Getting beyond Legacy Experts and their Writings In Pursuit Of The Truth In Irish Wolfhound Breed History by Steve Tillotson Jan 2013
The road to Camelot from a painting by G H Broughton. R.A. "The Wolfhound is here shown"
The photograph above was included in an article "Art and life - Volume 11, Issues 1-9 1919 Irish and Russian Wolfhounds By T. C. Turner" . The photo is of a painting by G H Broughton. R.A "The road to Camelot" with the words "The Wolfhound is here shown" added by the author of the article. I was quite struck by this photograph when I first encountered it. One of the frustrations as a researcher is the lack of illustrations, photographs, paintings that depict the Irish Wolfdog consistent with descriptions offered up by the Richardsonians. Noting the title of the article the subject hound could be a Russian or an Irish Wolfhound. The body shape, lack of the arched back is not consistent with a Russian Wolfhound (Borzoi), it appears to be a very tall Greyhound. So is this an example of an Irish Wolfdog (taller and more substantial, but of Greyhound type) ? The hound doesn't seem to have the weight of bone for a Wolfdog, but (I estimate 30 inches to shoulder) the hound is noticeably taller than a Greyhound? Whatever breed it is, its a "teaser" methinks.
In my other breed (Afghan Hound) research, meaningful legacy references only date back to the mid 1850's. There are no illustrations of the Afghan Hound earlier than this date. Prior to this date all known references are usually vague, or involve such generalized descriptions as to be meaningless. Like many other breeds, early writers are fond of mentioning depictions in Egyptology and ancient Latin and Greek writers and references to poetry and mythology. The lack of reliable information is exacerbated by virtue of the fact that the Afghan Hound originates from a country (Afghanistan, also India, and Persia) that to this day is largely inaccessible to foreigners. Back in the 1850's, despite the British military presence this inaccessible and dangerous situation was even more so. Durand wrote in his memoirs that despite decades of occupation by the British that the country (Afghanistan) was still so dangerous that it was not possible to venture far away from the safety of a fort, without the protection of a significant Military surround. Thus, obtaining information about a breed of dog from that environment was highly problematical.
For this author, researching a "British" breed of dog entails different challenges. Research efforts are not hampered by the fact of geography and of an ongoing hostile and dangerous environment. Further, several specialist writers have undertaken research and documented aspects of Irish Wolfhound breed history, a legacy that this author can gain benefit from, and also build upon.
This IWT editor was born in London, England. I have visited Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and worked alongsize and known many Irish, Welsh and Scots people over many years. I believe that in researching a topic such as a breed of dog, it is important that that a researcher also has a knowledge of the country of origin for that breed. In the case of my other research (Afghan Hound - Afghanistan), I have undertaken considerable study of the history of the country of origin, about which, years ago and even today, westerners seem to know very little. For example, the country known today as "The Independent Republic Of Pakisktan" was in fact previously the northern lands of Afghanistan. In studying the history and culture of Afghanistan it became apparent that statements made by western canine writers on the history of the Afghan hound were simply incorrect. Such writings showed an ignorance of the native country, its people and culture. The extensive research I undertook enabled me to dispel several of the "legacy stories" about the origins of the Afghan Hound.
Now, one would have thought that for an Englishman to embark upon a study of an Irish breed of dog would be easier, because' a) Considerable more legacy writing exists about the Irish Wolfhound than it does about the Afghan Hound, b) The country of origin (of the Wolfdog) is adjacent to my mother country and easily accessible, c) considerable writings about Ireland, its people and culture exist.
However, life is not always so simple - because the Richardsonians (without any credible evidence whatsoever) claim that the Scottish Deerhound is a degenerated descendant of the Irish Wolfdog I have to investigate Scotland too. Because of the crossovers of populations (Irish Gauls into Western Scotland, Protestant Scottish settlements into Northern Ireland, English/Scottish history etc) it is neccessary to consider the wider picture - that involes three countries.
