1. Irish wolfhound
The Irish Wolfhound is without doubt the most famous of the Irish breeds. The breed is summed up easily in its historic motto ‘gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked’. Once known as The Great Hound of Ireland, it is thought that the Wolfhound arrived with the Celts, who were present in Ireland around the 3rd century BC.
2. Irish soft-coated wheaten terrier
Wheaten Terriers were originally bred as an all-purpose farm dog. As with many of Ireland’s native breeds, very little is known about the origins of the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, although old pictures and records have allowed us to trace them back at least 200 years. Seen as the poor man’s dog, Wheatens were shunned by wealthy landowners and gentry who preferred to keep the Irish Wolfhound, a status symbol in Irish society
3. Kerry beagle
The Kerry Beagle is a scent hound, developed primarily for the tracking of stag, but today is used for the tracking of hares, foxes and other small game. Not your average beagle, it is unclear why the name ‘Beagle’ is attributed to this breed. Actually, the Kerry Beagle is better qualified as a hound. Despite the fact that this breed has never been as small as a beagle, the name has stuck.
4. Irish Glen of iMaal terrier
The Glen can be summed up in one phrase: a big dog on short legs. Its size can be deceptive, and although small in stature (only 30–35cm at the shoulder) they can weigh approximately 16kg. This unusual body form allowed the dog to remain close to the ground in order to scent prey and also to fit down narrow dens and sets in search of quarry. The name of this breed points to its geographical origins in a remote valley, the Glen of Imaal, which is situated in the northern part of the Wicklow Mountains.
5. Irish water spaniel
The Irish Water Spaniel is the largest of the spaniels, ranging in height from 53cm to 59cm at the wither and weighing 25kg to 29kg. A sturdy and cobby dog, the Irish Water Spaniel is ruggedly built, with webbed feet to aid in swimming.
6. Irish terrier
During the World War I, the Irish Terrier showed its usefulness, when, due to their extraordinary intelligence and fearlessness, they were trained as guard dogs and messengers for soldiers. On the battlefield the dogs were referred to as ‘Micks’ or ‘Paddys’, and it was said that the Irish Terrier could work longer and harder on a bowl of biscuits than ‘any other living creature’.
7. Kerry Blue terrier
Seeing a Kerry Blue in full show trim is a spectacular sight, and the coat is a key feature of the breed. Their coat comes in several shades of blue, but pups are born black, turning progressively blue/grey as they mature.
Michael Collins was both an owner and exhibitor of the Kerry Blue Terrier. Collins’ best-known Kerry Blue was named ‘Convict 224’. Collins even attempted to elevate the Kerry Blue to the status of the National Dog of Ireland.
8. Irish red and white setter
Originally in Ireland, setting dogs came in a variety of colours, with most being red, particolour red and white, or nearly all white. These colours were interbred readily, and so all setting dogs in Ireland, regardless of colour, were classed under the umbrella term ‘Irish Setter’. In the mid-19th century the red and white coloured dogs suffered a sharp decline in popularity and numbers reached such low numbers that many thought the breed extinct. It was only with the great efforts of Irishman, Rev. Noble Huston, that the breed survived extinction.
There can be no doubt that the Irish Red Setter is one of the most beautiful and graceful of all breeds. The Irish Red Setter is a gun dog, and searches for game silently and methodically. When the dog comes across prey it freezes, rather than giving chase.
Taken from Native Irish Dogs by Shane McCoy & Colin White, published by Currach Press. €19.99, hardback. Buy it here. ISBN 9781782188483