Irish Wolfhound Club of America, Inc.

Revival of the Breed

From The Complete Irish Wolfhound, Revised Edition (2nd)

by Alma J. Starbuck

The SPORTSMAN'S CABINET, published in 1803, is illustrat­ed by very good engravings, after drawings from life by Rein­agle, a Royal Academician. Included is a spirited drawing of an Irish Wolfdog, which, though faulty in minor points, gives an admirable idea of what this grand dog was at that time. The drawing shows a gigantic, rough Greyhound of great power. The text says: "The Irish greyhound is of an ancient race, is still to be found in some remote parts of the kingdom, though they are said to be reduced in size even in their original climate." The original of the engraving is owned by R. Montagu Scott, one of the early supporters of the breed in the twen­tieth century, whose Ifold Kennels sent many fine Hounds into many lands.

There is evidence that at one time both smooth and rough coated Irish Hounds existed. Father Hogan gives a series of extracts on this and then leaves the reader to judge for him­self. A number of breeds have both smooth and rough coated varieties and have evolved that way (for example, the St. Ber­nard and the Collie). However, in the nineteenth century the rough coated Irish Wolfdog predominated, and after Graham's work, the rough coat was standardized.

The Irish conquered Scotland centuries ago and took their dogs with them. It may be said that the Irish and Scottish Hounds were really two strains of the same breed, altered by circumstances, use, and environment. Of the two, the Irish Hounds were probably the older, with the Scottish claiming the more direct descent. They have been distinct since the twelfth century.

By 1800 the old race was thinning out and comments re­garding "the last of the race" were to be heard. There exist­ed, indeed, three or four strains whose owners claimed for them the genuine Irish Wolfdog blood.

In 1841 H.D. Richardson wrote an article on the breed for an Irish journal and illustrated it. He was tremendously en­thusiastic and set out to prove that despite claims to the contrary, the Irish Wolfhound was still to be found in Ire­land. He collected and continued the breed and handed down not only the actual tradition but the actual strains to Sir John Power of Kilfane, Sir John and Mr. Baker of Ballytobin, and Mr. Mahoney of Dromore.

It was from these strains that Captain George Augustus Graham of Rednock, Dursley, secured specimens and by judicious outcrosses, chiefly with the Scottish Deerhound, sought to re­habilitate the breed. He kept up a constant inquiry for what­ever animals could show a descent from the right Irish fore-bearers.

Sir John Power and Mr. Baker were breeding from 1842 to 1873. The Kilfane strain came directly from the Richardson dogs and if it is true that these possessed the ancient ances­try, then the breed never became entirely extinct. Captain Graham fully believed in the authentic antiquity of these strains, and "in their day," these men, who said they had some of the true blood, were known as gentlemen of integrity. Had their beliefs been false, it could easily have been establish­ed then, and they proven guilty of misrepresentation. There­fore, it is undoubtedly true that the breed was not extinct in 1800, but that a remnant survived.

We know that there are always dissenters and that ugly rumors find their sustenance in politics, ignorance, and plain avarice. But when rumors have nothing on which to live, they ultimately die. We can agree with Father Hogan's quotation of the proverbial saw that "If it be not Bran, it be his brot­her."

Captain Graham began his work in 1862, and he deserves unlimited credit. He worked for twenty years before his ideal was attained, and the present Standard, to which the modern Hound subscribes, was drafted under his supervision in 1885. The Standard's continued validity is justified inasmuch as it was drawn up after exhaustive study of all old prints and his­torical references to the Wolfhound, and the findings care­fully sifted. The Standard describes the ancient Hound, and the present day effort is to breed the old Wolfdog in fullest perfection.

Patience and persistence marched with Captain Graham, and his work is an inspiration in the history of dog breeding. At first he concentrated on size, but it was long before he could secure uniformity of type. Toward the end of the last century a distinct improvement was achieved and finally O'Leary was whelped. A splendid dog, O'Leary's contribution to the breed is apparent, even to the present day.

In 1885 a club was founded to look after the interests of the breed, to protect and promote it. In the same year Captain Graham revised and completed his book on the Irish Wolfhound, which he had originally compiled in 1879.

In reference to outcrosses, Graham replied to his critics by saying, "I hardly think the breed will be any more "manu­factured" than has been the case with many that are now looked on as pure. "Recovered" would strike me as a more appropriate term and had it not been for this recovery many of our best national breeds would have disappeared altogether and it has not been accomplished without resorting freely to outcrosses."

This is true. Should it prove disturbing to new breeders of dogs, I can only say it behooves them to study the art of breeding and no better text book can be suggested than Kyle Onstott's book, THE ART OF BREEDING BETTER DOGS, recently re­vised, and published by Howell Book House. I have often told breeders about Lord Orford's crossing a Bulldog with one of his famous English Greyhounds, and how he had attempted end­less experiments to improve the blood but had been disappoin­ted until he made this Bulldog cross. It took seven genera­tions before he obtained by this cross the finest English Greyhounds of the day, dogs with "small ears, rattails, and skins almost without hair, together with that innate courage.. rather to die than relinquish the chase."

We know that in rebuilding the Wolfhound breed, Captain Graham used Deerhounds, but they are so closely allied in type as to hardly constitute an outcross. Captain Graham also introduced a single cross of Tibetan Wolfdog. He did not him­self use a Dane cross, but the Earl of Caledon, from whom Cap­tain Graham procured some hounds, had used a Dane, as had Major Granier.

I hold no brief for outcrosses -- the work that was need­ed has been done. It is finished. I mention Kyle Onstott's book as a matter of enlightenment, for I have run into confu­sion on the part of many breeders. Mr. Onstott explains Men­delism by saying, "It is an inescapable law. Used, it will lead to better dogs; abused, it will wreck any strain."

Captain Graham never forgot the type to which he was try­ing to keep true, and by breeding in and in on the true strains, he established their predominance over others. The first requisite in such a breeding plan is to form an ideal, which Captain Graham obviously did. Today, the knowledge of inheritance as transmitted by means of the genes and chromo­somes renders absurd our former attitude toward the pedigree and methods of analyzing it.

Miss Gardner says, "The fact that Graham's strains bred true in remarkably few generations proves not only that he must have done his work very cleverly, but that the type he was working on was a definite and potent one."

This part of the Hound's history can well close with the advice of the late Joseph A. McAleenan, sent to Walter A. Dyer in 1920 when the latter was about to write a new article on the breed: "I hope you are not going to write of the dog of past centuries. Write of the present dog. The field is large enough and the breed holds an interest that is purely modern. The old Irish dog has had his day and the bards of ancient Ireland have endowed him richly in their songs, weaving a romance about him that will never die. These old pagan songs are well worth reading and the wild rhythm of their cadence be­speaks strong men and momentous events. But it is the modern dog that counts now."

Hounds of the Heroes

Huge hound
Great hound
Gray hound and gaunt
Royally imperial
You tower above taunt.

Comrade of chieftan
Grim dog of war
Your frame has been heralded And hailed from afar.

From Rome of the Caesars
From Spain's classic bard
You've won kingly praises And knightly award.

The elk of old Erin
You brought to his knees
At the roar of your challenge The timber wolf flees.

Yet noble descendant
Of fierce fighting sire
You are playing tonight
With my child by the fire.

--William J. Dammarell

This page was last updated 03/25/2014.