EDWARD JESSE, ESQ. (1858 )
A certain degree of romance will always be attached to the history of the Irish wolf-dog, but so contradictory are the accounts handed down to us respecting it, that, with every disposition to do justice to the character of this noble animal, the task is one of no small difficulty.
This dog seems to have flourished, and to have become nearly extinct, with the ancient kings of Ireland, and, with the harp and shamrock, is regarded as one of the national emblems of that country. When princely hospitality was to be found in the old palaces, castles, and baronial halls of fair Erin, it is hardly possible to imagine anything more aristocratic and imposing than the aspect of these dogs, while attending the banquets of their masters. So great, indeed, was their height, that it has been affirmed, that when their chieftain was seated at table these dogs could rest their heads on his shoulders. However this may have been, it is certain that the bold, majestic, and commanding appearance of the animal, joined to the mild and softened look with which he regarded those to whom he was attached, and whom he was always ready to defend, must have rendered him worthy of the enthusiasm with which the remembrance of him is still cherished by the warm-hearted people of Ireland.
The following anecdote, which has been communicated to me by an amiable Irish nobleman, will at all events serve to show the peculiar instinct which the Irish wolf-dog was supposed to possess.
A gentleman of an ancient family, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, from his having been engaged in the troubles which agitated Ireland about fifty or sixty years since, went into a coffee-room at Dublin during that period, accompanied by a noble wolf-dog, supposed to be one of the last of the breed. There was only one other gentleman in the coffee-room, who, on seeing the dog, went up to him, and began to notice him. His owner, in considerable alarm, begged him to desist, as the dog was fierce, and would never allow a stranger to touch him. The gentleman resumed his seat, when the dog came to him, showed the greatest pleasure at being noticed, and allowed himself to be fondled. His owner could not disguise his astonishment. “You are the only person,” he said, “whom that dog would ever allow to touch him without showing resentment. May I beg of you the favour to tell me your name?”—mentioning his own at the same time. The stranger announced it, (he was the last of his race, one of the most ancient and noble in Ireland, and descended from one of its kings.) “I do not wonder,” said the owner of the dog, “at the homage this animal has paid to you. He recognizes in you the descendant of one of our most ancient race of gentlemen to whom this breed of dogs almost exclusively belonged, and the peculiar instinct he possesses has now been shown in a manner which cannot be mistaken by me, who am so well acquainted with the ferocity this dog has hitherto shown to all strangers.”
Few persons, Sir Walter Scott excepted, would perhaps be inclined to give credit to this anecdote. So convinced was he of the extraordinary instinct exhibited by dogs generally, that he has been heard to declare that he would believe anything of a dog. The anecdote, however, above related, was communicated to me with the strongest assurance of its strict accuracy.
In a poem, written by Mrs. Catherine Philips, about the year 1660, the character of the Irish wolf-hound is well portrayed, and proves the estimation in which he was held at that period.
“Behold this creature's form and state!
Him Nature surely did create,
That to the world might be exprest
What mien there can be in a beast;
More nobleness of form and mind
Than in the lion we can find:
Yea, this heroic beast doth seem
In majesty to rival him.
Yet he vouchsafes to man to show
His service, and submission too—
And here we a distinction have;
That brute is fierce—the dog is brave.
He hath himself so well subdued,
That hunger cannot make him rude;
And all his manners do confess
That courage dwells with gentleness.
War with the wolf he loves to wage,
And never quits if he engage; But praise him much, and you may chance
To put him out of countenance.
And having done a deed so brave,
He looks not sullen, yet looks grave.
No fondling play-fellow is he;
His master's guard he wills to be:
Willing for him his blood be spent,
His look is never insolent.
Few men to do such noble deeds have learn'd,
Nor having done, could look so unconcern'd.”
This is one of the finest descriptions of a noble dog which I have yet met with in English poetry. Courage and modesty are well portrayed, and contrasted.
The following anecdotes relate to an animal which must have strongly resembled the Irish wolf-dog:—
Plutarch mentions a certain Roman in the civil wars, whose head nobody durst cut off for fear of the dog that guarded his body, and fought in his defence. The same author relates that King Pyrrhus, in the course of one of his journies, observed a dog watching over a dead body; and hearing that he had been there three days without meat or drink, ordered the body to be buried, and the dog taken care of and brought to him. A few days afterwards there was a muster of the soldiers, so that every man had to march in order before the king. The dog lay quiet for some time; but when he saw the murderers of his late master pass by, he flew upon them with extraordinary fury, barking, and tearing their garments, and frequently turning about to the king; which both excited the king's suspicion, and that of all who stood about him. The men were in consequence apprehended, and though the circumstances which appeared in evidence against them were very slight, they confessed the crime, and were accordingly punished.
