Baily's Magazine of Sports & Pastimes 1905 Resuscitation of The Irish Wolfhound
The Irish Wolfhound.
The Irish wolfhound, as he is known to-day, although containing the blood of some of the ancient stock, is comparatively a new breed. History relates that upwards of 2oo years ago the last wolf in Ireland was killed, and that the hound which was the medium of its destruction, and is chronicled to have been of an immense size, very soon afterwards became extinct as a pure breed. His vocation having gone, no further interest appears to have been taken in him, with the inevitable result that the breed died out without any reliable record having been left as regards its appearance, except that it was a gigantic dog, capable of dealing effectively with wolves and other wild animals of like description.
From time to time discussions have been raised as to the type of dog that existed in olden days, and although research has proved that there was an Irish wolfhound 1,5oo years ago, very little that is tangible can be gathered from descriptions or illustrations that have appeared. Then, again, the stuffed skin of the head and two skulls of supposed Irish wolfhounds are to be seen in the Dublin Museum; but they can only have belonged to mediumsized dogs, as, compared with more recent skulls taken from the remains of the modern production, they are very small, so here, again, nothing can be gained as to the stature of the dog; and, to make matters more conflicting, there was in the possession of the Earl of Antrim a picture showing an illustration of an Irish wolfhound which is a totally different class of dog to that which has been aimed at in resuscitating the breed. This picture may be seen at the Kennel Club in Grafton Street at the present time.
There is, however, nothing remarkable in the fact that so little is known about the antecedents of the original Irish wolfhound, seeing that most of the oldest breeds of dogs that have been with us for all time leave room for considerable speculation as to there being any very great assimilarity now to what they were two or three centuries ago, and this without their having been lost sight of for a couple of hundred years.
The breed was in the state referred to in the foregoing paragraph when Captain Graham, of Dursley, in Gloucestershire, determined to make an endeavour to ferret out all particulars that he could obtain in connection with its early history, with a view to its resuscitation. He had little to go upon, except that from researches that he had made in the works of old writers he had ascertained that the Irish wolfhound of bygone days was supposed to be nearly allied to the Scottish deerhound; in fact, that suggestions had been made that they were one and the same dog, and that when its period of usefulness had ceased to exist in Ireland, the Irish wolfhound had been transferred to North Britain, where, under the milder conditions of hunting the deer, it had lost not only some of the more courageous traits of its character, but had been reduced in size and weight to suit its new occupation. The information in this respect was not, however, conclusive, as at the same time was unearthed the fact that a
rough-coated greyhound was spoken of as having been known in Ireland about the same time; but perhaps the best evidence that Captain Graham had to work upon was an illustration of an Irish wolfhound by Reinagle which appeared in the "Sporting Cabinet" at the commencement of the last century, where the dog depicted bears some resemblance to the hound as he is seen to-day.
Reinagle's hound is undoubtedly much nearer the true representation of the old Irish wolfhound than the dog which appears in the painting belonging to the Earl of Antrim, as the latter is of the bloodhound type, with lengthy ears and much loose skin about the throat, both of which would be serious drawbacks in a conflict with a wolf.
It has been interesting to watch from its earliest beginning, now a quarter of a century ago, the progress that has been made by Captain Graham in the resuscitation of a dog famed for the work that it has done in the extermination of one of the most savage beasts of prey. How he searched all Ireland through to find dogs with the blood in their veins of the hound that he wanted, with what judgment and success he crossed one breed with another, and finally produced the Irish wolfhound as he is seen to-dayŚ grand in appearance, immense in stature, and withal of a gentle disposition.
It was several years, however, before Captain Graham, and others who followed in his line, succeeded in getting fixity of type in the produce of the deerhound and the Great Dane, but as time went on these differences disappeared, until, in the early nineties, the new breed had become established. A few years before this the Irish Wolfhound Club had been formed and separate classes had been provided at shows. These, with the addition of a special page in the Kennel Club Stud Book, led to some popularity being accorded to the new breed. Since then it has been gradually forging ahead, until at the present time it is as much in favour as the deerhound and Great Dane, which have had so much to do with its reintroduction.
The following is the description of the Irish wolfhound as drawn up by the Club: "In general appearance the Irish wolfhound should not be quite so heavy or massive as the Great Dane, but more so than the deerhound, which in general type it should resemble. Of great size and commanding appearance, very muscular, strongly though gracefully built, movements easy and active, head and neck carried high, the tail carried with an up
ward sweep, with a slight curve towards the extremity. The minimum height and weight of dogs should be 31 in. and 12o lb.; of bitches, 28 in. and 9o lb. Anything below this should be debarred from competition. Great size, including height at shoulder and proportionate length of body, is the desideratum to be aimed at, and it is desired to firmly establish a race that shall average from 32 in. to 34 in. in dogs showing the requisite power, activity, courage and symmetry. The recognised colours are grey, brindle, red, black, fawn, or pure white, or any colour that appears in the deerhound." The hair should be rough and hard in texture on body, legs, and head, especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaws, which should be very strong. The head should be long and wedged-like in shape, and the ears small and carried like those of a greyhound. F.G.