Irish Wolfhound Times
(Irish Wolfhound Database and Breed Information Exchange)
The Art Of Deer-Stalking by William Scrope, 1839
"Vignette" by Edwin Landseer
Group of dogs - Buscar a Highland Deer-Hound, of the original breed, belonging to Mr Mac Neill: a fox hound, Bloodhound, and Greyhound - from crosses of which the modern deer-hound is obtained and a terrier.
(Original Scotch Deerhound. Glengarry's Hounds)
The best sort of dog for chasing the deer would unquestionably be the original Scotch or Irish greyhound; but of this noble animal I shall myself say nothing, being enabled through the kindness of Mr. Macneill of Colonsay to introduce amongst these pages a dissertation on their race and qualities, put together by him with great research and ability, and accompanied by a recital of a day's deer coursing in the island of Jura. All accounts I have received from Scotland represent these dogs as very scarce at the present day; and I am informed that in Sutherland the last of the race in that particular district was a very powerful animal belonging to the late Mr. Gordon of Achness. He was killed by a stag about forty years ago, who transfixed him with the antlers against a rock, leaving three deadly wounds on his body.
Not being in possession of any of the celebrated race of the original Scotch greyhound, which are now, indeed, very rare, and finding that all the dogs in the forest of Atholl were miserably degenerate, I bred some litters from a foxhound and a greyhound, the foxhound being the father. This cross answered perfectly: indeed, I was previously advised that it would do so by Mr. John Crerar, who, after having tried various crosses for sixty years, found this incomparably the best. Neither of these animals themselves would have answered ; for the greyhound cannot stand the weather, and wants courage to that degree, that most of them will turn from a fox when they come up to him, and see his grin, and feel his sharp teeth; nay they will scarcely go through a hedge in pursuit of a hare till after some practice. Besides, they have no nose, and run entirely by sight; so that when the hart dashes into a deep moss or ravine, the chase is over, and the dog stops, and stares about him like a born idiot as he is.
The foxhound is equally objectionable; he has not sufficient speed, gives tongue, and hunts too much by scent: in this way he spreads alarm through the forest; and if you turn him loose, he will amuse himself all day long, and you will probably see him no more till he comes home at night to his kennel.
All these objections are obviated by the cross between the two. You get the speed of the greyhound, with just enough of the nose of the foxhound to answer your purpose. Courage you have in perfection, for most dogs so bred will face any thing; neither craggy precipices, nor rapid streams, will check their course; they run mute, and when they are put upon the scent of the hart, they will follow it till they come up to him; and, again, when he is out of view, they will carry on the scent, recover him, and beat the best greyhound to fits: I mean, of course, on forest ground.
The present Marquis of Breadalbane had two dogs of this description, Percy and Douglas, which were bred by me. As they were my very best upon scent, I gave
the late Duke of Atholl the use of them every season, to bring cold harts • to bay, in which they were wonderfully successful; for if they were fairly laid on, no hart could escape them. They are now nine or ten years oldf; and his Lordship informs me they are still able to bring the stoutest hart in his forest to bay, and are altogether perfect.
These dogs, in point of shape, resemble the greyhound ; but they are larger in the bone, and shorter in the leg: some of them, when in slow action, carry their tails over their backs, like the pure foxhound. Their dash in making a cast is most beautiful; and they stand all sorts of rough weather.
As the above is, I think, the best cross that can possibly be obtained for the modern method of deerstalking, so it should be strictly adhered to: I mean that, when you wish to add to your kennel, you must take the cross in its originality, and not continue to breed from the produce first obtained; for if you do this, you will soon see such alarming monsters staring around you, as the warlike Daunia never nourished in her woods and thickets, or as cannot even be surpassed by the sculptured ones at the villa of Prince Palagonia, near the shores of Palermo.
The late celebrated sportsman, Glengarry, crossed occasionally with a bloodhound instead of a foxhound : his famous dog Hector was probably bred in this way ; and I believe Maida, the dog he presented to Sir Walter Scott, had also a distant cross of the bloodhound in him. Two of these small bloodhounds he generously gave to me, though he was chary of the breed; but they ran away from my kennel, and were unfortunately lost.
