Irish Wolfhound History

The Dog: Man's Best Friend by Captain A.H. Trapman

Published by Hutchinson & Co., 1929

Information on the Irish Wolfhound comes as part of several chapters throughout the book:

Book IV Technology of the Dog

Again, the oldest Irish institution was the Irish wolfhound, looked upon as the aristocrat's dog, because for countless centuries (before the Christian era) he had been the constant companion of (Irish) kings. These dogs were of gigantic stature, standing over four feet at the shoulder, and were famed for their courage, endurance and immense speed. They were, in historic times, spoken of by Silanus and Pliny and described as canes graii Hibernici. Pliny, indeed, states that it was from these dogs that the famous Epirot dogs were descended.

The inference and possibility is that these Irish wolfhounds were perhaps the ancestors of the Babylonian greyhound; it not, then the obverse must be the truth, since it is clear that about the year 3500 B.C. a giant breed of speed dog existed both in Ireland and in Babylonia. In the latter country, as befitted the climate, they were smooth-haired like the greyhound, while in Ireland they possessed the same coat as does the Irish wolfhund of to-day. One thing is certain, the Irish wolfhound was very highly prized and his breeding was a monopoly and prerogative of the Irish kins. Pliny describes how one of them defeated a lion, and later tired out and secured victory over an elephant. On several occasions, these dogs were pitted against the English mastiff, which they invariably defeated. It was said of them that they consorted only with kings or people of royal descent; with the commonalty they were fierce and intractable, but, apparently, being endowed with a capacity to scent blue blood, they instinctively made friends with any scion of a royal house.

The tale is told of Bran, the famous wolfhound owned by King Fingal, that on one occasion when the King was walking abroad accompanied, as ever, by his hound, a stranger approached. The hound rushed upon the man, but instead of killing him, as was expected, he fawned upon him and licked his hand, falling into step at the stranger's heels. "Who then are you?" demanded Fingal, "for of a surety you must be a descendant of kings, else had Bran destroyed you, and yet I know not your face." The stranger explained that he was Fingal's cousin, who had been stolen in childhood and held in captivity.

When the Irish colonized Northern Scotland (between 1000 B.C and A.D. 600) these hounds accompanied the first chieftains who went over and are the ancestors of the Scotch Deerhounds of to-day. In later times (A.D. 1615) Sir Thomas Rue presented a couple of these hounds to the Great Mogul of India, with which that potentate was greatly delighted, so we are told; while Roderick, King of Connaught, made a gift of a couple to Henry II, King of England. It is even said that Prince Llewellyn's famous hound Gelert was descended from a couple of Irish wolfhounds presented to his father by one of the Irish kings, circa 960, but this is doubtful. When in 1710 the wolf became extinct in Ireland the King of Poland bought up as many of the wolfhounds as he could find in Ireland, and it is said that it is from this stock that are descended the (smaller) borzois of to-day. Other authorities, however, contend that it was Peter the Great who originated the Russian borzoi by importing wolfhounds from Ireland.

CLASS III Sight Hounds

(I) Irish Wolfhound, (2) Scottish Deerhound. The history and origin of these two ancient and royal breeds has already been discussed in Chapter I. It was shown how the Irish wolfhound dated back to remotest antiquity and was associated almost exclusively with royalty, and how at the time when the Scots left Ireland to colonize and conquer Scotland their chieftains probably took their royal hounds with them and used them to chase the deer since wolves were practically non-existent in Scotland. Even the deerhound, or "buckhound" as he was then called, was an extremely valuable animal, being rated at the equivalent price of a stallion (i.e. £1) if fully trained and half that price (i.e. the price of a palfrey) if untrained. At twelve months he was valued at sixty pence, and as a puppy at thirty pence, whilst until his eyes opened his value was fifteen pence, the price of a full-grown sheep. This was in the Sixth Century. The Irish wolfhound was not to be purchased for money. He belonged exclusively to royalty who did not, in those days, traffic in sale or barter, though they sometimes presented a brace of hounds to another monarch as a royal gift.

In connection with the high value set on dogs at this far distant day it may be mentioned that a greyhound was valued at half the price of a deerhound. Six hundred years later a spaniell (sic) was commonly deemed to be worth £1 and a "curre dog" fourpence, whilst a sheepdog was equivalent in value to that of a "best ox".

Clodagh of Ouborough 
 Champion Clodagh of Ouborough
by kind permission of the owner,
V. Rank, Esq.,
Ouborough Kennels, South Nutfield

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