HISTORY OF THE IRISH WOLFHOUND
The history of the Irish Wolfhound varies almost as much as the individual dogs of today. A reference is made of swift Hounds brought to Greece during the invasion of the Celts around 273 BC. What is known is that the wolfhound, also called the Irish Greyhound, Wolfdogs of Ireland, big dogs of Ireland, among other names, hunted boar, wolves, deer and the giant elk of Ireland. They were owned only by the nobility. Laws determined who could own one and how many. These Hounds were used in battle to pull men from horseback and chariots. Many were given as gifts to royalty all over the world.
The breed was well known in Roman days with the first authentic record in A.D. 391. The Roman Consul, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, thanked his brother for the gift of the seven Irish dogs in a letter. The Irish Wolfhound was the most valued and sought after hunting dog of the early centuries, not only for its hunting abilities, the wolfhound also made an exceptional guardian and companion.
From the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries hunting continued to occupy the attention of the Irish nobles and their chieftans, and their Wolfhounds continued to aid in their great hunts. By the seventeenth century, due to the disappearance of the wolves and elk and the steady depletion of the breed resulting from the excessive exportation, a serious shortage of Wolfhounds became apparent in their native land. A law was passed in 1652 prohibiting all persons from exporting the Wolfhounds.
The first recorded importation back into Ireland was three Irish wolfhound from France in 1818. By 1836, the breed was included on a list entitled “Notices of Animals which have disappeared from Ireland.” Captain George Augustus Graham decided to revive the Irish Wolfhound in 1863. Captain Graham started with dogs purportedly descended from the surviving strains of old Irish hounds. Graham used Scottish Deerhounds and Great Danes as well as some Borzoi with a one-time cross to a Tibetan Mastiff, to develop the modern breed. The breed became stable enough by 1884 that Graham and others founded the Irish Wolfhound Club. The next year the Club established an official standard. The Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1923, calling it “the most beautiful of all sighthounds.”
Today, the Irish Wolfhound has stayed true to Graham’s vision, having evolved into a powerful yet swift breed that cannot be mistaken. Scholars may still argue whether Graham simply revived a fading breed, or manufactured a new one, but the Irish Wolfhound, the gentle giant, beloved as a companion, is here to stay.