A cross with the bull-dog was once tried in the forest of Atholl, to give courage; but the produce was slow, as might have been expected; and the thing was overdone, for they were all killed by attacking the deer in front. High-couraged dogs, indeed, of every breed, are subject to accidents: they get wounded, and even killed by the harts; are maimed for life, or meet their death by falling over precipices in their reckless pursuit, particularly in rounding a corner.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE HIGHLAND DEERHOUND, WITH AN ACCOUNT OF A DAY'S DEER-COURSING IN THE ISLAND OF JURA.
[Communicated by Archibald Macneil, Esq., of Colonsay.]
" Canis venations , cclerrimus , audacissimusque non solum in feras sed in liostcs etiam latronesque prascrtim, si dominum ductoremve injuria offici ccrnat, aut in cos concitetur."— Boeck.
It is not a little remarkable that the species of dog which has been longest in use in this country for the purposes of the chase, should be that which is least known to the present generation of naturalists and sportsmen. While we are presented with delineations and descriptions of every race of dog, from the mastiff down to the pug, we find no writer of the present day who speaks with any degree of certainty as to the size, colour, or appearance of the deerhound, once so highly prized, and for a great period of the history of this country, the only dog fitted for the sports of the field. One would naturally have thought that the gigantic, picturesque, and graceful form of this animal (the constant attendant of nobility), would have insured for the present generation a faithful description of its appearance and habits, but it is to be feared that none such has been transmitted to us, and that to the effusions of the bards, and traditionary tales of former days, we are chiefly indebted for any idea of the perfection to which this breed at one time attained in this country.
From modern writers we hear nothing further than that such a race of dogs at one time existed in Ireland, that they were of a gigantic size, and that they are now extinct. One great obstacle in the way of investigating the history of this dog has arisen from the different appellations given to it, according to the fancy of the natives in different parts of the country, of Irish wolfdog Irish greyhound, Highland deerhound, and Scotch greyhound. But for these apparently distinctive designations, sufficient information would probably have been recorded regarding a breed of dogs really the same, and in such general use throughout the different parts of the kingdom.
The dogs resembling the greyhounds of the present day were known in this country as early as the third century we have ample proof from the writings of Roman authors, and in particular, from the works of Nemesianus and Gratius. In his Cynegeticon Gratius mentions two distinct breeds of dogs as natives of England, the one termed Molossus, which is supposed to have been the mastiff, and the other Vertraha, which, from the description, seems to correspond, in many points, with the greyhounds at present in use in this country.
Nemesianus gives the following description of these dogs: — *
" Sit cruribus altis,
Sit rigidis, multamque gcrat sub pectore lato
Costarum sub fine deccntcr prona carinam,
Qua: sensim rursus sicca se colligat alvo,
Rcnibus nmpla satis vulidis, dcductnque coxas,
Ciiique niinis mollcs fluitent in cursibus aures."
And again he says, —
" Divisa Britannia mittit Veloces, nostrique orbis venatibus aptos."
From the same authorities we learn that the mastiffs of England were highly prized by the Roman emperors, and were used by them for the combats of the amphitheatre.
It also appears from Symmachus, that in the fourth century a number of dogs of a great size were sent in iron cages from Ireland to Rome, which were probably used for the same purposes; and as the mastiff was purely an English dog, it is not improbable that the dogs so sent were greyhounds, particularly as we learn, from the authority of Evelyn and others, that the Irish wolfdog was used for the fights of the bear garden.
How and when this species of dog came to be denominated greyhound is a point on which naturalists are not agreed. Some derive the appellation grey from Grajcus, whilst others, as Jn. Caius, derives it from gret, or great. Without pretending to determine tlris point, it may be suggested, as not improbable, that the name is derived from the colour (which is still the prevailing one of these dogs in the remote districts of Scotland), particularly as we find them described as Cu-lia, or grey dog.
Whatever may have been the origin of the name, there is little doubt as to the antiquity of a species of dog in this country bearing a great resemblance in many points to the greyhound of the present day, and passing under that name, though evidently a larger, nobler, and more courageous animal.
