Irish Wolfhound History

Ireland's Great Hound

The dog of romance and story by L.O. Starbuck

From COUNTRY LIFE, February 1929

The Irish wolfhound was well known in the old Roman days, the first authentic record of them in history being in 391 A.D., when the Roman Consul, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, mentioned them in a letter to his brother Flavianus, in thanking him for the gift of seven Irish dogs which he had contributed for their circus combats and of which he said, "All Rome viewed them with wonder."

The early literature of Ireland abounds in references to this large dog that was used for hunting by the ancient kings of Ireland, and who formed a vanguard in the king's army when it went into battle.

 Ch. Cragwood the O'Toole
 Ch. Cragwood the O'Toole, one of the best from
Cragwood Kennels
 Chulainn Dauntless
 Above is the splendid Chulainn Dauntless, winner in
England of the type cup for bitches. She is now owned
by Halcyon Kennels.

The Irish wolfhound was the most valued and sought after hunting dog of the early centuries, and the ancient laws of Ireland show that he was held in great esteem, not only for his hunting prowess but for his wisdom. And this noble and gracious hound was much sought after by foreign monarchs, being considered a fit and pleasing gift to royalty. So powerful were these dogs that they were used not only for hunting the Irish wolf but also the gigantic Irish elk, which stood six feet at the shoulders. With the disappearance of the wolves and the elk, the breed was allowed to become almost extinct.

It was left to Capt. G.A. Graham, of Dursley, a Scotchman and an officer in the British army, to collect the last remaining specimens and by judicious outcrosses, to rehabilitate the breed. Richardson proved in 1840 what the real type was; he collected and continued the breed and handed down not only the tradition but the actual blood lines to Sir John Power of Kilfane, Mr. Baker of Ballytobin, and Mr. Mahoney of Dromore, and these were the last Irishmen for some time to devote real attention to the breed. It was from these three strains that Captain Graham secured specimens, and he deserves unlimited credit for his work, which was begun in 1862. He worked for twenty years before his ideal was attained, but it was twenty-five years later before any really fine specimens were produced.

 The Irish wolfhound's ancient lineage invests him
with a halo of romance that, coupled with his great
personal merit, makes him well nigh irresistible.
A typical head - Killabrick, a son of Champion
Mona of Ambleside, owned by Mr. R.K. Lackey

There was little difficulty in restoring size, but to regain uniformity of type was a slower process. Great strides have been made during the last ten years, and the breed has been regaining ground.

The Irish wolfhound is the tallest of all dogs. He is built on greyhound lines, but with a harsh, wiry coat, not unduly long, and a short but dense undercoat; the eye well browed, the muzzle feathered, the underjaw evenly bearded, and the stern well covered. The recognized colors are gray, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any color that appears in the deerhound. There have, however, been no white ones since the seventeenth century.

To-day, Irish wolfhounds are rarely shown that are less than thirty-three inches and a great many are thirty-five and thirty-six inches at the shoulders. Average bitches are thirty-two and thirty-three inches, although a few are taller.

The Irish wolfhound as we know him, a large, rough coated dog with piercing eyes and shaggy brows and built on galloping lines, fits exactly into the picture of the feudal life of the Middle Ages. Yet beneath this fierce looking exterior, there beats the gentlest of hearts. He is so kind and patient that a child can play with him, and his wonderful gift for attaching himself to human kind, that has manifested itself in the breed for two thousand years, makes him thoroughly reliable at all times and the greatest of companions. He is indeed a regal hound. He combines size, strength, speed, and above all, dignity of carriage, all of which go to make a very impressive and distinctive looking dog. The lines of strength are major points in an Irish wolfhound, but they must be compatible with lines of swiftness, resulting in a muscular, graceful dog that is large and active.

The Irish Wolfhound Club of America was organized two years ago, one of its aims being to acquaint the public with the true type. But the main object of the Club is to encourage the breeding of the true Irish wolfhound and to maintain a high standard for the breed. The club has adopted the same Standard endorsed by the English Club, and is very glad to send to any one interested a free copy of this Standard.

There is no fear now that the race will ever again suffer neglect, and it bids fair to be again as world famous as it was in the days when the Irish kings and their nobles bred these great dogs.

Prime Factor of Ambleside  Whoever has had the privilege of intimacy with
an Irish wolfhound knows that for all his intimidating
size, he is the gentlest of giants. Prime Factor of
Ambleside (left) a mere infant of ten months, shown
with a man of six feet, is evidence that the breed is
being brought back to its old-time stature. 

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