Montfaucon mentions a similar case of attachment and revenge which occurred in France, in the reign of Charles V.[E] The anecdote has been frequently related, and is as follows:—A gentleman named Macaire, an officer of the king's body-guard, entertained, for some reason, a bitter hatred against another gentleman, named Aubry de Montdidier, his comrade in service. These two having met in the Forest of Bondi, near Paris, Macaire took an opportunity of treacherously murdering his brother-officer, and buried him in a ditch. Montdidier was unaccompanied at the moment, excepting by a dog (probably a wolf-hound), with which he had gone out, perhaps to hunt. It is not known whether the dog was muzzled, or from what other cause it permitted the deed to be accomplished without its interference. Be this as it might, the hound lay down on the grave of its master, and there remained till hunger compelled it to rise. It then went to the kitchen of one of Aubry de Montdidier's dearest friends, where it was welcomed warmly, and fed. As soon as its hunger was appeased the dog disappeared. For several days this coming and going was repeated, till at last the curiosity of those who saw its movements was excited, and it was resolved to follow the animal, and see if anything could be learned in explanation of Montdidier's sudden disappearance. The dog was accordingly followed, and was seen to come to a pause on some newly-turned-up earth, where it set up the most mournful wailings and howlings. These cries were so touching, that passengers were attracted; and finally digging into the ground at the spot, they found there the body of Aubry de Montdidier. It was raised and conveyed to Paris, where it was soon afterwards interred in one of the city cemeteries.
The dog attached itself from this time forth to the friend, already mentioned, of its late master. While attending on him, it chanced several times to get a sight of Macaire, and on every occasion it sprang upon him, and would have strangled him had it not been taken off by force. This intensity of hate on the part of the animal awakened a suspicion that Macaire had had some share in Montdidier's murder, for his body showed him to have met a violent death. Charles V., on being informed of the circumstances, wished to satisfy himself of their truth. He caused Macaire and the dog to be brought before him, and beheld the animal again spring upon the object of its hatred. The king interrogated Macaire closely, but the latter would not admit that he had been in any way connected with Montdidier's murder.
Being strongly impressed by a conviction that the conduct of the dog was based on some guilty act of Macaire, the king ordered a combat to take place between the officer and his dumb accuser, according to the practice in those days between human plaintiffs and defendants. This remarkable combat took place on the isle of Notre Dame at Paris, in presence of the whole court. The king allowed Macaire to have a strong club, as a defensive weapon; while, on the other hand, the only self-preservative means allowed to the dog consisted of an empty cask, into which it could retreat if hard pressed. The combatants appeared in the lists. The dog seemed perfectly aware of its situation and duty. For a short time it leapt actively round Macaire, and then, at one spring, it fastened itself upon his throat, in so firm a manner that he could not disentangle himself. He would have been strangled had he not cried for mercy, and avowed his crime. The dog was pulled from off him; but he was only liberated from its fangs to perish by the hands of the law. The fidelity of this dog has been celebrated in many a drama and poem, and there is a monument of him in basso relievo still to be seen in the castle of Montargis. The dog which attracted such celebrity has been usually called 'the dog of Montargis,' from the combat having taken place at the chateau of that name.
The strength of these dogs must have been very great. A nobleman informed me, that when he was a boy, and staying on a visit with the Knight of Kerry, two Irish wolf-dogs made their escape from the place in which they were confined, and pulled down and killed a horse, which was in an adjoining paddock.
The following affecting anecdote of an Irish wolf-dog, called “the dog of Aughrim,” affords a proof of the extraordinary fidelity of these animals to their masters, and puts to shame the vaunted superiority of many human brutes.
At the hard-fought battle of Aughrim, or Vidconnel, an Irish officer was accompanied by his wolf-hound. This gentleman was killed and stripped in the battle, but the dog remained by his body both by day and night. He fed upon some of the other bodies with the rest of the dogs, yet he would not allow them or anything else to touch that of his master. When all the other bodies were consumed, the other dogs departed, but this used to go in the night to the adjacent villages for food, and presently to return again to the place where his master's bones were only then left. This he continued to do from July, when the battle was fought, until the January following, when a soldier being quartered near, and going that way by chance, the dog, fearing he came to disturb his master's bones, flew upon the soldier, who, being surprised at the suddenness of the thing, unslung his carbine, he having been thrown on his back, and killed the noble animal. He expired with the same fidelity to the remains of his unfortunate master, as that master had shown devotion to the cause of his unhappy country.