Among the oldest Scotch authorities are some sculptured stones in the church-yard of Meigle, a village of Perthshire. These stones represent in relief the figures of several dogs, which bear so strong a resemblance to the Highland deerhound, as to leave no doubt that they are intended to represent this species. The date of this sculpture is considered by antiquaries, and in particular by Chalmers, to have been previous to the introduction of Christianity, and as early at least as the ninth century.
These, though probably the earliest, are by no means the only stones on which representations are given of these dogs. On many others of great antiquity to be met with in different parts of the country hunting scenes are represented, in which the same species of dogs are introduced in full pursuit of deer. Among the Anglo-Saxons, with whom the wild boar, the wolf, and the hart were constant objects of sport, no dogs were so highly prized as the original race of greyhounds.
When a nobleman travelled, he never went without these dogs. The hawk he bore on his wrist, and the greyhounds who ran before him, were certain testimonials of his rank; and, in the ancient pipe-rolls, payments appear to have been often made in these valuable animals.
MIEGLE SKETCH HERE PLUS MODERN PHOTOS FROM WEB
DOGS OF THE OLDEN TIME.
In the 11th century, so greatly were greyhounds in estimation, that by the forest laws of Canute the Great, no person under the rank of a gentleman was allowed to keep one.
At this period, and until after the Norman conquest, the chase was always pursued on foot; the Normans having been the first to introduce the mode of following their game on horseback.
It is obvious from the rough and uncultivated state of the country, and the nature of the game which was then the object of the chase (viz., deer of all sorts, wolves, and foxes), that the dogs then used would be of a larger, fiercer, and more shaggy description than the greyhounds of the present day, which are bred solely for speed, and have by modern culture and experimental crosses, been rendered, in all probability a swifter animal, and better suited for coursing the hare in a level country.
As cultivation increased, the game for which the deerhound was particularly suited gradually diminished, and the improvement in agriculture in England being more rapid than in the sister kingdoms, the diminution of deer and wolves was proportionally great. The deerhound, consequently, in that country, degenerated from want of attention to its peculiar characteristics, and gradually merged into the greyhound of the present day.
Gesner, in his history of quadrupeds, published in 1560, gives drawings of three species of Scottish dogs, which, he informs us, were furnished him by Henry St. Clair, Dean of Glasgow.
THE MASTIFF AND GREYHOUND.
These drawings are said to represent the three different species of dogs mentioned by Boece, in his History of Scotland, published 1526, of which the deerhound is one. This drawing, though a rudely executed woodcut, is full of character, and coincides with the descriptions which have reached us of this dog.
Of the dog known in Ireland under the name of the Irish greyhound, Holinshed, in his " Description of Ireland and the Irish," written in 1586, has the following notice, — " They are not without wolves, and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and lim than a colt;" and, in a frontispiece to Sir James Ware's M History of Ireland," an allegorical representation is given of a passage from the venerable Bede, in which two dogs are introduced, bearing so strong a resemblance to that given by Gesner, as to leave no doubt that they are the same species.
The mastiff and the greyhound both appear, from the old Welsh laws, to have been used from a very early period by that people, and were termed by them, the former Gellgi, and the latter Milgi, which latter is evidently the same word with the appellation of Miol chu, given by the Highlanders and Irish to the deerhound.
Of the mode of hunting and using these dogs, we have descriptions by William Barclay, as far back as 1563, by Taylor, the water poet, and by others.
The term Irish is applied to the Highland dogs, as every thing Celtic (not excepting the language) was
RECREATION OF QUEEN ELIZABETH.
designated in England, probably in consequence of Ireland being, at that period, better known to the English than Scotland. This is, however, a proof of the similarity of the dogs, and also that they were not then in use in England in the same perfection. Nor is this supposition inconsistent with the account given by Sir John Nicol, of Queen Elizabeth's amusements at Cowdrey Park, in 1595,— "Then rode her Grace to Cowdrey to dinner, and about six of the clock in the evening, sawe sixteen bucks pulled down with greyhounds in a laund," — since it will be observed, from the use of the term "bucks," that these deer were fallow; and probably, the course was paled in, as appears to have been usual on such occasions, from a minute account by the translator of the " Noble Art of Venerie and Hunting," published in London in 1611.
