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.
"Few people in those early days gave much attention to the appearance of their terriers, and if they were game, and good at destroying rats and other vermin, they would be kept and bred from, and as these terriers were principally owned by farmers and cottiers, who kept one or two roaming about their houses and farms, they were hardly likely to be very select in the matter of breeding. Even to this day, in parts of the country, one comes across this old breed, as often as not with tails undocked, and sometimes, alas, showing a dash of greyhound blood. Many of them, too, are brindled in colour, and certainly smart terrier-like animals.
"I have several times been assured by those from whom I sought information, that a special strain of Irish terriers was kept in their families for generations, and they usually described them as wheaten coloured, open coated, with long, punishing jaws, and I was shown by a friend of mine (lately deceased) a game-looking wheaten coloured bitch, long and low on the leg, with a very open coat, long, level head, with little or no stop visible. The owner claimed to have had her breed for over thirty years in his family. I can vouch that she would fight until nearly killed, if once provoked.
"County Wicklow lays claim to a breed of what were so-called Irish terriers; they frequently showed a blue shade on the back, were long in body, and rather short on leg, and even so recently as the year 1887 a class was given at the show held in Limerick, for silver-haired Irish terriers, the specimens exhibited being a slate blue colour. They were not to my mind a distinct variety, nor very terrierlike in appearance, and I believe the difficulty in getting a uniformity of type when breeding from the very best blood obtainable is proof positive that more than one strain was used in producing the present fashionable dog.
"In the first collection I saw in the Exhibition Palace Show, held in Dublin early in the seventies, there were scarcely two of the same size or weight exhibited, and with few, very few, exceptions they were a rough lot.
"Mr. P. Flanaghan, of Dublin, had many of the old sort, and game ones they were. He used them for badger drawing, and in the National Show alluded to, he exhibited a bitch, Daisy, which was described in the catalogue as 'well known to be of the purest and gamest breed in Ireland.' Mr. Cotton, of Blessington, also possesses terriers descended from stock for many years in his possession, and owned by him before classes were given at shows for them. His Cruisk (who won prizes in Dublin and elsewhere) is, however, as unlike the earlier sort as possible, as he is a neat terrier-like dog, with beautifully carried ears, and a hard, crisp coat - a charming dog brimful of character.
"I have seen and owned puppies by the celebrated Killiney Boy, and by dogs tracing from him, with short coats and black hairs. The old dog was open in coat, with a grand terrier head, straight in hocks, but a game little tyke, and died fighting - being killed in a kennel row. He had grown quite white in face and chest when last I saw him; and many of his strain, earlier in life than is the case with most other dogs (like the Palmerston strain of Irish setters), grow grizzled about the head.
"A glance at the pedigree of almost any of the noted winners of the day will serve to show how much Killiney Boy did to bring the breed to its present form, as few pedigrees are without his name, and many of them on both sire and dam side trace back to him. Curiously enough, the short-haired mahoganycoloured specimens often prove very serviceable when bred from, and throw pups with plenty of coat, and this I have proved myself, and heard other breeders assert. Mr. Barnett's Benedict (brother to Champion Bachelor) was a notable instance of this, being very short in coat on body and sides, and he probably got as many winners on the bench as any dog of this variety.
"The north of Ireland was the stronghold of the Irish terriers for many a day, and still holds its own, with Mr. William Graham to aid it. Even there I should doubt if a pure descent of Irish terrier could be traced back for thirty years, as so long ago no one cared to go to the trouble of breeding them to one uniform type, and those who used them for fighting purposes crossed them with the bull terrier to increase their gameness and punishing power.
"Wexford, Dublin, and other parts had strains of their own, and when classes were formed at shows, and good prizes offered, fair specimens of the old sort were to be had, which, with judicious mating, produced a level and neat terrier, but these, as before observed, frequently threw back to the old stock, and sometimes a rough, open coated puppy still appears in the best bred litters, differing from all his brothers and sisters. Strange to say the freedom from stop, which is one of the characteristics of the present dog, was highly thought of in the dogs bred in former days, and as the ears were almost invariably cropped it mattered little how they came, but if uncut were usually heavy and carried low on the head.
"A glance at the earlier show catalogues confirms what I have written above as to the doubtful breeding of the earlier terriers.
"Take the Exhibition Palace Show at Dublin in 1874. Here classes were divided as 'dogs and bitches exceeding 91b., and dogs and bitches under that weight;' in the former class ten competed, and half that number had no pedigree assigned to them; in the latter class only three competed, one of these, the second prize winner, having no pedigree. The following year three classes were provided, including a champion class 'for winners of a first prize at any show.' Dogs over 9lb. and bitches over 9lb. Four champions (save the mark) competed; two had pedigrees and the other two had none. In dogs over 9lb. six competed, two only having pedigrees. Four bitches over 9lb. were entered, half that number having pedigrees and half not.