Irish Wolfhound Times
(Irish Wolfhound Database and Breed Information Exchange)
Dogs and All about Them By Robert Leighton 1910.
(Irish Wolfhound and Scottish Deerhound Chapters)
THE IRISH WOLFHOUND
It is now some thirty years since an important controversy was carried on in the columns of The Live Stock Journal on the nature and history of the great Irish Wolfhound. The chief disputants in the discussion were Captain G. A. Graham, of Dursley, Mr. G. W. Hickman, Mr. F. Adcock, and the Rev. M. B. Wynn, and the main point as issue was whether the dog then imperfectly known as the Irish Wolfdog was a true descendant of the ancient Cants graius Hibernicus, or whether it was a mere manufactured mongrel, owing its origin to an admixture of the Great Dane and the dog of the Pyrenees, modified and brought to type by a cross with the Highland Deerhound. It was not doubted—indeed, history and tradition clearly attested—that there had existed in early times in Ireland a very large and rugged hound of Greyhound form, whose vocation it was to hunt the wolf, the red deer, and the fox. It was assuredly known to the Romans, and there can be little doubt that the huge dog Samr, which Jarl Gunnar got from the Irish king Myrkiarton in the tenth century and took back with him to Norway, was one of this breed. But it was supposed by many to have become extinct soon after the disappearance of the last wolf in Ireland, and it was the endeavour of Captain Graham to demonstrate that specimens, although admittedly degenerate, were still to be found, and that they were capable of being restored to a semblance of the original type.
At the time when he entered into the controversy, Captain Graham had been actively interesting himself for something like a score of years in the resuscitation of the breed, and his patience had been well rewarded. By the year 1881 the Irish Wolfhound had been practically restored, although it has taken close upon a quarter of a century to produce the magnificent champions Cotswold and Cotswold Patricia, those brilliant examples of the modern breed—a brace of Wolfhounds who bear testimony to the vast amount of energy and perseverance which Captain Graham and his enthusiastic colleague Major Garnier displayed in evolving from rough material the majestic breed that holds so prominent a position to-day.
There is little to be gathered from ancient writings concerning the size and appearance of the Irish Wolfhounds in early times. Exaggerated figures are given as to height and weight; but all authorities agree that they were impressively large and imposing dogs, and that they were regarded as the giants of the canine race.
It seems extraordinary that so little should have been accurately known and recorded of a dog which at one time must have been a familiar figure in the halls of the Irish kings. It was no mere mythical animal like the heraldic griffin, but an actual sporting dog which was accepted as a national emblem of the Emerald Isle, associated with the harp and the shamrock.
As regards the origin of the Irish Wolfhound, more than one theory is advanced. By some authorities it is suggested that it was the dog which we now know as the Great Dane. Others hold that as there were rough-coated Greyhounds in Ireland, it is this dog, under another name, which is now accepted. But probably the late Captain Graham was nearer the truth when he gave the opinion that the Irish hound that was kept to hunt wolves has never become extinct at all, but is now represented in the Scottish Deerhound, only altered a little in size and strength to suit the easier work required of it—that of hunting the deer. This is the more probable, as the fact remains that the chief factor in the resuscitation of the Irish Wolfhound has been the Scottish Deerhound.
The result of Captain Graham's investigations when seeking for animals bearing some relationship to the original Irish " Wolfe Dogge " was that three strains were to be found in Ireland, but none of the representatives at that time was anything like so large as those mentioned in early writings, and they all appeared to have deteriorated in bone and substance. Sir J. Power, of Kilfane, was responsible for one line, Mr. Baker, of Ballytobin, for another, and Mr. Mahoney, of Dromore, for the remaining strain. From bitches obtained from two of these kennels, Captain Graham, by crossing them with the Great Dane and Scottish Deerhound, achieved the first step towards producing the animal that he desired. Later on the Russian Wolfhound, better known as the Borzoi, an exceedingly large hound, was introduced, as also were one or two other large breeds of dogs.