In the “Irish Penny Journal” there is an interesting account of the Irish wolf-dog, from which the following anecdote is taken.
In the mountainous parts of the county Tyrone, the inhabitants suffered much from the wolves, and gave from the public fund as much for the head of one of these animals, as they would now give for the capture of a notorious robber on the highway. There lived in those days an adventurer, who, alone and unassisted, made it his occupation to destroy these ravagers. The time for attacking them was in the night, and midnight was fixed upon for doing so, as that was their wonted time for leaving their lairs in search of food, when the country was at rest and all was still; then, issuing forth, they fell on their defenceless prey, and the carnage commenced. There was a species of dog for the purpose of hunting them, called the wolf-dog; the animal resembled a rough, stout, half-bred greyhound, but was much stronger. In the county Tyrone there was then a large space of ground enclosed by a high stone wall, having a gap at each of the two opposite extremities, and in this were secured the flocks of the surrounding farmers. But, secure as this fold was deemed, it was often entered by the wolves, and its inmates slaughtered. The neighbouring proprietors having heard of the noted wolf-hunter above mentioned, by name Rory Carragh, sent for him, and offered the usual reward, with some addition, if he would undertake to destroy the two remaining wolves that had committed such devastation. Carragh, undertaking the task, took with him two wolf-dogs, and a little boy twelve years of age, the only person who would accompany him, and repaired at the approach of midnight to the fold in question. “Now,” said Carragh to the boy, “as the two wolves usually enter the opposite extremities of the sheep-fold at the same time, I must leave you and one of the dogs to guard this one while I go the other. He steals with all the caution of a cat, nor will you hear him, but the dog will, and will give him the first fall. If, therefore, you are not active when he is down to rivet his neck to the ground with this spear, he will rise up and kill both you and the dog. So good night.”
“I'll do what I can,” said the little boy, as he took the spear from the wolf-hunter's hand.
The boy immediately threw open the gate of the fold, and took his seat in the inner part, close to the entrance, his faithful companion crouching at his side, and seeming perfectly aware of the dangerous business he was engaged in. The night was very dark and cold, and the poor little boy, being benumbed with the chilly air, was beginning to fall into a kind of sleep, when at that instant the dog, with a roar, leaped across, and laid his mortal enemy upon the earth. The boy was roused into double activity by the voice of his companion, and drove the spear through the wolf's neck as he had been directed, at which time Carragh appeared, bearing the head of the other.
This anecdote is taken from a biography of a Tyrone family, published in Belfast in 1829.
It is now time to attempt a description of this celebrated dog, and here our difficulties commence. Some writers have affirmed that it was rough-coated, and had the appearance of a greyhound—
“The greyhound! the great hound! the graceful of limb!
Rough fellow! tall fellow! &c.;”
while others assert that it was of a mastiff-like appearance, and smooth, strong, and tall. All we can do is to bring forward the different evidence we have been able to collect, and then to let our readers judge for themselves.
In an old print of Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, there are two wolf-dogs, which are represented as smooth, prick-eared, and with somewhat bushy tails. Lord Lucan distinguished himself in several engagements, and commanded the second troop of Irish Horse Guards, to which he was appointed by James II., and received his death wound, behaving most gallantly at the head of his countrymen, in 1693, when the allies, under William III., were defeated by Marshal Luxembourg at the battle of Landen. He was probably attended by his faithful wolf-dogs on that occasion, when he uttered those sublime words which no Irishman will ever forget—“Oh that this was for Ireland!” thus showing his love and affection for his native country as he was expiring in the arms of victory.
An old and amiable acquaintance, Mr. Aylmer Bourke Lambert, now, alas! no more, communicated an account of the wolf-hound to the Linnean Society, which may be found in the third volume of their “Transactions.” He had in his possession an old picture of one of these dogs, which, at the sale of his effects, was purchased by the Earl of Derby; the dog is represented as smooth-haired, with a somewhat wide forehead, and having no appearance of the greyhound, but more of that of the mastiff.