Of the courage of the ancient deer-hound there can be little doubt from the nature of the game for which he was used, but if any proof were wanting, an incident mentioned by Evelyn in his Diary, in 1670, when present at a bullfight in the bear garden, is conclusive. He says, " The bulls (meaning the bull-dogs did exceeding well, but the Irish wolf dog exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature indeed, who beat a cruele mastiff."
Here then is further proof that the Irish wolf dog was a greyhound, and there can be little doubt that it is the same dog that we find mentioned under the name of " the Irish greyhound."
Comparing, therefore, the descriptions given of the Vertraha of Nemesian, the English greyhound of the 15th century, the Irish wolf dog, and the Highland deerhound, we find a strong similarity ; and when it is recollected, that the game for which they were all used was the same, and that the term miol chU was the one generally used for this species of dog over a great portion of the country, we have strong reasons to conclude that they were one and the same kind, the more particularly as we find the Irish wolf dog described as a greyhound, and the Highland deerhound as an Irish greyhound; and find that the drawings which have reached us of the Scotch and Irish dogs, bear so strong a resemblance to each other.
From the above authorities, it is obvious that this race of dogs has been known in this country for many centuries, and for a greater period of time than any other sort; indeed, it is the opinion of most naturalists, and, among others, of Buffon, that they are an original race, and natives of Britain. On this subject he has the following remarks : — " The Irish greyhounds are of a very ancient race, and still exist (though their number is small) in their original climate: they were called by the ancients, dogs of Epirus, and Albanian dogs. Pliny has narrated, in the most elegant and energetic terms, a combat between one of these dogs, first with a lion, and then with an elephant: they are much larger than the mastiff. In France they are so rare, that I never saw above one of them, which appeared when sitting to be about five feet high, and resembled in figure the Danish dog, but greatly exceeded him in stature. He was totally white, and of a mild and peaceable disposition."
IRISH WOLF DOG.
In corroboration of Buffon's theory, that the dogs of Epirus and Albania are the same with the Highland deer-hound, it may be remarked as not a little singular, that the dogs at present in use on the mountains of Macedonia, for the purpose of deer coursing, are similar in figure, colour, disposition, and in the texture of their hair, to those used in this country. They are only to be found in the possession of the nobility, and are with them also exceedingly rare.*
The exact size to which the deerhound once attained in this country, it is now difficult, from the contradictory accounts that have reached us, to determine.
Buffon, as we have already seen, informs us, that the only one he ever saw, was much larger than a mastiff, and when sitting was about five feet high.
Goldsmith, in his account of the species of dog known in Ireland in his time, under the name of Irish wolf dog, represents him as being rather kept for show than for use, there being neither wolves nor any other formidable beast of prey in Ireland that seem to require so powerful an antagonist.
* My friend, Mr. Skene, is possessed of an ancient and curious map of the world, in which the ert, or elk, is represented as characterising the Transylvanian Forest; and near it is a representation of " Canes fortiores," or the great Albanian dog, which these northern tribes are reported to have used to drag their carriages, as well as to hunt the bear, wolf, and elk. The animal given as the elk, in the map, is represented with very broad palmated horns, more like those of the moose deer, or the extinct Cervut euiyceros, whose remains are found in the bogs of Ireland and the Isle of Man, than the true elk. This serves to connect the miol-chu of Ireland and the Highlands still more closely with the Albanian deer dog.— W.S.
PROPORTIONS OF A DEERHOUND.
Judging also from the drawing of Lord Altamount's dogs, given by Mr. Lambert, and from the measurements taken by him, in 1790, it is evident that these wolf-dogs, as they are called, bore no resemblance whatever to the Irish greyhound, as described by Holinshed, with which also they hunted wolves, as is apparent from their broad pendulous ears, hanging lips, hollow backs, heavy bodies, smooth hair, straight hocks, drooping tails, and party colour; but were in all probability a remnant of the old Irish blood-hound, which was frequently used for tracking wolves, and which at a later period might have been mistaken for a species then in that country nearly, if not altogether, extinct.
To these vague accounts, however, little weight can be attached, and the only real criterion by which we can form a notion of the perfection to which this breed formerly attained, is from the small remnant that we now possess.
In Ireland at the present day (we speak from the most accurate information) not a vestige of this breed is to be met with.
