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Sentiment goes a long way in the dog-world, and Irish wolf-hound devotees have more than once displayed indignation at the sneers of the detractors of their favourites, when they have described the modern breed as “faked up." But the best and most crushing retort to such criticism is the hound itself. “If it had emanated from under a gooseberry bush,” said a lover of the breed to me, “I should not love and admire it less; and I could not love and admire it more if it traced its pedigree from the hound that issued from the ark!” To paraphrase Shakespeare, in an argument of this sort, “The hound's the thing," and, speaking personally, its "ancient and historic” derivation, and its “Royal associations" do not appeal to me a tithe so directly as the sight of such noble, commanding creatures as are seen on the modern show-bench.
At the same time there is much in the history of the Irish wolf-hound to fascinate the fancier, and to make the wish father to the thought, “Our hounds are descended from those of Cæsar's days.” Possibly-nay probably, they are, through a thin streak of female descent; and if Royal pedigrees are contingent on such a delicate link to connect them with the demigods and heroes of the early ages (as we know they are), I think the Irish wolf-hound fancier may take comfort from that precedent. A pedigree is a priceless thing, especially in the dog-world ; but few dog-pedigrees go back fifty years. And if you want one to go back for a thousand years you must be imbued with something of the spirit of Lootfullah, a Mohammedan gentleman who published his autobiography some forty years ago, and prefaced it with his family tree, which was carried back to Adam by way of Mohammed and Noah,—all in perfect seriousness, as those who refer to that very original and entertaining book may convince themselves. For the purposes of this section I will assume that the modern Irish wolf-hound, through the Kilfane and Ballytobin strains, indisputably has, if it cannot actually trace, a connection with the historic hounds of the dimmest past. Which brings me to the history of the wolf-hound. That it existed in the times of the Roman dominion is asserted by many writers. Our old friend Strabo, who must have been something of a dogfancier in his classic way, describes them as having been used in the chase by the Celtic and Pictish nations, and that specimens were imported into Gaul. There are references in other classic authors to dogs, both of war (mastiffs) and of the chase (wolf-hounds), that were taken to Rome to display their prowess in the gladiatorial ring. We can only surmise what these breeds were, but then the surmising field is limited, and collateral evidence and facts point to the two species named. In the Welsh laws of the period there is a reference to the Irish greyhound, or Canis Graius Hibernicus, as it was styled. And all writers on the subject of dogs agree that there was a shaggy-coated greyhound in existence, and greatly prized in Ireland, in the earliest days of the history of that composite kingdom.
Coming to later times, we have ample evidence, not only of the breed itself but of the esteem in which it was held, and the uses to which it was put. In the middle of the sixteenth century a writer describes it as “similar in shape to a greyhound, bigger than a mastiff, and tractable as a spaniel.” In 1562 the Irish chieftain, Shane O'Neill, forwarded a couple to Queen Elizabeth through the Earl of Leicester; a little later another couple were sent to the Secretary of State, Sir Charles Walsingham, “one black and one white." Coming to the seventeenth century, we find
that no less a personage than the Great Mogul desired Sir Thomas Roe, the British Ambassador, to obtain for him some Irish greyhounds. It is a far cry from Dublin to Delhi, and one wonders how that potentate came to hear of the breed. In Cromwell's days the Irish wolf - hound was legislated for, as the following edict by the Protector, dated “Kilkenny, April 27, 1652," proves: “Declaration against transporting wolfe dogges.—Forasmuch as we are credibly informed that wolves do much increase and destroy many cattle in several parts of this dominion, and that some of the enemy's party, who have laid down their arms and have liberty to go beyond the seas, and others do attempt to carry away several such great dogges as are commonly called wolfe dogges, whereby the breed of them, which are useful for destroying wolves, would, if not prevented, speedily suffer decay, these are therefore to prohibit all persons whatsoever from exporting any of the said dogges out of this dominion.”
Twenty years later Evelyn, in his Diary, mentions what he saw at an entertainment at a bear-garden, where, in a dog-fight, “the Irish wolf-hound was a tall greyhound, a stately creature indeed, and did beat a cruel mastiff. The bulldogs did exceedingly well, but the Irish wolf-dog exceeded.”
Cromwell's protection policy seems to have succeeded, for the last wolf was killed in Co. Kerry in the year 1710. But what was protection against the wolf was not protection for the dog, and thereafter, its occupation gone, the Irish wolf-hound sank rapidly into decadence. Nor is this to be wondered at, when we come to consider the enormous quantity of food these huge creatures eat, rendering them far too expensive to keep when they had ceased to be necessary Their history from 1710 to 1870 is all on the down grade,
until it verged almost into the mists of absolute extinction. By the end of the eighteenth century it had become “extremely rare," and certainly degenerated in size. Lord Altamont is reputed to have had eight Irish wolf-hounds in 1780, “ tall, noble dogs, the largest of whom measured 5 feet i inch from the nose to the end of the tail, which itself was 1 foot 5 inches
IRISH WOLF-HOUND (1803). After Reinagle. long. Its height from the top of the shoulder to the ground was 2 feet 41 inches.” The modern fancier would not look at such a specimen nowadays, when it is categorically recommended that anything below 31 inches at shoulder should be debarred from competition, and when 7 feet from nose to tip of tail is a measurement often exceeded. But it is specially noted of Lord Altamont's dogs that they had “de