In February, 1841, Mr. Webber presented to the Royal Irish Academy an ancient stone, on which was carved a rude bas-relief, supposed to be the representation of a dog killing a wolf. Mr. Webber accompanied the present with a communication, to the effect that the stone was taken from the castle of Ardnaglass, in the barony of Tireragh, and county of Sligo, and was said to commemorate the destruction of the last wolf in Ireland. The current tradition in the place from whence it came was, that some years after it was supposed that the race of wolves was extinct, the flocks in the county of Leitrim were attacked by a wild animal, which turned out to be a wolf; that thereupon the chieftains of Leitrim applied to O'Dowd, the chieftain of Tireragh (who possessed a celebrated dog of the breed of the ancient Irish wolf-dog), to come and hunt the wolf. This application having been complied with by O'Dowd, there ensued a chase, which forms the subject of an ancient Irish legend, detailing the various districts through which it was pursued, until at length the wolf was overtaken and killed in a small wood of pine-trees, at the foot of one of the mountains of Tireragh. The quarter of land on which the wolf was killed is to this day called Carrow na Madhoo, which means “the dog's quarter.” In commemoration of the event, O'Dowd had a representation of it carved on stone, and placed in the wall of his baronial residence. It is difficult to form an opinion of the shape of a dog from so rude a representation, except that it appears to have had a wide forehead and pricked ears.
A gentleman, who in his youth saw one of these dogs, informs me that it was smooth, strong, and partaking somewhat of the character and appearance of a powerful Danish dog. This agrees with the account given of it by some writers, especially in “The Sportsman's Cabinet,” a work more remarkable for the truth and fineness of its engravings, than for the matter contained in it. Buffon also forms much the same opinion. That great strength must be necessary to enable a dog to compete with a wolf, cannot be doubted, and perhaps there is no breed of the rough greyhound now known capable of competing with a wolf single-handed. Her Majesty has now in her possession one of the finest specimens of the Highland deer-hound. He has great strength and height, is rough-coated, wide across the loins, and altogether a noble animal. Powerful, however as he is, it may be questioned whether such a dog would be a match for a wolf, which the Irish hounds undoubtedly were. This circumstance alone would lead us to suppose, that we must look to a different breed than that of greyhounds as the antagonists of the wolf.
But it is time to turn to the other side of the question. In a very agreeable, well-written article in the “Irish Penny Journal” of May, 1841, the author brings forward strong evidence to prove that the celebrated Irish wolf-dog resembled a greyhound in form. He will, I hope, allow me to quote some of his arguments, which show considerable research and historical information. He says:—
“Public opinion has long been divided respecting the precise appearance and form of this majestic animal, and so many different ideas have been conceived of him, that many persons have been induced to come to the conclusion that no particular breed of dogs was ever kept for wolf-hunting in Ireland, but that the appellation of 'wolf-dog' was bestowed upon any dog swift enough to overtake and powerful enough to contend with and overcome that formidable animal. While some hold this opinion, others suppose that though a particular breed was used, it was a sort of heavy mastiff-like dog, now extinct. It is the object of the present paper to show, that not only did Ireland possess a peculiar race of dogs, exclusively devoted to wolf-hunting, but that those dogs, instead of being of the mastiff kind, resembled the greyhound in form; and instead of being extinct are still to be met with, although they are very scarce. I myself was once in a very gross error respecting this dog, for I conceived him to have been a mastiff, and implicitly believed that the dogs of Lord Altamont, described in the third volume of the Linnean 'Transactions' by Mr. Lambert, were the sole surviving representatives of the Irish wolf-dog. An able paper, read by Mr. Haffield about a year ago, before the Dublin Natural History Society, served to stagger me in my belief, and subsequent careful inquiry and research have completed my conversion. I proceed to lay before my readers the result of that inquiry, and I feel confident that no individual, after reading the evidence which I shall adduce, will continue to harbour a doubt respecting the true appearance and form of the ancient Irish wolf-dog.