To England the same remarks may be applied. In Wales some of this breed may still exist, although no evidence of the fact has reached us. In Scotland (from a perfect knowledge of every specimen of the breed) we know that very few, perhaps not above a dozen, pure deerhounds are to be met with.
It is difficult, without a great variety of measurements, to determine the exact size of a dog, or to give an accurate idea of its proportions; though a good general idea may be formed, by giving the height at the shoulder, as measured with a slide, the girth round the chest, and the weight of the dog, together with a few descriptive remarks regarding him.
Applying, therefore, the above rules to such of this race as we have seen, and allowing for the degeneracy which must have taken place in this breed throughout the country (arising from diminution in number, neglect in crossing, selection, and feeding,) these dogs may probably have, at a remoter period, averaged in height thirty inches, in girth thirty-four inches, and in weight 100 lbs.
Notwithstanding the degeneracy above alluded to, none of the canine race present at this day such a combination of qualities as the Highland deerhound, — speed, strength, size, endurance, courage, perseverance, sagacity, docility, elegance, and dignity; all these qualities are possessed by this dog in a very high degree, and all of them (with the exception of the two latter) are called eminently into exertion in pursuit of the game, for which he is so well calculated. Every attempt to improve this race by a cross with any other species has utterly failed. Such has been the result of the attempts made with the bull-dog, the blood-hound, and the Pyrenean wolf-dog; by the cross with the bull-dog courage was gained, but speed, strength, weight, and that roughness which is necessary for the protection of the feet in a rocky mountainous country, was lost. In the cross with the blood-hound no quality was gained but that of smell, while the speed and size were diminished; and with the Pyrenean wolf-dog, though weight was in some cases gained, yet this was of no avail, as speed and courage were both lost.
All these crosses were found totally unfit for the purpose of deer coursing, as was effectually proved by the late Glengarry, who made many attempts to perpetuate this sport. Of the cross with the blood-hound was Sir Walter Scott's dog, bred and presented to him by Glengarry.
The finest, I believe, and apparently the purest specimens of the deerhound now to be met with, are those in the possession of Captain M'Neill, the younger, of Colonsay, of which he has in particular two dogs, Buskar and Bran, and two bitches, Runa and Cavack.
These dogs, though all more or less related to each other, vary somewhat in colour, two being of a pale yellow, and two of a sandy red; and vary also in the length and quality of the hair. .
There is one peculiarity common to all, viz. that the tips of their ears, eyes, and muzzles, are black, and that in all other parts they are each of one uniform colour, a never-failing accompaniment of purity of breed.
In their running points they bear a great similarity to a well-bred greyhound; and, though somewhat coarser, are supposed (from the trials which have been made) to be quite as swift. Their principal difference in shape from the common greyhound consists in a greater height of shoulder, thickness of neck, size of head and muzzle, and coarseness of bone. They are much more sagacious than the common greyhound, and in disposition are more playful and attached, but much bolder and fiercer when roused.
The following are the dimensions of Buskar *, taken in August, 1836 : —
Height at shoulder - - 28 inches
Girth of chest - 32
Weight in running condition 85lbs.
This dog is of a pale yellow, and appears to be remarkably pure in his breeding, not only from his shape and colour, but from the strength and wiry elasticity of his hair, which by Highlanders is thought to be a criterion of breeding.
Though the dogs now described are of a yellow or reddish colour, yet there are in the districts of Badenoch and Lochaber, some of a dark grey, which are considered pure; indeed it is believed that this was at one time the prevailing colour in the Highlands of Scotland. Besides the difference of colour, there seems to be a decided difference in the texture of the hair between the yellow and grey dog; that of the grey dog being much softer and more woolly. The latter also seem to be less lively, and do not exhibit such a development of muscle, particularly on the back and loins, and have a tendency to cat hams.
There is a striking peculiarity in the deerhound, viz. the difference in size between the male and female, which is more remarkable than in any other of the varieties of the canine race.
* The principal dog in Mr. Edwin Landseer's beautiful vignette, opposite to the frontispiece of this work, is taken from a sketch of this celebrated animal, but does not, I think, give the idea of quite so much bone and muscle as belongs to the original.— W.S
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