The intermixture of these canine giants, however, was not at first very satisfactory, as although plenty of bone was obtained, many were most ungainly in appearance and illshaped animals that had very little about them to attract attention. Captain Graham, however, stuck to his work, and very soon the specimens that he brought forward began to show a fixity of type both in head and in general outline. Brian was one of his best dogs, but he was not very large, as he only stood just over thirty inches at the shoulder. Banshee and Fintragh were others, but probably the best of Captain Graham's kennel was the bitch Sheelah. It was not, however, until towards the end of the last century that the most perfect dogs were bred. These included O'Leary, the property of Mr. Crisp, of Playford Hall. O'Leary is responsible for many of the best dogs of the present day, and was the sire of Mrs. Percy Shewell's Ch. Cotswold, who is undoubtedly the grandest Irish Wolfhound ever bred. In height Cotswold stands 34 inches and is therefore perhaps the largest dog of any breed now alive.
In 1900 Mr. Crisp bred Kilcullen from O'Leary, this dog winning the championship at the Kennel Club Show at the Crystal Palace in 1902 under Captain Graham. This was the year the Irish Wolfhound Club presented the hound Rajah of Kidnal as a regimental pet to the newly formed Irish Guards.
Rajah of Kidnal, who was bred and exhibited by Mrs. A. Gerard, of Malpas, was the selection of Captain Graham and two other judges. This dog, which has been renamed Brian Boru, is still hearty and well, and was at his post on St. Patrick's Day, 1909, when the shamrock that had been sent by Her Majesty Queen Alexandra was handed to the men.
Mrs. Gerard owned one of the largest kennels of Irish Wolfhounds in England, and amongst her many good dogs and bitches was Cheevra, who was a wonderful brood bitch, and included amongst her stock were several that worked their way up to championship honours; she was the dam of Rajah of Kidnal.
Besides Ballyhooley, Mr. W. Williams owned a good dog in Finn by Brian II. Finn produced Miss Packe's Wickham Lavengro, a black and tan dog that has won several prizes. Some judges are opposed to giving prizes to Irish Wolfhounds of this colour, but Captain Graham did not object to it. Finn was a very heavy dog, and weighed 148 lbs.
A hound that has been of great benefit to the breed in Ireland is Ch. Marquis of Donegal, the property of Mr. Martin.
Amongst the bitches that have been instrumental in building up the breed to its present high state of excellence is Princess Patricia of Connaught who is by Dermot Astore out of Cheevra, and is the dam of Ch. Cotswold Patricia. She is one of the tallest of her race, her height being 33 inches; another bitch that measures the same number of inches at the shoulder being Dr. Pitts-Tucker's Juno of the Fen, a daughter of Ch. Wargrave.
Mr. Everett, of Felixstowe, is now one of the most successful breeders. He exhibited at the 1908 Kennel Club show a most promising young dog in Felixstowe Kilronan, with which he was second to Mrs. Shewell's Ch. Cotswold, of whom he is now kennel companion. At the same show Miss Clifford, of Ryde, exhibited a good hound in Wildcroft, another of Dermot Astore's sons, and other supporters of the breed are Lady Kathleen Pilkington, Mr. T. Hamilton Adams, Mr. G. H.Thurston, Mr. Bailey, Mrs. F. Marshall, Mr. J. L. T. Dobbin, and Miss Ethel McCheane.
The following is the description of the variety as drawn up by the Club :—
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 he should otherwise 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 upward sweep, with a slight curve towards the extremity. The minimum height and weight of dogs should be 31 inches and 120 pounds, of bitches 28 inches and 90 pounds. 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 firmly to establish a race that shall average from 32 inches to 34 inches in dogs, showing the requisite power, activity, courage, and symmetry. Head—Long, the frontal bones of the forehead very slightly raised and very little indentation between the eyes. Skull not too broad; muzzle long and moderately pointed; ears small and Greyhound-like in carriage. Neck—Rather long, very strong and muscular, well arched, without dewlap and loose skin about the throat. Chest—Very deep, breast wide. Back—Rather long than short. Loins arched. Tall—Long and slightly curved, of moderate thickness, and well covered with hair. Belly—Well drawn up. Fore-quarters—Shoulders muscular, giving breadth of chest, set sloping, elbows well under, neither turned inwards nor outwards. Leg—Forearm muscular and the whole leg strong and quite straight. Hind-quartan—Muscular thighs, and second thigh long and strong as in the Greyhound, and hocks well let down and turning neither in nor out. Feet—Moderately large and round, neither turned inwards nor outwards; toes well arched and closed, nails very strong and curved. Hair—Rough and hard on body, legs, and head; especially wiry and long over eyes and under jaw. Colour and Markings—The recognised colours are grey, brindle, red, black, pure white, fawn, or any colour that appears in the Deerhound. Faults—Too light or heavy in head, too highly arched frontal bone, large ears and hanging flat to the face; short neck; full dewlap; too narrow or too broad a chest; sunken and hollow or quite level back; bent fore-legs; overbent fetlocks; twisted feet; spreading toes; too curly a tail; weak hind-quarters, cow hocks, and a general want of muscle; too short in body.
