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Irish Dog Breeds
Ireland has contributed of range of dog breeds from small, the relatively unknown Glen of Imaal Terrier, to large - the Irish Wolfhound. Some Irish breeds, such as the Irish (aka red) setter are among the most recognisable in the canine world.
Just like some of the Welsh dog breeds, quite a number feature on the vulnerable native breed list and deserve to be better known.
The Irish terrier was developed in the 19th century from farm terriers common around Ireland and in particular a bitch who produced puppies with the red coat that quickly became most desired.
It is a quite long legged terrier and almost racy looking with a tight wiry coat. Shoulder height they are up to 19" tall (by comparison the west highland terrier is 11" tall) . The usual colour is red with wheaten/red and yellow/red also permissible.
The breed standard states that there is a heedless reckless pluck about the Irish terrier. The ones I've met have certainly been full of character and very cheeky and often far too busy investigating things to take much notice of their owner!
The Irish Terrier is on the vulnerable native breed list with the Kennel club, but with 300 puppies registered last year the Irish Terrier Associations feel that breed numbers are in quite a healthy state.
Kerry Blue Terrier
The Kerry blue terrier is named after county Kerry in Southern Ireland. It is unusual in having a coat colour unlike any other terrier, perhaps unlike any other breed. It is described as bluish black and soft rather than wiry. Puppies are born with black coats which lighten over the first 18 months.
The Kerry blue is another medium sized terrier at 19 inches to the shoulder. They are described by the kennel club as being quite trainable and therefore they are perhaps a little less tenacious and single minded than some of the terrier group.
The Kerry blue terrier is on the vulnerable native breed list. It is a striking breed, with an amenable temperament, which I feel deserves to be better known.
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
The soft coated wheaten terrier could win a prize for having a mouthful of a name. However the name does describe its appearance perfectly. The desired 'wheaten' colour is supposed to be the colour of ripening wheat. They are a medium size (19").
Interestingly the SCWT club of Great Britain mentions that the breed was also used for herding cattle and going on shoots as well as the traditional terrier past times of vermin extermination - a versatile and amenable breed.
The first two wheatens I met struck me as being a bit short of character, but I have subsequently met some who displayed the spirit and humour asked for in the breed standard. The standard also says they are a delightful affectionate, intelligent companion which is perhaps why it is the only terrier originating in Ireland not on the Kennel Club's vulnerable native breeds list.
Glen of Imaal Terrier
I have to be honest I'd assumed with Glen in the name this was a Scottish breed, but the Glen of Imaal is actually in county Wicklow, Ireland where this terrier breed was especially known for going up against badgers in their setts.
At 14 inches high they are a small medium, but are very sold looking especially in front which was required for facing badgers. Colour wise they come in blue, brindle and wheaten. The blue is a very different colour to the Kerry blue coat.
The Glen of Imaal is the rarest of the terriers from Ireland and is listed as a vulnerable native breed.
The Irish wolfhound is an iconic breed, known of by almost everyone but not seen out and about all that often.
They have a long history - bearing in mind that the last Irish wolves were killed before 1800, the breed was going strong before then.
Irish wolfhounds are about 30" tall at the shoulder. Colour wise although grey/steel is the best known colour they can also be brindle, black, white, red, fawn and wheaten.
Unfortunately, as tends to be the case with the giant breeds, Irish wolfhounds have a comparatively short lifespan of 8-9 years. Particular care needs to be taken to avoid exercising them for two hours after mealtimes to reduce the likelihood of bloat (gastric torsion), which is often fatal.
Irish Setter and Irish Red and White Setter
The Irish setter, colloquially known as the red setter is probably the most popular of all the Irish breeds. They are an elegant dog and with a gentle nature, but not the easiest dog to train to recall.
An Irish setter is one of the first dogs I remember. My uncle had one called Brutus and to a five year old it seemed the most enormous dog and would sometimes unintentionally trap me in a corner, just by standing their oblivious of a puny child trying to push her way past.
The red and white setter is as old a breed as the Irish setter, but much less well known outside of Ireland. Hence it is listed as a vulnerable native breed. The English kennel club states that there were references the to red and white as far back as the 17th century in well known Irish kennels.
An unusual aspect of both these setter breeds is that the breed standards don't specify a preferred height or weight, which means they can be a bit variable size wise. Most would be classified as large dogs at around 22-25 inches high.
Have you met an Irish water spaniel?
Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish water spaniel is the tallest spaniel and actually not very spaniely in temperament or appearance.
If you are looking at the breed and think the coat is reminiscent of a poodle you are right - poodles contributed to the development of the breed.
They were bred for wildfowling in Ireland and are quite at home swimming to retrieve shot duck from water.
As well as the distinctive coat, always liver coloured, they have webbed paws and a tapering tail which has resulted in the breed nick names of rat tail or whip tail (Sporting Irish Water Spaniel Club).
The Irish water spaniel is another vulnerable native breed.