The Irish Terrier as the name denotes, is a representative of the Emerald Isle, and it is well known that Irishmen, of whatever rank they may be, whether gentlemen, farmers or cottiers, have always been noted sportsmen, and there is no doubt whatever that a sporting terrier has been kept in Ireland for many generations, as they are referred to in old Irish manuscripts. They are described by an old Irish writer as being the poor man’s sentinel, the farmer’s friend, and the gentleman’s favourite.
It is said that in no other part of Europe has there been so much care given to cultivating the Irish Terrier as a race from generation to generation. The Terrier of Britain which is known to have been black and tan gradually evolved into the Terrier developed in Ireland as a Sporting Dog. The Breed is faithful and intelligent, easy to train and able to retrieve game and quarter the ground as good as a Spaniel. These dogs were originally bred not so much for their looks as for their working qualities and gameness, the Irish Terrier being by instinct a thorough vermin killer.
They were formally of all types and all colours, black and tan, grey and brindle, wheaten of all shades, and red being the predominant colours. Colour or size evidently did not matter if they were hardy and game. It was not until the advent of Dog Shows that a few fanciers began to consider looks as well as working ability and took more interest in breeding a “decent one” with Pedigrees being kept. However, it was quite common and acceptable for bitches to whelp black and tan puppies, despite having been predominately Red for some generations. Even now puppies can be seen with black top hair which has usually gone by 4 months of age although some black hair can remain in the beard for much longer but should have grown out by 18 months.
In the early day’s size had not been established and prior to 1879 classes were open to all types, sizes and colours. That they were both large and small Irish Terriers is evidenced by the fact that at the Exhibition Palace Show at Dublin in 1874 there were classes for Irish Terriers over 9lb weight and under 9lb weight. Often with only one class available for both dogs and bitches together. One predominant factor appears to have been coat which had to be very close wiry and water resistant. There was a large strain kept in Co Cork, mostly wheaten’s, and there was also a breed found around Ballymena and the North of Ireland which were more like the modern show Irish Terrier, being racy in type, with long punishing jaws, wheaten in colour, but mostly soft and open in coat.
Temperament was important which had to be courageous, but sensitive and good-tempered a feature of the Breed today which makes him the ideal family companion.
For a few years prior to 1879 Irish Terriers had been exhibited occasionally at such shows as the Kennel Club, Birmingham, Dublin, Belfast, and a few others, generally having one class with the sexes mixed. At this time, it was the fashion to crop the ears of all Irish Terrier and for this purpose the ears had to be a certain size, being wider at the base to allow enough ‘Flap’ to be left after cropping as can be seen on Ch Bonnet. However not all were subject to this, as can be seen from the photo of Old Sport from 1875.
The first Irish Terrier Club was formed in 1879 for the purpose of the protection and advancement of the breed, at its first general meeting in 1880 there was a discussion on the cropping of ears question, which later resulted in the Irish Terrier Club, being the pioneers of the movement to put an end altogether to the cropping of the ears of all breeds of dog for exhibition.
Also, in 1870 the foundation stone of the present show Terrier was laid with the appearance of CH Erin. Later Killiney Boy made his mark on the breed when mated with Erin produced Champions Play Boy, Pagan II and Poppy. Poppy’s puppies had red coats which started the colour question, finally deciding that an Irish Terrier must be whole red, although the shade may vary from the colour of wheaten to that of red.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century more uncropped Irish Terriers were seen with the most famous at the time being Ch Sporter. In fact, it was in 1889 the Kennel Club ruled that all dogs must be uncropped for exhibition. When ear cropping ceased much effort was given to breed a smaller ear. Even today breeders find great inconsistency in size of ears which can range from rather large heavy ears to the small ears inclined to prick up.
It is interesting to see how breed type was developing as can be seen from the picture of Ch Playboy, a big winner and was said to be one of the most important Irish Terrier of its time. You can see the racy outline, well ribbed back, deep chest and length of back.
In 1888 a dog named Ch Brickbat made an appearance and was considered to be way ahead of its time – interestingly he stood at 163/4ins. Another dog of note was Ch Ted Malone a grandson of Brickbat and said to be a little more on the leg and as can be seen from the picture he possessed an excellent pair of ears.
Another dog who was to take the Irish Community by storm was Ch Bolton Woods Mixer. This dog was referred to as a dream having a long clean head, well balanced foreface, small eye and perfect ears. Either the dog was wrong in type or he was right. However, the general opinion was that this dog was correct. From these times came the description of the Breed – “A really well shaped and useful looking animal”. A true observation and one that should be taken into account when Judging the Breed.
From the turn of the century Irish Terriers continued to flourish with a number of large Kennels producing consistently good Irish Terriers. During the period of the Great War a few breeders kept the breed together. By 1920 the breed was numerically strong.
In 1925 a strong impact on the Breed was made by Mr Green’s Kennels, with a string of Champions including Ch Galloper, who won 14 CC’s before leaving for America. Galloper's Sire came from Mr Montgomery’s Celtic Kennel which produced some outstanding dogs.
The 1930’s saw the emergence of Mrs Moore’s Russetone’s who was to have a lasting effect on the Breed, with the advent of World War II dog breeding slowed up with very few people able to continue. However Irish Terriers were fortunate in having stalwart Breeders, who managed to carry on in a low profile and to whom the Breed owes its present status.
When Shows began again after the war, the first Post-war Bitch Champion was Ch Safe Convoy, who’s Sire was Ch Red Dan (you can see the similar head and expression). The dog was Ch Russetone O’Shaunessy a son of Russetone Simon. Prior to the war Simon had one CC, but it was O’Shaunessy who came out in spectacular style in 1945, gaining his title at 3 consecutive Shows, before leaving these shores for the U.S.A. Simon was a great laster and was later brought out when he gained a further 2 CC’S for his title.
During the late 40’s, 50’s and into the 60’s Irish Terriers enjoyed excellent Show entries with a good number of dedicated Breeders, including Miss Norah Woodifield’s Pathfinder Kennels, whose long list of Champions went back to Russetone Simon and O’Shaunessy. Amongst these was a dog Ch Pathfinder Quickstep who I think is well worth showing here – take a close look, he oozes Breed type. However, it was another Pathfinder dog ‘Goldsmith’ who was the Sire of the current Breed record holder Ch Redneval Ballinruan Beau with 31 CC’s.
Since those days many great names have disappeared, with only a few coming along to replace them. Some good dogs were to emerge from both Southern and Northern Ireland, playing an important part in today’s pedigrees. However as with the U.K. these have swindled. During the mid-1980’s Major Stafford Somerfield imported male Ch Trackways Booger Red from the US.A. He was the Sire of Ch Tubereasa Beau Venture Ardgabha, a dog that dominated the scene in the mid 1990’s.
It was a son of his that sired Ch Montelle Famous Star (Gavin), runner-up to the Breed record holder with 26 CC’s. Gavin was the Sire of a number of UK and European Champions and grandfather of Crufts Best of Breed winner (2005) CH Montelle Mi’Lady ShCM JW, who also won the Bitch CC in 2011. Gavin is also featured in the pedigrees of many of the top winning dogs to the present day.
Copyright © 2018 The Irish Terrier Association - All Rights Reserved.