The Richardsonians simply state, somewhat overly simply, that Scotland was peopled by the Irish - that historically is incorrect and implies a much wider and deeper immigration by the Irish than in fact ever occured. I'm thinking to myself "deja vu", as with the exagerated accounts of Afghan Hound/Afghanistan history, now I am encountering exageration and mis-information about Irish Wolfhound/Great Britain history. So, just to make the point, all my research on the breed of dog is supported by my simultaneously researching the relevent history of the countries involved. This author wrote an article about legacy writings which readers may find helpful.
I don't dismiss all previous writings on the history of the breed/s. Quite the contrary, there are many valuable, useful and informative writings existant. The difficulty is sorting out the wheat from the chaf. My approach is to read all available legacy writings, and not only weigh up the probability of their accuracy, but to consider the writer, their background, their purpose and objectives in writing etc. The fullest assessment and understanding of the writer will help readers guage the value of that writers contribution.
1. LEGACY WRITINGS - CHARACTERISTICS AND FEATURES
Apparently "experts" on the history of canines, are equipped with some "standard narrative" that they recycle over and over. Typically this narrative includes the following items -
1.2 STANDARD NARATIVE
1) The origins of the breed are lost in the mists of time
2) There are depictions in egyptology showing canines of this type
3) The Romans used this type of canine in their arenas to fight other animals, including lions and elephents
4) Stone carvings dating back to the xyz century exist in xyz country depicting canines of this type
5) Such was the value of the xyz breed that they were sent as gifts to kings and nobles throughout the world
6) xyz canine was used as dogs of war, fighting alongside the warriors
7) In xyz mythology, a poet/bard wrote (a fairy tale) about the type of canine we are studyin
8) The naturalist xyz (who quotes another naturalist abc, who quotes another naturaist def) states etc...
In addition to recycling narrative, the "writing style" involves a number of features -
1.3 TYPICAL WRITING STYLE
1) Descriptions of canines to be as vague and generalized as possible
2) Illustrations used in support of narrative to be drawn by an artist who has never seen the breed of canine
3) Quote often from Latin and other ancient writings, especially the "mythology" (fairy tales) references
4) Demonstrate academic knowledge by translating (inaccurately) ancient languages (Latin, Greek, Gaelic)
5) Demonstrate knowledge of the classics by including poetry amongst the breed descriptions
6) Be selective in the items that quotes, only quote those sources that suit the agenda
7) Include multiple references to important people (Royalty, Nobility, Heads Of State) to add authority to the writings
8) Avoid giving an opinion, avoid being specific, quote others. That way if they are later proven wrong they can blame
the source as being in error.
9) Quote other people (anonymously) as sources, using phrases such as "an authority stated", "a contact in America informs" etc. Add
credence to the authors point of view by supplementing it with (anonymous) third party references
If you look back at the 19th century writings on the Irish Wolfdog we think you will find most of the above
characteristics are present in these writings. Lets look at some examples of writings on breed history.
The examples below deliberately involve a mix of legacy and modern writings. Readers who already have
a knowledge of Irish Wolfhound history may recognize some of these writings. I removed references to the
breed, and authors, initially to enable an un-prejudicial consideration, and also to illustrate the important
point that aspects of history attached by legacy writers to the Irish Wolfhound, have also been attached to other breeds,
and in some cases there is total crossover. By that I mean we could insert the words Irish Wolfhound where the
blanks are and that that writing (about another breed) would then fit very well with writings about the Irish Wolfhound -
EXAMPLE 1. - Romans, Wolves, Existed since antiquity/Nineteen hundred years ago
The Rev. xxxx in his "History of the zzz," has been most praiseworthy in his researches as to the origin of the
breed, and, I believe, has collected facts together which ought to convince even the most sceptical of the identity
of the breed with that large dog which the Romans found in this country, and which they afterwards made useful and
amusing in their degrading sports of the arena. There are numerous illustrations on various pieces of ancient Roman
-British pottery which can easily be identified as representing a dog of the type, such a one as some nineteen
hundred years or more ago might be found in this country, and utilised as guard to the flocks and herds, protecting
them by their size, strength, and ferocity from the wolves that then overran the country.
