this must have been taken from one of the few surviving specimens of the old pure breed; an assumption which is borne out by the letterpress of the "Sportsman's Repository" (1820), quoted above.

 Lord Altamont's hound
 Illustration of Lord Altamont's hound

The question of the roughness or smoothness of coat of the original dog also seems to be definitely settled by the Riedinger prints with their accompanying letterpress. One of these prints represents a smooth, the other a rough hound; and the text specifically states that some have the hair smooth while others are more shaggy and rough. This is definite and there is practically no other contemporary evidence one way or the other; though plenty as to what the dog was like at a considerably later period.

In estimating the value of this later evidence, regard must be paid to the reputations of the various authors. Thus Reinagle, Scott, and Donovan were all famous as delineators of animals; while to such authorities as Bewick, Bingley, and Brown less importance is to be attached. They were just compilers of popular natural histories (though Bewick was great as a wood engraver), and their information may have been derived at first hand, and again it may not. Oliver Goldsmith, too, whose description of the Irish wolfhound in is 'Animated Nature' has perhaps been more quoted than any other, was doubtless a considerable poet and playwright; but imaginative qualities are out of place in the compilation of natural histories, and there is more than a suspicion that he drew rather freely upon his imagination in the work in question. Still of course their evidence cannot be altogether brushed aside; and there seems to be little doubt that the dog ordinarily known as the Irish wolf-dog about 1800 was a smooth dog of Great Dane type, very removed from the original Irish greyhound.

In making any investigation of this kind, one is struck by the extraordinary way in which writers copy from one another, and how an error or misquotation once started is bandied about from author to author for generations. Mr. G.W. Hickman has pointed out the absurd error into which the Encyclopaedia Britannica and others fell in translating Buffon's "Le Matin" as the "Irish Wolfhound"; he then goes out of his way to blunder himself by stating that Pennant did not make this mistake, whereas not only did Pennant make it but he was apparently the originator of it. Mr. Hickman misquotes Riedinger in a way which would seem impossible to anyone who had read the book. One is the more tempted to point out inaccuracies since their author was exceptionally severe upon Richardson for misquotation. After which strictures comes the pleasure of being able to pay tribute to the work of Father Hogan. Few breeds have been fortunate enough to find a historian at once so learned and so painstaking; the quantity of information which he has amassed is immense, and its general accuracy (at least as far as I have had occasion to test it), unimpeachable.

In conclusion I may incidentally mention the curious fact (which was borne upon me as a kind of bye product of this article) that in none of the works quoted is there a plate of the Scottish deerhound, though it is mentioned in the letterpress of some of the later of them. From this it seems to infer that in early times the deerhound was comparatively little known as a separate species except locally or to Scotch writers, such as Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, author of the History of Scotland, 1718, and that it was generally regarded as merely a rough greyhound (G.W. Hickman's writing in E.W. Bell's History of the Scotch Deerhound, 1892, would appear also to be of this opinion). Riedinger, as far as I can discover, makes no mention whatever of the deerhound, but gives a plate of the two varieties of the common greyhound, the rough and the smooth. The earliest engraving unquestionably representing the deerhound which has come under my observation, is dated 1810.

Hunting the wolf 
 These pictures are both taken from engravings by Howitt, but engravings were done from paintings. There is no artist's name given for either of these pictures - Hunting the wolf (above) and Hunting the wild ox (below) - but they are both very much like the picture of a lion hunt done by J.E. Riedinger, although that hardly looks exactly true to life either (especially with regard to the lion), or anything on which to base facts, although, apart from the ears, the dogs in the wolf hunt are not unlike the ancient hound at the top of this page. You only have to look at the completely different pictures of Graham's Sheelah to see how little respect for actuality there appears to have been in artists' representations of animals (although both the drawings of Sheelah were a century and a half later than Riedinger). (AHJ)
Hunting the wild ox 

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