The Deerhound is one of the most decorative of dogs, impressively stately and picturesque wherever he is seen, whether it be amid the surroundings of the baronial hall, reclining at luxurious length before the open hearth in the fitful light of the log fire that flickers on polished armour and tarnished tapestry; out in the open, straining at the leash as he scents the dewy air, or gracefully bounding over the purple of his native hills. Grace and majesty are in his every movement and attitude, and even to the most prosaic mind there is about him the inseparable glamour of feudal romance and poetry. He is at his best alert in the excitement of the chase; but all too rare now is the inspiring sight that once was common among the mountains of Morven and the glens of Argyll of the deep-voiced hound speeding in pursuit of his antlered prey, racing him at full stretch along the mountain's ridge, or baying him at last in the fastness of darksome corrie or deep ravine. Gone are the good romantic days of stalking beloved by Scrope. The Highlands have lost their loneliness, and the inventions of the modern gunsmith have robbed one of the grandest of hunting dogs of his glory, relegating him to the life of a pedestrian pet, whose highest dignity is the winning of a pecuniary prize under Kennel Club rules.
Historians of the Deerhound associate him with the original Irish Wolfdog, of whom he is obviously a close relative, and it is sure that when the wolf still lingered in the land it was the frequent quarry of the Highland as of the Hibernian hound. Legend has it that Prince Ossian, son of Fingal, King of Morven, hunted the wolf with the grey, long-bounding dogs. "Swift-footed Luath" and "White-breasted Bran" are among the names of Ossian's hounds. I am disposed to affirm that the old Irish Wolfhound and the Highland Deerhound are not only intimately allied in form and nature, but that they are two strains of an identical breed, altered only in size by circumstance and environment.
Whatever the source of the Highland Deerhound, and at whatever period it became distinct from its now larger Irish relative, it was recognised as a native dog in Scotland in very early times, and it was distinguished as being superior in strength and beauty to the hounds of the Picts.
From remote days the Scottish nobles cherished their strains of Deerhound, seeking glorious sport in the Highland forests. The red deer belonged by inexorable law to the kings of Scotland, and great drives, which often lasted for several days, were made to round up the herds into given neighbourhoods for the pleasure of the court, as in the reign of Queen Mary. But the organised coursing of deer by courtiers ceased during the Stuart troubles, and was left in the hands of retainers, who thus replenished their chief's larder.
The revival of deerstalking dates back hardly further than a hundred years. It reached its greatest popularity in the Highlands at the time when the late Queen and Prince Albert were in residence at Balmoral. Solomon, Hector, and Bran were among the Balmoral hounds. Bran was an especially fine animal—one of the best of his time, standing over thirty inches in height.
Two historic feats of strength and endurance illustrate the tenacity of the Deerhound at work. A brace of half-bred dogs, named Percy and Douglas, the property of Mr. Scrope, kept a stag at bay from Saturday night to Monday morning; and the pure bred Bran by himself pulled down two unwounded stags, one carrying ten and the other eleven tines. These, of course, are record performances, but they demonstrate the possibilities of the Deerhound when trained to his natural sport.
Driving was commonly resorted to in the extensive forests, but nowadays when forests are sub-divided into limited shootings the deer are seldom moved from their home preserves, whilst with the use of improved telescopes and the small-bore rifle, stalking has gone out of fashion. With guns having a muzzle velocity of 2,500 feet per second, it is no longer necessary for sportsmen stealthily to stalk their game to come within easy range, and as for hounds, they have become a doubtful appendage to the chase.
