The Irish “Wolf Dog’s” first Reliable Mention

Many of our dog breeds have been touched by the influence of the clergy, whether it’s through development (Reverend John “Jack” Russell and his Parson Russell Terrier), preservation ( during the Middle Ages, Greyhounds were saved from extinction during times of famine by clergymen who protected them and bred them for the nobility), association (the relationship between the Dalmatian and the Dominican order), or simply by observation.  One of the first reliable descriptions of an Irish Wolfhound, for example, comes from a Jesuit priest, Saint Edmund Campion, who wrote a history of Ireland in 1570. In it, he wrote, “They [the Irish] are not without wolves and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone than a colt. The Irish wolfhound is similar in shape to a greyhound, bigger than a mastiff and tractable as a spaniel.”

Hundreds of years later – in 2012, in fact, the Irish Kennel Club asked the Irish government to provide protection to the country’s native dog breeds with a request that special attention be given to the Irish Wolfhound. In its submission to the Government, the club stated that this breed had been “kept by the Irish for centuries”; that it was “a symbol of our national heritage”; and that its origins “stretch back into the mists of Irish time.” Indeed, in the 15th century, each county in Ireland was required to keep 24 “wolf dogs” to protect farmers’ flocks from the ravages of wolves. A legacy, indeed.

We conclude with a poem:

The Irish Wolfhound Behold this creature’s form and state!
Him nature surely did create,
That to the world might be exprest
What mien there can be in a beast;
More nobleness of form and mind
Than in a lion we can find:
Yea, this heroic beast doth seem
In majesty to rival him.

Yet he vouchsafes to man to show
His service, and submission too –
And here we a distinction have;
That brute is fierce – the dog is brave.
He hath himself so well subdued,
That hunger cannot make him rude;
And all his manners do confess
That courage dwells with gentleness.

Catherine Phillips (1660) Taken from “Anecdotes of Dogs”, by Edward Jesse (1858)

Image: “Supplication” by Cecil Charles Windsor Aldin (1870-1935) is available as wall art, lifestyle items, and home decor here


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