This section is from the book "The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland", by Rawdon B. Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: The Terriers.
"The Irish terrier is a cheap dog, is it not?" said a friend to me the other day. "I do not know about its cheapness," I replied; "but if you have a really good one it will bring a hundred pounds any time you want to sell it." And such is the fact. A first-class Irish terrier is worth almost as much as a fox terrier, and as a so-called marketable canine commodity ranks only after the latter, the collie, and the St. Bernard in value. He is a favourite dog, hence his worth.
His popularity has only come about during the past fifteen years or so; dog shows have been his fortune, and the Irish Terrier Club has no doubt assisted him to his high position. It was as far back as about 1882 that I was judging dogs at Belfast, and was then very much struck with the extraordinary character possessed by sundry Irish terriers which were brought into the ring; they included Mr. J. N. R. Pirn's Erin, perhaps the best all-round specimen of her race that ever lived, her progeny Poppy and Playboy, and there were several other typical terriers whose names do not occur to me. I became enamoured of the variety, and then prognosticated a popular future for them should they only breed fairly true to character and type, and be produced with ears that did not require cutting. That I was not far wrong is plainly in evidence, as the Irish terrier must certainly be placed as the second terrier in popularity at the time I write.
The early volumes of the "Kennel Club Stud Book" did not contain special classes for Irish terriers, they being grouped with the wire-haired fox terriers. However, in 1876 they had a division for themselves, in which there were nineteen entries, five of which were owned by Mr. G. Jameson, of New-townards. To prove how the variety has increased since then, attention need only be called to the two hundred and twenty names of Irish terriers that appear in the most recent volume of the Stud Book, published in 1893. In 1878 and 1879 Birmingham first arranged classes for Irish terriers, and in the latter year, when there were fifteen entries, Messrs. Carey, W. Graham, A. Krehl, and G. R. Krehl were amongst the exhibitors in the two divisions provided.
Before the dates named we look in vain for classes for Irish terriers at the leading shows out of Ireland. Such dogs were then, excepting by a few persons who knew them and kept them in their native country, considered mongrels, and so no doubt they would have continued had not their gameness and general excellence been suddenly discovered by the general public. That they are admirable companions cannot be denied, and one I have in the house now, a relative of champions, and by no means a bad-looking dog himself, is about as perfect a specimen of a dog of the London suburbs as can be imagined. But perhaps more of him anon, and any further remarks of my own shall be preceded by the opinions of one or two gentlemen who have given more attention to the Irish terrier than I could possibly have done, but that they are more ardent admirers of him I will not allow.
Mr. W. J. Cotton, of Blessington, co. Wicklow, who has bred and kept Irish terriers for a great number of years, writes characteristically of their origin as follows:
"To Sir Walter Raleigh, through potato skins, the Irish cottier, and hardships, we owe the Irish terrier. When Ireland was more thickly inhabited, there were small parties of cottiers grouped together; each had his cabbage and potato garden badly fenced, and each family spent the greater portion of their time round the turf hearth, watching the murphies boil. The circle was incomplete, and liable to be disturbed in their beloved indolence, without a dog, which was hissed on when the neighbouring pig or goat invaded the boundary of the estate. A large dog required too much support; one with some spice of pluck was, however, required in order to enforce its authority. The combination of Pat, pig, and potatoes, was conducive of rats - and rats of sport and rivalry. As such terriers were indiscriminately bred, and all ran wild, the dog with the most pluck exercised the largest influence on the breed.
"We can thus imagine the pups bearing the greatest resemblance to any particular champion were selected; hence in this respect the survival of the fittest. During the day, as described, these terriers lay at the fire, and at night, though the pig might be given a corner of the cabin, the terrier was shown the outside of the door to guard the larder, which was the potato pit, look after the general safety of the estate, and to find a bed in the ditch or butt of the haycock. Generations of this treatment developed them into the 'pine knots' they are.
"Driving along the roads any hour of the night, this state of things you will find still to exist, and it is a matter of wonder how the inmates sleep and quite ignore the choruses of howls on moonlight nights. I believe myself that the Irish garrisons distributed over the country the bulldog, which was used for crossing. As many native fanciers say, to this day, there is nothing like a "eras" of the bull, and I think the Irish terriers' disposition largely shows it. You find them still of all types, long in leg, short on leg, and long in body, and crooked in legs, and of all colours, red, black, blue, brindle, and those with tan legs often have the best coats. I know at the present time brindles showing more of the modern type as regards length of leg and general conformation than the other colours.
"There is a glen, Imaal, in the Wicklow mountains that has always been, and still is, justly celebrated for its terriers. It would be hard to specify their colour in particular - the wheaten in all shades to that of bright red. In Kerry I think the black blue is most prevalent; quite black very uncommon, and I hardly ever saw a good specimen that colour. Mr. Chas. Galway, of Waterford, the breeder of the celebrated greyhound Master McGrath, for years, long before the Irish terrier came into fashion, always kept and bred the variety, and I am told there was no getting one from him. I am also informed the coats of his terriers were rather inclined to curl, and that the dogs themselves were undeniably game.