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Native Dogs of Ireland

The Native Irish Dogs which have been developed down the centuries in the mountains, woods and bogs of Ireland are the legacy we have inherited from our forefathers. We are proud to feature the native breeds of Ireland at this year's Fest on Saturday from 2:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon/

There are nine Native Dogs of Ireland, two Hounds – Irish Wolfhound and Kerry Beagle, three Gundogs – Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Red Setter and Irish Red & White Setter, four Terriers – Irish Terrier, Irish Glen of Imaal Terrier, Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Kerry Blue Terrier.

Irish Red SetterThe Irish Red Setter was developed in Ireland as a working dog for hunting game.

The breed is derived from the Irish Red and White Setter and an unknown solid red coloured dog. It was a clearly identifiable type in the 18th century. The Irish Red Setter has evolved down the years into a hardy, healthy, intelligent dog, possessed of excellent working ability and great stamina.

The Irish Glen of ImaalThe Irish Glen of Imaal is very much a local dog, confined to the bleak area of the Glen of Imaal.

The farmers of this area, who were descended from soldiers given land in the 16th and 17th centuries as payment for service rendered to the British Crown, had to utilize their natural cunning an dexterity to survive in this harsh terrain. A dog, who could not pull his weight in the day-to-day struggle for existence would not be tolerated. So he had to spend long hours propelling dog wheels and was often pitted against other dogs in the dubious sport of dog fighting, customs now disappeared.

Irish Red and White SetterThe Irish Setter probably came to its own at the end of the 17th century.

It is not well known outside of Ireland that there are two breeds of Irish Setters, but is fairly certain, that the Red and White Setter is the older of the two, and that judicious selective breeding evolved the solid red colour. By the end of the 19th century, the Red Setter had virtually eclipsed the Red and White, which became so rare, that they were thought to be extinct.

Irish Soft Coated Wheaten TerrierThe history of the Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier has been somewhat obscured by its closeness to the other Irish Terrier breeds.

The Wheaten is probably the oldest of the four breeds. Its existence for at least 200 years can be inferred from textual references to ""soft-coated"" dogs. The relation of the modern Irish Terrier to the Wheaten, though less well documented, appears to have been the result of deliberate breeding experiments. So the humble Wheaten probably has a fairly mixed ancestry.

The Irish TerrierThe Irish Terrier

Ireland has produced four Terrier breeds, all of which are markedly different from terriers on the continent and in England. The dog now officially called Irish Terrier is possibly the oldest of the Irish terrier breeds but records are so scarce that it would be difficult to prove this conclusively. Before the 1880s the colour of the Irish Terrier had not been settled. Apart from red they were sometimes black and tan and sometimes brindle. At the end of the 19th century efforts were made to breed out the black and tan and the brindles so that by the 20th century all Irish Terriers showed the red coat.

Irish Water SpanielThe exact origins of the Irish Water Spaniel remain obscure.

Generally it is thought that Water Spaniels evolved from dogs that originated in Persia and came to Ireland via Spain. The first Irish reference to “ water dogs that pursue water fowl” dates from 1600, so we know that dogs with waterproof coats were used in Ireland even before the advent of the fowling piece. There is no real evidence of the ancestry of the Irish Water Spaniel except in its most peculiar feature-the rat tail. This feature appears in no similar dog and makes it very likely that the modern breed had an indigenous Irish ancestor.

Native Irish WolfhoundThe Irish Wolfhound

We know the continental Celts kept a greyhound probably descended from the greyhound first depicted in Egyptian paintings. Like their continental cousins, the Irish Celts were interested in breeding large hounds. These large Irish hounds could have had smooth or rough coats, but in later times, the rough coat predominated possibly because of the Irish climate. The first written account of these dogs was by a Roman Consul 391 A.D. but they were already established in Ireland in the first century A.D. when Setanta changed his name to Cu-Chulainn (the hound of Culann).

Kerry BeagleThe Kerry Beagle is one of the most ancient breeds of Irish dog.

Popularly thought to have descended from a dog known vaguely as “The old southern hound”. Next to the Irish Wolfhound the Kerry Beagle may actually be the oldest native Irish breed, it is generally assumed that the dog referred to as “GADHAR” in Old Irish texts may be the direct ancestor of the modern day Kerry hound.The name Beagle curiously enough is thought to be derived from the Irish word “beag” (meaning small) and certainly the Beagle is a small hound used to hunt small game like hares, whereas the Kerry Beagle was often used to hunt stag.

Kerry BlueIt is assumed that the Kerry Blue has been in the country for centuries, but because of its humble origins as a rat catcher and all-round farm dog, there are few, if any references to the breed before the 20th century.

The first probable literary references to the Kerry Blue dates from 1847 the author describes a bluish slate coloured dog, marked with darker blotches and patches, and often with the tan about the legs and muzzle. This blackish-blue Irish terrier was supposed to be prevalent in Kerry but it has been developed in other counties as well. This impressive balanced terrier with its beautiful soft blue coat has become popular worldwide and its reputation as an excellent working and companion dog agreed with the breed assessment as « well nigh perfect ».

– Source: Irish Kennel Club
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