EXAMPLE 2. - Crossbreeding/Purity/Variations in Type
From the dark ages, through medieval and tudor times there were no pedigrees as such. Dogs were chosen for their
ability to do the job, rather than for their looks. Cross breeding would certainly have occurred. There is however
one exception. A xxxxx breed whose owner, Sir xxxx (killed at xxxx in the 1400's), founded a strain of canines that only
died out at xxxxx at the beginning of the century. From pictures of these dogs we discover that they were different
from the breed of today. The xxxxx strain had narrower heads, their muzzles were more tapered and the colours were
different. They were kept apart from other strains and were only bred at xxxxxx.
EXAMPLE 3. - Nobility, Wolfdogs, Wolves and other beasts eating children
In 1653, Captain xxxxx obtained a lease for five years, for the sum of 543.00 pounds sterling, of all the forfeited lands in the
barony of xxxx, on his proposals for killing wolves and foxes. He proposed to keep three xxxxx, two mastiffs, a pack ‘of hounds of sixteen couple,
three whereof to hunt the wolf only, a knowing huntsman, and two men and a boy— an orderly hunt to take place thrice a month at least —
(Orders of the Commissioners, A 85, p. 14, see Journal of the xxxxxxx. Soc., Vol. iii., New Series, p. 77). In the same year there was “ A declaration
touching wolves; ” offering for every bitch wolf 6.00, for every dog wolf 5.00, for every cub which preyeth for himself
2.00, for every suckling cub 0.50. ; and the Commanders and Commissioners are to employ such person or persons, and
appoint such days and times for hunting the wolf, as they shall adjudge necessary. In the same year it is said by xxxx, xxxx, xxxxt, and xxxx, “ that many of the orphan children then wandering about the country were fed upon by ravening wolves and other beasts of prey.”
Let us now discuss the above examples
This breed has existed since 1900 years ago (about the same amount of time that legacy
writers will have us believe the Irish Wolfhound existed). A "clergyman" is referenced
as an authority and who wrote a history of that breed. Sound familiar?
Well the Clergyman is not the Reverand Hogan, and the breed is not the Irish Wolfhound
but I would understand if informed readers imagined that was the case
The clergyman author is the Rev. M. B. Wynn, who wrote the "History of the Mastiff,"
Now, informed readers might like to reflect upon the above writing snippet by Rev. M. B. Wynn
and compare how similar this Mastiff story is to Reverand Hogan's writing about a large Irish dog, taken to Rome as entertainment
in the arena. A nineteen hundred year old breed, known for their size, strength, and ferocity and used to erradicate wolves that overrun the country etc etc.
Interestingly, the Richardsonions are at pain to distance the Irish Wolfhound from the Mastiff,
whilst they acknowledge that the Mastiff was one of the several breeds crossed with the Irish
Wolfdof, thus the Mastiff existed in Ireland alongside the Irish "Wolfdog". Richardsonians
also seek to distance the Wolfdog from the Mastiff, stating that the Mastiff is of a different non-greyhound type.
The Richardsonians dismiss references to the Roman's large and ferocious dogs as being Mastiff type and argue that it was the Irish Wolfdog
Greyhound type that the Romans prized above all. Well, now we have two clergyman, each claiming
Roman history for their breed....
EXAMPLE 3. This extract is from Reverand Hogan's book which he cites as evidence of the "Irish Wolfdog" in 1653. We note also that the Mastiff existed and in Example 1 included the reference to the use of the Mastiff for the hunting and killing of Wolves. The name of the breed I blanked out in example 3 is not the Irish Wolfdog, but simply "Wolfdog", which Hogan opportunisictly offers up as a reference to the Irish Wolfdog. It's just a "name for a type of dog", it is not a reference to a specific breed of dog..
Another aspect of "Wolfdogs" back in the 17th century (and even earlier) is that Landowners in Britain "rented" small plots of land to tenants. A condition of that tenancy was that the tenant had to kill an agreed number of wolves and produce their heads to the landowner as proof of the kill. If the tenant failed to deliver the agreed number of heads, the Landowner would evict the tenant for failure to comply with the tenancy agreement. Dogs used to hunt the Wolf were not the exclusive property of the Irish! "Wolfdogs" have been used the world over to hunt and kill wolves and most of these "Wolfdogs" had nothing whatsoever to do with the Irish Wolfdog.