Primarily and essentially the Deerhound belongs to the order Agaseus, hunting by sight and not by scent, and although he may indeed occasionally put his nose to the ground, yet his powers of scent are not remarkable. His vocation, therefore, has undergone a change, and it was recently ascertained that of sixty deer forests there were only six upon which Deerhounds were kept for sporting purposes.
Happily the Deerhound has suffered no decline in the favour bestowed upon him for his own sake. The contrary is rather the case, and he is still an aristocrat among dogs, valued for his good looks, the symmetry of his form, his grace and elegance, and even more so for his faithful and affectionate nature. Sir Walter Scott declared that he was "a most perfect creature of heaven," and when one sees him represented in so beautiful a specimen of his noble race as St. Ronan's Rhyme, for example, or Talisman, or Ayrshire, one is tempted to echo this high praise.
Seven-and-twenty years ago Captain Graham drew up a list of the most notable dogs of the last century. Among these were Sir St. George Gore's Gruim (1843-44), Black Bran (1850-51); the Marquis of Breadalbane's King of the Forest, said to stand 33 inches high; Mr. Beaseley's Alder (1863-67), bred by Sir John McNeill of Colonsay; Mr. Donald Cameron's Torrum (1869), and his two sons Monzie and Young Torrum; and Mr. Dadley's Hector, who was probably the best-bred dog living in the early eighties. Torrum, however, appears to have been the most successful of these dogs at stud. He was an exceedingly grand specimen of his race, strong framed, with plenty of hair of a blue brindle colour. Captain Graham's own dog Keildar, who had been trained for deerstalking in Windsor Park, was perhaps one of the most elegant and aristocratic-looking Deerhounds ever seen. His full height was 30 inches, girth 33J inches, and weight, 95 lbs., his colour bluish fawn, slightly brindled, the muzzle and ears being blue. His nearest competitor for perfection was, after Hector, probably Mr. Hood Wright's Bevis, a darkish red brown brindle of about 29 inches. Mr. Wright was the breeder of Champion Selwood Morven, who was the celebrity of his race about 1897, and who became the property of Mr. Harry Rawson. This stately dog was a dark heather brindle, standing 32I inches at the shoulder, with a chest girth of 34I inches.
A few years ago breeders were inclined to mar the beauty of the Deerhound by a too anxious endeavour to obtain great size rather than to preserve the genuine type; but this error has been sufficiently corrected, with the result that symmetry and elegance conjoined with the desired attributes of speed are not sacrificed. The qualities aimed at now are a height of something less than 30 inches, and a weight not greater than 105 lbs., with straight fore-legs and short, cat-like feet, a deep chest, with broad, powerful loins, slightly arched, and strength of hind-quarters, with well-bent stifles, and the hocks well let down. Straight stifles are objectionable, giving a stilty appearance. Thick shoulders are equally a blemish to be avoided, as also a too great heaviness of bone.
The following is the accepted standard of merit.
Head—The head should be broadest at the ears, tapering slightly to the eyes, with the muzzle tapering more decidedly to the nose. The muzzle should be pointed, but the teeth and lips level. The head should be long, the skull flat rather than round, with a very slight rise over the eyes, but with nothing approaching a stop. The skull should be coated with moderately long hair which is softer than the rest of the coat. The nose should be black (though in some blue-fawns the colour is blue) and slightly aquiline. In the lighter-coloured dogs a black muzzle is preferred. There should be a good moustache* of rather silky hair, and a fair beard. Ears—The ears should be set on high, and, in repose, folded back like the Greyhound's, though raised above the head in excitement without losing the fold, and even, in some cases, semi-erect. A prick ear is bad. A big, thick ear, hanging flat to the head, or heavily coated with long hair, is the worst of faults. The ear should be soft, glossy, and like a mouse's coat to the touch, and the smaller it is the better. It should have no long coat or long fringe, but there is often a silky, silvery coat on the body of the ear and the tip. Whatever the general colour, the ears should be black or darkcoloured. Neck and Shoulders—The neck should be long—that is, of the length that befits the Greyhound character of the dog. An over-long neck is not necessary, nor desirable, for the dog is not required to stoop in his work like a Greyhound, and it must be remembered that the mane, which every good specimen should have, detracts from the apparent length of neck. Moreover, a Deerhound requires a