This section is from the book "British Dogs: Their Varieties, History, Characteristics, Breeding, Management, And Exhibition", by Hugh Dalziel. Also available from Amazon: British Dogs.
The enthusiasm characteristic of Irishmen has, within the last few years, brought this terrier to the front with a dash.
Lovers of the breed, those who best knew its inherent good and useful qualities, worked hard, and patiently to gain for it public recognition as a distinct variety, and laboured long before success crowned their efforts.
Many influences hindered the advance of the Irish terrier in public esteem, and not least among these may be reckoned the internecine war carried on in the public prints by the fanciers of the breed, with all the gusto with which Irishmen are supposed to fight.
The law of compromise in debateable points was at first ignored, and, it is to be feared, is still but partially recognised and acted upon among them, although the formation of the Irish Terrier Club has done wonders in welding into unanimity opinions and prejudices which it appeared impossible to harmonise.
If the leaders themselves were for long irreconcilable in their opinions as to what an Irish terrier was, or should be, it is not to be wondered at if this added to the confusion in the public mind. Classes for the breed were instituted at the principal Irish and some of the Scotch dog shows, and as every Irishman who owned a terrier thought - and small blame to him - that he possessed the genuine article, the benches were filled with animals of the most astonishing diversity of character; and the critics and the public, who looked at them as the supposed representatives of a distinct breed, were principally struck with the intense mongrelism exhibited by them as a whole.
The impression thus produced was greatly strengthened by the contradictory decisions of judges; and I confess that, between the war of words raging between breeders and the eccentric awards alluded to, it was some considerable time before I could get fixed in my mind the ideal of an Irish terrier as now accepted by all the best breeders and exhibitors.
Of those who have done so much to popularise this useful hardy terrier, I may mention as among the pioneers Messrs. Morton, Erwin, Ridgway, Montgomery, Jamison, Crosbie Smith, and Dr. Marks, some of whom are still prominent in the fancy with their able coadjutors in forwarding Irish terrier interests - Messrs. A. Krehl, G. R. Krehl, Despard, Dr. Carey, and others.
The first practical step that produced marked results in consolidating the conflicting interests and influences that had previously hindered the true progress of the breed, was the drawing up of a standard, agreed to and signed by twenty-five breeders and exhibitors, for publication in "Dogs of the British Islands."
"Stonehenge" had refused to recognise in his book a dog about which no two seemed to agree, and which he believed in no way differed from the old Scotch terrier commonly met with in England in the early part of the present century.
At the request of some friends - Irish terrier fanciers - I endeavoured to mediate in favour of a recognition of the breed in so important a work, and found that the author had taken the wise resolve to publish, on condition of a standard being drawn up and agreed to by a sufficient number of breeders, so as to ensure unanimity. The next important step was getting separate classes instituted for them at Kennel Club shows, and in the attainment of this end I also had the pleasure of acting as an advocate. These classes filled well, and with a higher bred and more level lot than I had ever previously seen shown, and led, I think, to that most important step, the formation of the Irish Terrier Club, which has done so much to improve and popularise the breed. To Mr. G. R. Krehl, I believe, belongs the chief honour of founding the Club, and certainly to his untiring energy much of its success is due.
In general appearance the Irish terrier is not taking, except to the eye of those who can detect merit under an unpolished exterior; but as so many warm and generous hearts beat under "cloth of frieze," so under the rough unkempt coat of the Irish terrier there is a spirit of "derring-do," a strength of affection for his master equal to his pluck, and a stamina that carries a little racing-like wiry frame through the hardest of days.
As a terrier he is bred too large for going to earth after the smaller vermin, but for all above ground work he is unexcelled, although not as injudicious admirers will have it, unequalled; added to his undeniable "varmint" look, his racing build shows speed and nimbleness, most useful qualities in rabbitting, ratting, and kindred sports. They are excellent, too, as water dogs, and the coat short and hard, with a close soft inner jacket, is a first rate wet resister.
Irish terrier fanciers have not been free from the weakness of claiming for the breed a long and pure descent.
Mr. Ridgway says: " It is a pure breed indigenous to Ireland," that it "has been known in Ireland as long as that country has been an island, and I ground my faith on their age and purity on the fact that there exists old manuscripts in Irish mentioning the existence of the breed at a very remote period."
Surely man never yet "grounded his faith" on a more slender basis. The patriarch Job, in an old manuscript written in a language older than Irish, refers to the " dogs of his flock," so when his descendants take to sheepdog showing they may "ground their faith " in the antiquity and purity of their colleys by Mr. Ridgway'a example, and with as much logical and historical support. In English manuscripts of the 13th century, the existence of terriers in this island is referred to, but which, if any, of the numerous varieties we now have, approach in form the dog of that time it would be difficult to say.
No matter whether the terrier under consideration was "indigenous" to Ireland, or whether he is of still more ancient blood, a true Milesian engaged in worrying Grecian rats before Ireland was the island of the Irish, Mr. Ridgway did a vast deal better service to the breed by drawing up a standard of excellence and code of points descriptive of the dog than by vain attempts to prove his long and pure descent.