Irish Wolfhound Times
(Irish Wolfhound Database and Breed Information Exchange)
Early Irish Wolfhound History and Development
(By G.T.Blume (Australia)
Ed note: I recently received the folowing - "Hi Steve, Congratulations on your excellent articles and work in the Irish Wolfhound Times presenting a more factual/truthful history of this modern British breed. I wanted to let you know that I have researched the subject myself some years ago, and to offer some comments that you might find helpful. G.T.Blume (Australia)."Thank you Glenn for your kind of words. I appreciate correspondents such as Glenn who take time and effort to research a subject and then document their findings in thoughtful articles. Glenn's article is supported by some very helpful graphic illustrations of the breeding origins of several famous early Irish Wolfhounds. My thanks to Glenn for his article, posted below.
When researching the little known history of the Scottish Deerhound breed in the 1990s and then having some experience with dog shows etc, I encountered this odd story where the history on one long extinct dog breed was fully re-applied to another dog breed altogether.
I imagined that for that to occur, there must not be a lot of historically accurate archaeological / scientific research as far as dog breeds go, so this type of scenario might have happened in numerous other breeds.
As I continued to delve deeper in search of answers it became apparent that the fabrication as far as the Irish Wolfhound breed goes was by design over time for the purposes of gaining credibility and to achieve a marketable new breed - in this case an inspirational dog breed - attempting to be the tallest of all breeds.
I have concluded that the reasons that George Graham was not far more criticised in his life time was due to the following factors:-
1) Because he never actually claimed to possess any genuine Irish Greyhound/Wolfdog specimens, but he deliberately left enough seeds of doubt in his writing to open the way for people to assume that Graham had acquired some descendants of the extinct breed.
2) The only people knowledgeable enough to challenge him were mainly Deerhound breeders - who were either his personal friends/acquaintances or were Scottish people who were generally keen to not promote their own breed into greater popularity. (Hickman was one of the notable exceptions in criticising Graham publically)
3) The theory espoused by Richardson from the 1840s (who was then trying to write anything that would sell) that the Deerhound breed must be a descendant of the extinct Irish breed. In fact, Richardson was personally unfamiliar with the Deerhound until he saw one being shown. This theory gave some of Graham's associates real hope that by merely locating and using poorly bred deerhounds (from Ireland) in their breeding program, they could then make a case that they had some Irish Wolfdog/Greyhound blood in the breeding program - which of course was utter nonsense.
4) Conjecture (then) as to what the old breed looked like. (The conjecture was from people who either had a vested interest, or had never seen the extinct breed.)
In fact, there is an extraordinary amount of good evidence of exactly what the old Irish Wolfdog /Greyhound/ looked like in its heyday (in the 16th to early 18th century) , and it certainly did not look like an Irish Wolfhound.
5) Graham's secretive breeding program in the 1860s and 1870s. (His pedigrees were not published until much later, so he did not open himself to the criticism he would have otherwise received if details of his breeding was a more widely known.
Graham also threw some red herrings out there. For a time, he very loosely applied the term Irish Wolfhound to any large dog that was presented and looked a certain way, and the term was even applied to some Deerhound strains that it was considered might have had some distant ancestry to the old extinct breed. Even his foundation dog "Faust" (i.e. that he referred to as his Pedigree no 1 Irish Wolfhound), was a dog he acquired in England with no actual traceable ancestry to any old Irish breed at all.
Graham diplomatically, and cunningly, used the term "representative" breed. He wanted to evoke interest and support for his efforts amongst the Irish. He knew that while he was in no position to save the long extinct Irish breed he could feasibly adapt Deerhounds into the particular type that he aiming to achieve, purely for show qualities, and Richardson's theory gave him the justification to use Deerhounds as his primary source to modify.
To avoid any doubt, that the modern Irish Wolfhound breed has no direct relationship to the famous old extinct Irish breed, I was able to reasonably calculate the percentage composition of other established breeds in the early champion wolfhounds, based on Graham's own notes and further research. My research is quite detailed, so I have summarised the breed composition of four of the early champion dogs below.
I have concluded that if there was any of the blood of the old Irish breed in the original IWH dogs of the 1880s/90s produced by Graham and others, then it was so small as to be totally inconsequential - that is -significantly less than 1 percent. [And that is taking an optimistic position that some of the poor quality Irish bred Deerhounds he eventually acquired, might have had an Irish Wolfdog/Greyhound as a distant ancestor - however that link has never been established.]
Given that there have been more outcrosses used in the IWH breed since that time ( but none of them have any relationship to the ancient Irish Wolfdog/Greyhounds), it can be fairly concluded that the Irish Wolfhound of today has absolutely no association with any ancient Irish breed of hunting greyhound.
Determining the composition of the new breed at its starting point effectively debunks any conclusion that the Irish Wolfhound breed has an ancient linage, (except of course that its lines go back through other breeds such as the genuinely ancient and beautiful Scottish deerhound). Therefore any claim that Graham's breed is "a re-creation"; or "a revived" or "a resuscitation" or a "saving from extinction"; of the old Irish Greyhound/Wolfdog breed is totally false and misleading.
Having said all of the above, had it not been for the mis-applying of the earlier breed's famed history and legend on to his own dogs, the public interest in his new "Irish Wolfhound" breed would have been extremely low, and quite likely the breed would never have been established in the first place. That marketing has been effectually self perpetuating now for at least 130 years.
While much credit is due to George Graham's persistence in devising and cleverly promoting his beautiful and majestic British dog breed, I think it is still very unfortunate that the breed's history remains so misrepresented, while so many people including dog owners, and film makers have relied on these stories as being factually true.
Dermot Astore - Showing breed proportions (percentages are rounded to nearest 1%)
The table below details the composition of 8 foundation Irish Wolfhounds, based on a study of Deerhound and Irish Wolfhound pedigrees and additional research, taken.
from a 1997 research article that I prepared for an Australian dog club publication.
Extract from research "Irish Wolfdogs - Deerhounds - Wolfhounds - how they're related!"
Steve, I hope you and others find my comments and information of interest !
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