very strong neck to hold a stag. The nape of the neck should be very prominent where the head is set on, and the throat should be clean-cut at the angle and prominent. The shoulders should be well sloped, the blades well back, with not too much width between them. Loaded and straight shoulders are very bad faults. Stern—Stern should be tolerably long, tapering, and reaching to within 1} inches of the ground, and about 1J inches below the hocks. When the dog is still, dropped perfectly straight down, or curved. When in motion it should be curved when excited, in no case to be lifted out of the line of the back. It should be well covered with hair, on the inside thick and wiry, underside longer, and towards the end a slight fringe is not objectionable. A curl or ring tail is very undesirable. Eyes—The eyes should be dark: generally they are dark brown or hazel. A very light eye is not liked. The eye is moderately full with a soft look in repose, but a keen, faraway gaze when the dog is roused. The rims of the eyelids should be black. Body—The body and general formation is that of a Greyhound of larger size and bone. Chest deep rather than broad, but not too narrow and flat-sided. The loin well arched and drooping to the tail. A straight back is not desirable, this formation being unsuitable for going uphill, and very unsightly. Legs and Feet—The legs should be broad and flat, a good broad forearm and elbow being desirable. Forelegs, of course, as straight as possible. Feet close and compact, with well-arched toes. The hind-quarters drooping, and as broad and powerful as possible, the hips being set wide apart. The hind-legs should be well bent at the stifle, with great length from the hip to the hock, which should be broad and flat. Cow hocks, weak pasterns, straight stifles, and splay feet are very bad faults. Coat—The hair on the body, neck, and quarters should be harsh and wiry, and about 3 inches or 4 inches long; that on the head, breast, and belly is much softer. There should be a slight hairy fringe on the inside of the fore and hind-legs, but nothing approaching to the feathering of a Collie. The Deerhound should be a shaggy dog, but not over coated. A woolly coat is bad. Some good strains have a slight mixture of silky coat with the hard, which is preferable to a woolly coat, but the proper covering is a thick, close-lying, ragged coat, harsh or crisp to the touch. Colour—Colour is much a matter of fancy. But there is no manner of doubt that the dark blue-grey is the most preferred. Next come the darker and lighter greys or brindles, the darkest being generally preferred. Yellow and sandy-red or red-fawn, especially with black points—i.e., ears and muzzle—are also in equal estimation, this being the colour of the oldest known strains, the McNeil and the Chesthill Mcnzies. White is condemned by all the old authorities, but a white chest and white toes, occurring as they do in a great many of the darkest-coloured dogs, are not so greatly objected to, but the less the better, as the Deerhound is a self-coloured dog. A white blaze on the head or a white collar should entirely disqualify. In other cases, though passable, an attempt should be made to get rid of white markings. The less white the better, but a slight white tip to the stern occurs in the best strains. Height of Dogs—From 28 inches to 30 inches, or even more if there be symmetry without coarseness, which, however, is rare. Height of Bitches—From 26 inches upwards. There can be no objection to a bitch being large, unless she is too coarse, as even at her greatest height she does not approach that of the dog, and, therefore, could not well be too big for work, as over-big dogs are. Besides, a big bitch is good for breeding and keeping up the size. Weight—From 85 pounds to 105 pounds in dogs; from 65 pounds to 80 pounds in bitches.
Among the more prominent owners of Deerhounds at the present time are Mrs. H. Armstrong, Mrs. W. C. Grew, Mrs. Janvrin Dickson, Miss A. Doxford, Mr. Harry Rawson, and Mr. H. McLauchin. Mrs. Armstrong is the breeder of two beautiful dog hounds in Talisman and Laird of Abbotsford, and of two typically good bitches in Fair Maid of Perth and Bride of Lammermoor. Mrs. Grew owns many admirable specimens, among them being Blair Athol, Ayrshire, Kenilworth, and Ferraline. Her Ayrshire is considered by some judges to be the most perfect Deerhound exhibited for some time past. He is somewhat large, perhaps, but he is throughout a hound of excellent quality and character, having a most typical head, with lovely eyes and expression, perfect front, feet and hind-quarters. Other judges would give the palm to Mr. Harry Rawson's St. Ronan's Ranger, who is certainly difficult to excel in all the characteristics most desirable in the breed.
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