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wolfhoundWho wouldn’t fall in love with this warmhearted, hairy creature with enticing eyes at the first sight that we call ’Ír farkas’ in Hungary; internationally this breed is known as the Irish Woldhound? Even Romans mentioned the giant dogs which lived on the islands and were used to hount deers and wolves. They weren’t only partners when hounting; they were estimable escorts of pendragons and kings.

Irish Wolfhound was also known as Irish Wolfdog, Irish Greyhound, Irish Deerhound and Cú Mór (meaning ’Giant Dog’). The history of the breed is closely related to the history of the celts, though, irish wolfhound had already existed in Ireland before the Celts settled down on the island. The breeding of irish wolfhounds has also a close connection with the irish history.

The name Irish Wolfhound is quite recent and the hound can be traced back to at least 300AD. It has been called Irish hound, war dog or wolf dog. Only kings and the nobility were allowed to own the great Irish hound, and the number of dogs you could own depended on your position in the nobility.

The hounds were used as war dogs and as guards of property and animals. They were also used to hunt deer, boar, and wolves and were held in such high esteem that battles were fought over them.  The hounds were so greatly prized that they were frequently given as presents to important personages and often their collars and chains were of precious metal.

At the end of the XVIIth century and in the following period famine ruled in Ireland. Not just irish people but their dogs starved as well as the wolves. Thanks to irish wolfhounds and starvation wolves died out on the island. Thus, irish wolfhound were no longer essential; they lost their importance. The number of the dogs dramatically decreased; only a few noble lord kept them as their status symbol. On top of that an English ordinance created before 1798 declared that all unchained dogs should be killed. After the Irish rebellion of that year the head of dog was just as valuable as an Irish rebel’s or a catholic’s one. Those were terrible times. Wolves became extinct; irish wolfhounds became useless. A few of them remained as members of certain Irish families. According to the sources the breed’s history saw its decline at that time. They gradually lost their impressive height and their temperament changed in an unfavourable way. Irish families fighting for the future of this noble breed had no appropriate background; neither the lack of money and expereince, nor the circumstances answered the purpose and as a result these magnificent creatures became smaller and smaller.

The revolution

1841 meant a significant turn in the breed’s fortune. In May Captain H. D. Richardson published an article dealing with irish wolfhounds in Irish Penny Journal. He used the pictures of two dogs as illustrations; they were Brenda and Oscar. In the article he asserted that the Irish wolfdog and the Highland deerhound were one and the same breed, although much degenerated in the latter. He provides evidence to prove his statement. According to his theory Irish people settlet down in Scotland as well, and naturally their loyal dogs followed them. Though, the two rearings dissevered he still stated the two types were no two different breeds, since “it was almost impossible to make a difference”.  Little is known of Richardson's breeding programme but we keep him one of the saviours of irish wolfhounds.

Graham

Captain George Augustus Graham was a headstrong, obstinate man, no one can ever question his importance in the survival of irish wolfhound. He determined to bring the Irish wolfhound back to its former glory. His use of outcrosses included several surprassingly great deerhounds and slowly created his own type of irish wolfhounds. Captain Graham documented his breeding process with high stringency, also, he emphasized his overriding principle according to which he determined himself to cross only those dogs who bore the characteristic features of the ancient irish wolfhounds, meanwhile he avoided accidental matings. With crossing dogs in whose vains and blood they barrel the ancient blood of wolves -deerhounds, Great Danes, a borzoi and Tibetan- he originated today’s irish wolfhund; the huge, giant and gentle irish wolfhounds. This oddish phenomena bore within itself both the good and bad outcoming. Finally, the breed became the victim of fashion and negligence, despite of the fact that this breed is one of those ones that need the most attention, consideration and providence. For those who find their woulfhounds’ health important it’s inevitable to study carefully the puppy’s orginins and ancestors. No breeders may breed in order to get benefits!

All his dogs (except for two of them, who had only deerhound origins) were the descendants of Old Donagh Ballytobin, who was the only ‘pure’ irish wolfhound female of her age. His other well-known wolfhounds were Ch. Sheelagh, Ch. Dhulart, Ch. O'Leary.

sheelah

dhulart

oleary

Ch. Sheelah

Ch. Dhulart

Ch. O'Leary

Ch.Sheelagh –20 years later Old Donagh’s era- was described as an imposing irish wolfhound, who was worthy to be named the jewellery of the breed and breeding. In order to maintain Sheelagh’s unique head he and his son was crossed frequently with their direct descendants.

