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.
"My terriers sometimes spend a day in digging out a rat; they go in hammer and tongs, and make a great show of having it out at once, but there is a method in their madness, as they keep an eye on the bolt holes, and after a vigorous scratch, jump up every now and then to see if the rat is trying to escape at the holes either above ground or those below the water line.
"The Irish terrier is of little use in rabbit shooting; it is dangerous for the dogs, as they are too near the same colour as the rabbit, and as a rule run mute. I myself have more than once put up the gun at one of the terriers, mistaking it for a hare. They are also too large to penetrate the rabbit runs in the brambles, and the meuses in our whitethorn laid hedgerows often check them. I have killed ten couples in a day by blocking the holes up and hunting the rabbits down. Irish terriers are keen enough and dead game, try their hardest to kill, but much as I love them I am compelled to say that they are not so good for rabbiting as beagles or small fox terriers, chiefly on account of their size and colour.
"I have seen it stated that an Irish terrier could catch a hare; so it perhaps might if the hare had a trap to a leg, or was sick and poorly, but as there are some hares that a greyhound cannot kill on their own ground, it is not likely an Irish terrier could run down even an ordinary hare. Nor is it part of his duty to do so. Here is an account of a trial or two between an Irish terrier and a fox terrier noted for its skill in rabbit coursing:
"We slipped them in a stubble field. Just at the end the hare stopped to pick her run, and was out of sight when the terrier got through. The next slip was on a fallow, the hare having about ten yards start, at the end of the field there was a considerable slope up-hill. After 'puss' had got about 150 yards ahead, we saw her look round and wait until the terriers got to within a yard or so, and then jump on one side and quietly jog away out of sight.
"I do not know a better companion for the man or woman who only keeps one dog than an Irish terrier, as he is easily trained, and in the house is most affectionate and thoroughly cleanly. To see him play with children, or guard them, is a pleasure. I have had some scores of Irish terriers, and I never yet saw one turn on or snap at a child. I had six out with me one day, and called at a friend's house where a children's party was being held. The dogs ran on the tennis lawn, and the little ones caught them and rolled them over. One dog, recently bought, had always been kennelled until he came to me, so I was afraid he might resent being pulled about, as he was of rather a quick temper, but to my surprise he enjoyed the romp, which was more than some of the mothers of the children did".
Mr. Barnett does not allude at length to the natural tendency some of the Irish terriers have to retrieve and fetch and carry. Barney, my dog in the house at Brixton, is never happier than when bringing the daily paper into the sitting-room from downstairs, where the boy has left it. A curious habit, too, he has. He may be waiting at the gate, and, seeing me in the distance, he will pick up any little piece of newspaper he finds in the roadway, and fetch it, though a mere scrap, but brought so tenderly between the lips as to leave not the slightest mark or dampness.
Barney, however, excelled himself one day when he brought into the house a teacup containing an egg. The former was carried by the rim, and carefully deposited into the hands of my housekeeper, the egg uncracked, the feat a record. One of the neighbours had given them to the dog, who evidently thought he could not do better with the presents than hand them over to his best friend. He was never trained to retrieve and fetch and carry; the accomplishment is a natural one.
I can also speak personally of the capabilities of the Irish terrier as a water dog, for I have seen puppies at four months old swim across a strong stream fifty yards wide, follow the older ones hunting, and as keen "on rats" as the fully grown dogs could possibly be. These juveniles would also kill rabbits, and generally their precocity was quite astonishing. But it must be borne in mind that these young "Irishmen" had not been reared in kennels, they, on the contrary, having a free range in which to play, and where they could hunt either rats or rabbits when so inclined.
Mention may be made here of an Irish terrier who, perhaps, rejoiced in the name of Rags. Anyhow, he was a performer on the stage, his great feat being turning somersaults, which he did backwards, and, as a variety, turned "double somersaults," the latter I fancy about as difficult a feat as any dog ever attempted and performed successfully.
Before proceeding to the description and points of the Irish terrier, the following notes by Mr. W. C. Bennett, of Dublin, will perhaps be interesting, although they go over much the same ground as that which we have already traversed.
"From what I have been able to gather from those who, like myself, are interested in this variety of the canine race, and from what I can recall of early specimens, I have come to the conclusion that the present show terriers are a more or less 'made up' breed, though doubtless a variety of terrier existed, resembling the present dogs, somewhat as a half-bred filly resembles a thoroughbred mare.
"My first recollection of the breed dates back some thirty years, to a brace of bitches owned by a relative residing in Parsonstown, who procured them from a trainer on the Curragh. They were high on the leg, somewhat open in coat, and wheaten in colour, and this latter is, I have always considered, the proper shade for the jacket of any Irish terrier. Most of the earlier specimens exhibited were of this hue, the bright red now, or recently, so fashionable being almost unknown. About the same time, or a few years later perhaps, I made the acquaintance of a rare old stamp of bitch, which was brought from the North of Ireland, and many a day's outing we had together; she was harder and closer in coat than those mentioned above, coloured bright wheaten, and nearer in shape and character, and in all respects, to the present show type than anything else I saw at that period.