Breed History

The continental Celts kept a greyhound, probably descended from the greyhounds first depicted in Egyptian paintings. Like their continental counterparts, the Irish Celts were interested in breeding large hounds, but theirs seem to have been even bigger than the more ancient variety. These large Irish hounds could have had smooth or rough coats but, in later time, the rough coat predominated possibly because of the Irish weather. The first written account of these dogs was by a Roman Consul in 391 A.D. but they were already established in Ireland in the first century A.D. when Setanta changed his name to Cu-Chulainn (the hound of Culan). Mention is made of the Uisneach (1st century) taking 150 hounds with them in their flight to Scotland. Irish hounds undoubtedly formed the basis of the Scottish Deerhound. Pairs of Irish hounds were prized as gifts by the Royal houses of Europe, Scandinavia and elsewhere from the Middle Ages to the 17th century.

From the 9th century Book of Kells

They were sent to England, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, Persia, India and Poland. The change of name to Wolfdog probably dates from the15th century when each county was required to keep 24 Wolfdogs to protect farmers flocks from the ravages of wolves. The Cromwellian prohibition (1652) on the export of Wolfhounds helped preserve their numbers for a time but the gradual disappearance of the wolf, and the continued demand abroad, reduced their numbers almost to the point of extinction by the end of the 17th century. It was probably part of the surge of the Romantic nationalism which helped interest in the breed. The Wolfhound achieved a true strain only through fairly frequent inbreeding, but the results were ultimately accepted as a legitimate revival of the breed. A club for the Irish Wolfhound was formed in 1885 and the Irish Kennel Club scheduled a class for the breed at their show in April 1879. The Irish Wolfhound now enjoys once again something of the reputation it had in the Middle Ages and excites the most interest because it is a living symbol of Irish culture, a remembrance of the Celtic past.