The reference that Hogan quotes is not about the Irish Wolfdog, it was about the British Goverments determination to rid Ireland of Wolves, whether by specific "Wolfdogs" or "a pack of hounds", the Goverment did not care, for practical and political reasons they wanted the wolves eliminated.
What is also noticeable by its absence in not only the Hogan writings, but by virtually every other historian on the breed, is a reference to the Irish Famines in the period of 1650's - 1850's, and in some cases, coupled with the plague which decimated the Irish population. In the Cromwellian era, England undertook a "land grab" giving Irish land to English sponsored landowners (of non-Catholic disposition). The native Irish population struggled to survive from the severe poverty and landowner burdens imposed upon them. One of the problems was that so many people died from starvation that writers documented the terrible situation of bodies being seen routinely rotting in the ditches and the wolves eating the corpses. Hogan wrote "that many of the orphan children then wandering about the country were fed upon by ravening wolves and other beasts of prey".
As is often the case with Hogan's writings, he is selective in what he includes and what he "excludes". For the objective of accuracy and clarity, herebelow, more fully is the relevent section from the "Declaration of the Council, 12th of May, 1653". that Hogan alludes to -
"Upon serious consideration had of the great multitudes of poore swarming in all parts of this nation, occasioned by the devastation of the country, and by the habits of licentiousness and idleness which the generality of the people have acquired in the time of this rebellion ; insomuch that frequently some are found feeding on carrion and weeds,—some starved in the highways, and many times poor children who lost their parents, or have been deserted by them, are found exposed to, and some of them fed upon, by ravening wolves and other beasts and birds of prey."
In fairness to Hogan, it may well have been that he was trying to be politically correct and avoiding controversy or antagonizing English readers by his being minimal in his mention of wolves eating children (which was one impact of the Cromwellian Settlements upon the native Irish people) which resulted from the Cromwellian period.
The noble referenced killed in Example 3 was Sir Piers Leigh II (killed at Agincourt 1415) and an ancestor of the family that bred the Lyme Hall Mastiffs for a couple of centuries. Interestingly I recently read an article in which an american writer complained about the Sir Piers/Agincourt story being published in every show catalogue, he was bored with the repetitive inclusion of this story..(Shades of "Gelert" methinks...)
The points arising from this snippet are several. The Mastiff breed, just like the Irish Wolfhound has its modern hero's of Nobility, the Mastiff breed of the 1800's was different to the breed of today. The original Mastiff "strain" had narrower heads, their muzzles were more tapered, and the colours were different, there were wide variations between Mastiffs 150 years ago
The Mastiff writer mentions that the Lyme Hall Mastiffs were different from the breed of today (subsequent research into the Lyme Hall Mastiffs reveals they were thinner, finer, lighter than other varieties of Mastiffs of their time). The point is, pre-dating pedigree'd dogs, all breeds, Mastiffs and Irish Wolfhounds included, involved a "variety" of breeding. The name "Mastiff" or "Irish Wolfdog" are not the names of "breed". They are a label attached to a "type" of dog.
Readers may be aware of the confusion in names such as "Staghound" vs "Deerhound". The former name often erroneously used in references to the latter. Similarly a "Wolfdog" could be Irish, or Russian (Borzoi) or other nationality. The attachment of the word "Wolf" to "Dog" merely represents its "function" that of hunting the wolf. In fact in Reverand Hogans book on the Irish "Wolfdog", the most oft used name for the legendary (variety) by Hogan was "Irish Greyhound".
Back to the Richardsonians who seek to distance the Irish Wolfdog from the Mastiff - Perhaps they were unaware of the "variety" within he Mastiff strains and unaware of the Lyme Hall Mastiffs with their narrower heads and more tapered muzzles?
(IWT editor note. For those that are interested, the information contained in the Examples 1 and 2, I obtained from the Rockport Mastiffs (British Columbia) website)