Description & History

The Irish Wolfhound is the national dog of Ireland. The origin of the breed is obscure, although it is believed the precursors of today's hounds, date back to well before the Christian era.

The first reference to the breed was in 391 BC when several Irish Wolfhounds - probably large Greyhounds - were taken to Rome and "all Romans viewed them in wonder".

Large hounds, probably the ancestors of both the Scottish Deerhound and the Irish Wolfhound, were used by the Irish kings and nobles for the pursuit of wolf, wild boar and Irish elk.

Until 1841, when reference was made to hounds "with untidy coats of soft curly hair" the breed appears to have been a large and smooth coated hound.

In the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, when English monarchs requested that "Greyhounds" be sent from Ireland to England, they almost certainly meant Irish Wolfhounds. In 1658, when they were known as Wolfdogs, Oliver Cromwell ordered a ban on the export of these hounds from the British Isles, as their numbers were on the decline and they were needed in England to keep the wolf population under control.

With the disappearance of the wolf from Scotland and Ireland in the eighteenth century, the Wolfhound became almost extinct.

In 1862 Captain George Graham, on his return from India, began re-establishing the Wolfhound by crossing a few survivors of the breed with the Scottish Deerhound and other breeds,including the Great Dane and probably the Borzoi.

In 1902 Captain Graham, who had done so much for the breed, was asked on behalf of the Irish Wolfhound Club to choose an Irish Wolfhound which could be presented to the Irish Guards as their mascot. A member of the breed is still the mascot of the Irish Guards and is seen on parade with the regiment every year on Saint Patrick's Day.

Rosamund Walters.

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