“We are informed by several disjointed scraps of Celtic verse, that in the times of old, when Fionn Mac Cumhaill, popularly styled Finn Mac Cool, wielded the sceptre of power and justice, we possessed a prodigious and courageous dog, used for hunting the deer and wild boar, and also the wolf, which ravaged the folds and slaughtered the herds of our ancestors. We learn from the same source that these dogs were also frequently employed as auxiliaries in war, and that they were 'mighty in combat, their breasts like plates of brass, and greatly to be feared.' We might adduce the songs of Ossian, where the epithets 'hairy-footed,' 'white-breasted,' and 'bounding,' are singularly characteristic of some of the striking peculiarities of the dog in question, and strangely coincide with the descriptions furnished by other writers respecting him. Mac Pherson must, at all events, have been at the pains of considerable research if he actually forged the beautiful poems, which he put forth to the world under Ossian's name. The word 'Bran,' the name given to Fingal's noble hound, employed by others than Ossian, is Celtic, and signifies 'Mountain Torrent,' implying that impetuosity of course and headlong courage which the dog possessed. I have said that many assert the Irish wolf-dog to be no longer in existence. I have ventured a denial of this, and refer to the wolf-dog or deer-dog of the Highlands of Scotland, as his actual and faithful living representative. Perhaps I am wrong in saying representative. I hold that the Irish wolf-dog and the Highland deer-dog are one and the same, and I now proceed to cite a few authorities in support of my position.
“The Venerable Bede, as well as the Scotch historian John Major, informs us that Scotland was originally peopled from Ireland under the conduct of Renda, and that one half of Scotland spoke the Irish language as their mother-tongue. Many persons, also, are doubtless aware that, even at this present time, the Gaelic and Erse are so much alike, that a Connaught man finds no difficulty in comprehending and conversing with a Highlander. Scotland also was called by the early writers Scotia Minor, and Ireland, Scotia Major. The colonization, therefore, of Scotland from Ireland admits of little doubt. As the Irish wolf-dog was at that time in the enjoyment of his most extended fame, it was not to be expected that the colonists would omit taking with them such a fine description of dog, and which would prove so useful to them in a newly established settlement, and that, too, at a period when hunting was not merely an amusement, but one of their main occupations, and also their main source of subsistence. The Irish wolf-dog was thus carried into Scotland, and became the Highland or Scottish wolf-dog, changing in process of time his name with his country; and when wolves disappeared from the land, his occupation was that of deer-hunting, and thus his present name.
“In Ireland the wolves were in existence longer than in Scotland, but as soon as wolves ceased to exist in the former country, the dogs were suffered to become extinct also, while in Scotland there was still abundant employment for them after the days of wolf-hunting were over—the deer still remained; and useful as they had been as wolf-dogs, they proved themselves, if possible, still more so as deer-hounds.
“That the Irish wolf-dog was a tall, rough greyhound, similar in every respect to the Highland dog of the present day (of which an engraving is given) cannot be doubted from the following authorities. Strabo mentions a tall greyhound in use among the Pictish and Celtic nations, which he states was held in high esteem by our ancestors, and was even imported into Gaul for the purposes of the chase. Campion expressly speaks of the Irish wolf-dog as a 'greyhound of great bone and limb.' Silaus calls it also a greyhound, and asserts that it was imported into Ireland by the Belgae, and is the same with the renowned Belgic dog of antiquity, and that it was, during the days of Roman grandeur, brought to Rome for the combats of the Amphitheatre. Pliny relates a combat in which the Irish wolf-dog took a part: he calls them 'Canes Graii Hibernici,' and describes them as much taller than the mastiff. Holinshed, in speaking of the Irish, says, 'They are not without wolves, and greyhounds to hunt them.' Evelyn, speaking of the bear-garden, says, 'The bull-dogs did exceeding well, but the Irish wolf-dog exceeded; which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature, and beat a cruel mastiff.'
“Llewellyn, prince of Wales, was presented by King John with a specimen of this kind of dog. These animals were in those days permitted to be kept only by princes and chiefs; and in the Welsh laws of the ninth century we find heavy penalties laid down for the maiming or injuring of the Irish greyhound, or, as it was styled in the code alluded to, 'Canis Graius Hibernicus;' and a value was set on them, equal to more than double that set on the ordinary greyhound.
“Moryson, secretary to Lord-deputy Mountjoy, says, 'The Irishmen and greyhounds are of great stature.' Lombard remarks, that the finest hunting dogs in Europe were produced in Ireland: 'Greyhounds useful to take the stag, wild boar, or wolf.' Pennant describes these dogs as scarce, and as being led to the chase in leather slips or thongs, and calls them 'the Irish greyhound.' Bay mentions him as the greatest dog he had ever seen. Buffon says, he saw an Irish greyhound, which measured five feet in height when in a sitting posture, and says that all other sorts of greyhounds are descended from him, and that in Scotland it is called the Highland greyhound: that it is very large, deep-chested, and covered with long rough hair.