Ch O’Leary meant a new era in the history of irish wolfhounds. This dog –who is said to be the ’result’ of Graham’s breeding with no else interfering- has numerous descendants today as well. His real height is controversial; we don’t exactly how tall he was. It has a very simple cause: Graham used his ’own’ inch when measuring the dogs. Today it is said the O’Leary was approximately 81.28 cm high.

In 1879 the political situation was favourable enough and in the dog show held in Dublin organised by the Irish Kennel Club irish wolfhounds could participate. This dog show was like a milestone; it determined the following history of breeding of the irish wolfhounds, after the audience expressed their abuser opninion with a simple laugh.

In 1885 Captain Graham founded the irish Wolfhound Club. He played an important role in the sublimation and popularization of the breed until the very end of his life. In his last article he warned all the breeders not to lose their sense of responsibility and always act in a way which is the most appropriate for the breed’s future. If we want to come up to Captain Graham we mustn’t ignore his remonstrances. In his opninion no weak, fregile and small dogs should be bred. The ideal irish wolfhound is fast, determined and quiet as a cat. The brust should be deep enough for the heart and lungs to work freely. He suggested the judges excluding dogs from shows which have short and gappy hair; which are undeteremined; which have inheritable diseases and of which temperament is not satisfying.

During the Second World War most of the rearings disappeared. Even the luckiest and most wealthy breeders were forced to reduce the number of their dogs because of the lack of food. Ireland was neutral during the Second WW, thus the destruction didn’t have such impact in this country. Many famous English dogs emigrated to Ireland. Thus the Cooalfin and Ballykelly kennels; the Fianna kennel owned by Eileen Lait; the Devlin kennel owned by Mrs Wagner and Elsie Lachfords’s of Tralee kennel all moved to Ireland. From the ‘ashes’ of the last mentioned kennel Mrs james founded the Boroughbury kennel.

After the war refreshing the blood was the most important task. In America the ‘European imports’ played significant role in the future of the American kennels, and based on them many kennels were founded in the continent: Cragswood, Ambleside, Kyllibracken and Kihone kennels. Miss McGregor sent her female; Rory of Kihone as a present to the old country. Rory bore the most recent characteristic features of this bloodline, allowing the American blood mix with the European. Both English (Sulhamstead, Eaglescrag and Sanctuary) and Irish (Ballykelly, Nendrum, Ballytobin, and Killykeen) kennels possess the American blood, thanks to this act. Breeding has become more rapid and fast. Many dogs have been born with correct dentist, elegant movement, outstanding architecture, eyecatching coat and appropriate height in the Third Golden Era of the history of irish wolfhounds. Now, after 30 years, both human and dog are forced to face a new, much more dangerous threat. Corruption and the principle: ‘to win at whatsoever cost’ have much more harmful comsequences than war did. In our own selfishness we ignore Captain Graham’s principles and if we refuse to follow his work, the breed may see a new decline in its history. A new decline, which has already started.

While we are trying to outdo and outshine the other we always forget what the most important; the cooperation in order to maintain the breed’s glory.

For those who find their woulfhound’s health important, it’s inevitable to study carefully the puppy’s orginins and ancestors. No breeders may breed in order to get any kind of benefits! It’s good to win on shows, but we must never make the wrong decisions only because we want to possess one more cup!

 

Dogs used by Captain Graham:

Orosz agár - Borzoi

Tibeti masztiff

Skót szarvasagár - Deerhound

Német dog


Irish wolfhounds in Captain Graham's time:

 

The Irish Gre-hound from the Encylopaedia Britannica, 1797  The Irish Wolf-dog
by
W.P. Smith, 1835
Linda, from Hugh Dalziel's
British Dogs, 1880
Graham's Scot Cuchullin (Cuchulain)

Drawing by Mills of
Ch. Sheelah from 
The Dog, published 1892

The Rev. W.J.C. Lindsay's Tara

Merlin,
owned & possibly bred by Col. Garnier

Hecla from the Journal L'Acclimatation Ch. Dhulart

Dark Rosaleen  Keltair

Nookoo
born 16th June, 1892

Brian II Ch. Dermot Astore 

Bran II. Cheevra Luath Thiggum Thu Ch. O'Leary

Ch. Wargrave  Artara

Ch. Sportella
1897

Ch. Cotswold
1902

Wolfe Tone
born August 3rd, 1900

Ch. Leinster Aughrim Ch. Gareth  Silver King
(by Leinster ex Lufra Rhu)