Of all the Irish breeds, it’s generally accepted that the Irish Wolfhound is probably the oldest.
Or is it?
Many cynologists believe the Kerry Beagle is at least as old as the Irish Wolfhound, and maybe even older because when the Celts arrived in Ireland, these dogs were with them. Over time, the Celts refined their dogs by crossing them with Southern and French hounds, but over centuries, the breed has always been known as a “beagle.” That said, Kerry Beagles have never been as small as the Beagle we know today. In fact, the average weight of a Kerry Beagle is 60 pounds.
Kerry Beagles were traditionally hunted with larger hounds, the Kerry Beagle’s job to track game with its excellent nose, and the actual hunting left to the bigger dogs.The breed has such outstanding hunting abilities that in present day Ireland, the Kerry Beagle is commonly called, “Pocadan” which describes it as a hunting dog.
These days, the breed is used mostly in drag trials, or to hunt hare on foot; in Ireland, this type of hunting is done for fun, and not to actually bag a hare, the dogs being called off by the hunt master before a hare gets in actual danger of being caught.
The great hunger in Ireland in 1847 lead to many Kerry Beagles dying of hunger, and the Land Wars later in the 19th century made things worse, if that was possible. An organized campaign to stop fox hunts crossing the lands of tenant farmers included leaving poisoned meat along roads and fields for Kerry Beagles to eat. Kennels were raided at night, and many dogs had their throats cut. There was a serious decline in breed numbers, and the breed nearly went extinct. Happily, the breed’s popularity eventually did increase. It was formally recognized by the Irish Kennel Club in 1991, but as we understand it, only one unified pack remains in the whole of Ireland today.
Kerry Beagle image: W. E. Mason – Dogs of all Nations, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6800957