This section is from the book "A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland. (Sporting Division)", by Rawdon Briggs Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: Sporting Division.
SOME there are who believe that this historical hound became extinct soon after the last wolf was killed in Ireland, which happened in 1710. Others hold the opinion that it never became extinct at all; but survives in the Scotch deerhound, with which they say it was identical. A third division have equally strong opinions, something between the two, which are to the effect that so recently as eighty or ninety years ago very few real Irish wolfhounds remained, and these not readily traceable back to the oldest strains; and some advocate the smooth greyhound as the true article. Then, to complicate matters still further, the Great Dane has become mixed up in the controversy, and one great authority has stated that the original wolfhound, or the dog from which he sprang, was brought over to Ireland in the sixth century, B.C., by the Celts, during their migration from the shores of the Black Sea. It has also been urged that the wolfhound and the Great Dane, as we know them now, had a common origin, and that they were the foundations of the mastiffs and other large dogs which, at a later period, had in a measure made Great Britain famous for its powerful and ferocious varieties of the canine race. Many authorities of the past generation write to prove that the Irish wolfhound, if not a Great Dane, was a smooth-coated creature very like him; and additional evidence that such was the case is to be found in the following instance.
Some eight or nine years ago, I was shown by the Earl of Antrim a life-sized painting of an enormous hound which had been in his family for about a hundred years. Through generations this had been handed down as a true Irish wolfhound, a noble creature that had saved the life of one of his lordship's ancestors under peculiar and extraordinary circumstances, so the faithful creature had its portrait painted. Now this dog was a huge southern hound in appearance, marked like a modern foxhound, with long pendulous ears, possibly an animal identical with the matin of old writers. The painting, which I believe is in the Kennel Club, gives the idea that the subject had, in life, stood about thirty-four inches high at the shoulders.
It was but natural, when I introduced this interesting discovery to the public through the columns of the Field, that discussion and controversy thereon would arise, and such was the case. Little new material as to the history of the Irish dog was elicited, and it was to be regretted that Lord Antrim could afford no further particulars as to the animal to which attention was first drawn.
The following is one of the many stories extant of the Irish wolfhound "at home." "In the mountainous parts of the county Tyrone, some time in the sixteenth century, the inhabitants suffered much from the wolves, and gave from the public fund so much for the head of one of these animals. There lived an adventurer, who, alone and unassisted, made it his occupation to destroy these ravagers. The time for attacking them was long after dark, and midnight was fixed upon for doing so, as that was their wonted time for leaving their lairs in search of food, when the country was at rest and all was still; then, issuing forth, they fell on their defenceless prey, and the carnage commenced. There was a species of dog for the purpose of hunting them called the wolf dog; the animal resembled a rough, stout, half-bred greyhound, but was much stronger. In the county Tyrone there was then a large space of ground inclosed by a high stone wall, having a gap at each of the two opposite extremities, and in this were secured the flocks of the surrounding farmers.
Still, secure though this fold was deemed, it was entered by the wolves, and its inmates slaughtered. The neighbouring proprietors having heard of the noted wolf hunter above mentioned, by name Rory Carragh, sent for him, and offered the usual reward, with some addition, if he would undertake to destroy the two remaining wolves that had committed such devastation. Carragh, undertaking the task, took with him two wolf dogs and a little boy twelve years of age, the only person who would accompany him, and repaired at the approach of midnight to the fold in question. 'Now,' said Carragh to the boy, 'as the two wolves usually enter the opposite extremities of the sheepfold at the same time, I must leave you and one of the dogs to guard this one, while I go to the other. He steals with all the caution of a cat, and you will not hear him, but the dog will, and will give him the first fall. If, therefore, you are not active enough when he is down to rivet his neck to the ground with this spear, he will rise and kill both you and the dog. So good night.' 'I'll do what I can,' said the little boy, as he took the spear from the wolf-hunter's hand.
"The boy immediately threw open the gate of the fold, and took his seat in the inner part, close to the entrance, his faithful companion crouching at his side, and seeming perfectly aware of the dangerous business he was engaged in. The night was very dark and cold, and the poor little boy, being benumbed with the chilly air, was beginning to fall into a kind of sleep, when at that instant the dog, with a roar, leaped across, and laid his mortal enemy upon the earth. The boy was roused into double activity by the voice of his companion, and drove the spear through the wolf's neck as he had been directed, at which time Carragh appeared, bearing the head of the other."
One might have expected to find something reliable and convincing as to what the Irish wolfhound really was in the "Sportsman's Cabinet," published in 1803. Here we have an excellent engraving from a picture by Reinagle, of a huge dog, an enormous deerhound in fact, the identical creature popular reputation stated such a dog to be. Unfortunately the letterpress describes quite a different animal - more of the Great Dane type than of the deerhound. And so the authorities who wrote at the time differed quite as much on the matter as do the admirers of the variety at the present time.