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The Irish Wolfhound is the largest existing breed. In Ireland, their homeland, they are known as “the gentle giant”, this saying very accurately epitomizes the noble and magnanimous personality of these dogs. Another expression that depicts the Irish Wolfhound truthfully is “gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked”.

 It is said that these giant hounds developed in the British Isles as early as the end of the Palaeolithic era. The first archaeological findings with some similarity to the current Irish Wolfhound date from 7000 BC. Apparently the first peoples that arrived in what today is know as Ireland brought with them their giant hounds as guardians and as hunters of their provisions. Later, with the arrival of the Celtic tribes from the Middle East, they may have made the ancient giant to become their dog; this could be the reason why the Irish Wolfhound has become so closely related to the Celtic people. The Celts could have crossed the giant hound with their own Greyhound-like dogs that came with them from the Middle East. 

Stories associated with these giant dogs living with men in ancient Ireland date from as early as I BC. According to several sources, the Irish Wolfhounds (known then as Irish Wolfdog or Irish Greyhound) were allowed exclusively to kings and nobility. The number of dogs that each person was allowed to own varied largely with their social position. As an example, the Filids, professional storywriters who belonged to the lower strata of nobles were allowed only two Wolfhounds, whilst the chief of the Fian Army, Fionn Mac Cumall owned as much as three hundred adult Wolfhounds and two hundred puppies.

It is said that these dogs were used in battles to bring down the enemy from carts and horses and especially used for hunting the Irish deer, elk and wolves. Ancient Irish mythology is filled with legends about the braveness and courage of these hounds that were very much desired and highly appreciated, the ancient Irish Wolfhounds were frequently given as special gifts to foreign nobility and famous personalities.

An old and famous legend from 1210 AD tells that prince John of England (who was to become King) sent an Irish Wolfhound as a gift to Llewellyn, King of Wales. One day Llewelyn found Gelert, the dog covered with blood and thinking that the hound had killed his son, immediately ended the dog’s life. Llewelyn later found out what had really happened: Gelert had killed a wolf that had accidentally entered the child’s bedroom, thus saving his life. In Beddgelert where the dog is buried, a monument was built in honour to his braveness.

During XVI and XVII century and beginning of XVIII the practice of giving Irish Wolfhounds as gifts became more and more popular. Many hounds were sent to important personalities from outside Ireland, such as the Great Mogul, the Shah of Persia and Cardinal Richelieu. Also, many hounds were sent to Spain, and the King of Poland took an enormous number of these dogs back to his country. The drainage of animals outside their home country became so intense that in 1652 the exportation of Irish Wolfhounds was prohibited due to their scarcity.  

By the end of the XVIII century the wolves had become extinct in Ireland, this together with the famines that dramatically affected Ireland around this time and the diminishing of the Irish Wolfhound stock due to the big exports, resulted in the almost extinction of the breed. Only a few families kept some hounds as companion dogs.  

In 1862 Captain George Graham, a Scottish man who was very enthusiastic about the Irish Wolfhound, embarked in the difficult task of recreating the breed. There were very few specimens of the old bloodlines left and he had to resort to crossings with Scottish Deerhounds (a hound that is quite similar to the Irish Wolfhound but generally much lighter and which is said to descend from it) and with some Borzois. He also used males that were the result of crossings with Great Danes. Many of the dogs bred by Graham were exported to the United States. During the two World Wars it became very difficult to continue breeding the Irish Wolfhound and the breed ran the serious risk of getting trapped in a genetic bottleneck, this was because almost all of the living Irish Wolfhounds in the British Isles descended from one single dog, Clonboy of Ouborough. Fortunately, by the end of WWII some of the descendants of dogs that had been previously exported to the States were imported back to the British Isles in order to reintroduce fresh blood, this was the case of Rory of Kihone and Barney O'Shea of Riverlawn.

Captain Graham together with other Wolfhound enthusiasts and breeders funded the Irish Wolfhound Club in 1885 and the breed was recognized by The Kennel Club in 1925. Also in 1902, the Irish guard adopted the Irish Wolfhound as their regimental mascot and the breed has continued playing that role ever since.



JUPP, Hilary. Article published in   www.irishwolfhoundsociety.co.uk/breedhistory.htm

MC. BRYDE, Mary. 1998. The Magnificent Irish Wolfhound. Ringpress Books, Surrey.


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