“Scottish noblemen were not always content with such specimens of this dog as their own country produced, but frequently sent for them to Ireland, conceiving, doubtless, that they would be found better and purer in their native land. The following is a copy of a letter addressed by Deputy Falkland to the Earl of Cork, in 1623:—
'I have lately received letters from my Lord Duke of Buccleuch and
others of my noble friends, who have entreated me to send them
some greyhound dogs and bitches, out of this kingdom, of the
largest sort, which I perceive they intend to present unto divers princes and other noble persons; and if you can possibly, let them
be white, which is the colour most in request here. Expecting your
answer by the bearer, I commit you to the protection of the
Almighty, and am your Lordship's attached friend,
“Smith, in his 'History of Waterford,' says, 'the Irish greyhound is nearly extinct: it is much taller than a mastiff, but more like a greyhound, and for size, strength, and shape, cannot be equalled. Roderick, king of Connaught, was obliged to furnish hawks and greyhounds to Henry II. Sir Thomas Rue obtained great favour from the Great Mogul in 1615, for a brace of Irish greyhounds presented by him. Henry VIII. presented the Marquis of Dessarages, a Spanish grandee, with two goshawks and four Irish greyhounds. “Perhaps sufficient evidence has now been adduced to demonstrate the identity of the Irish wolf-dog with the Highland deer-hound. I may, however, in conclusion, give an extract from the excellent paper of Mr. Haffield, already alluded to, as having been read before the Dublin Natural History Society, and which was received by that gentleman from Sir William Betham, Ulster King-at-Arms, an authority of very high importance on any subject connected with Irish antiquities. Sir William says,—'From the mention of the wolf-dogs in the old Irish poems and stories, and also from what I have heard from a very old person, long since dead, of his having seen them at 'The Neale,' in the county of Mayo, the seat of Sir John Browne, ancestor to Lord Kilmaine, I have no doubt they were a gigantic greyhound. My departed friend described them as being very gentle, and says that Sir John Browne allowed them to come into his dining-room, where they put their heads over the shoulders of those who sat at table. They were not smooth-skinned, like our greyhounds, but rough and curly-haired. The Irish poets call the wolf-dog 'Cu,' and the common greyhound 'Gayer;' a marked distinction, the word 'Cu' signifying a champion.'
“The colour of these dogs varies, but the most esteemed are dark iron-grey, with white breast. They are, however, to be found of a yellowish or sandy hue, brindled, or even white. In former times, as will be seen from Lord Falkland's letter quoted above, this latter colour was by many preferred. It is described as a stately, majestic animal, extremely good-tempered and quiet in his disposition, unless when irritated or excited, when he becomes furious; and is, in consequence of his tremendous strength, a truly formidable animal.”
Goldsmith asserts that he had seen a dozen of these dogs, and informs us “that the largest was about four feet high, or as tall as a calf of a year old. They are generally of a white or cinnamon colour, and more robust than the greyhound—their aspect mild, and their disposition gentle and peaceable. It is said that their strength is so great, that in combat the mastiff or bull-dog is far from equal to them. They commonly seize their antagonists by the back and shake them to death. These dogs were never serviceable for hunting, either the stag, the fox, or the hare. Their chief utility was in hunting wolves, and to this breed may be attributed the final extirpation of those ferocious animals in England and Wales in early times in the woody districts.”
Having thus given these different accounts of the Irish wolf-dog, I may add that some persons are of opinion that there were two kinds of them—one partaking of the shape and disposition of the mastiff, and the other of the Highland deer-hound. It is not improbable that a noble cross of dogs might have been made from these two sorts. At all events I have fairly stated the whole of the information I have been able to obtain respecting these dogs, and my readers must form their own opinions. The following anecdote, recently communicated to me, is given in the words of the writer:—
“Two whelps were made a present to my brother by Harvey Combe, of a breed between the old Irish wolf-dog and the blood-hound. My brother gave them to Robert Evatt, of Mount Louise, county Monaghan. One died young, but the other grew to be a very noble animal indeed. Unfortunately he took to chasing sheep, and became an incorrigible destroyer of that inoffensive but valuable stock. Evatt found he could not afford to keep such a marauder, and as he was going to Dublin he took up the sheep-killer, in order to present him to the Zoological Society as a fine specimen of the breed. His servant was holding him at the door of the hotel when a gig drove up, and the gentleman alighted. The dog sprung from the servant's hold, and jumping into the gig with one bound, seized the mat at the bottom of the gig, which was made of sheepskin, and with another bound made away with his woolly prize, and was brought back with difficulty, after a long and fatiguing pursuit.”
This is one of the most desperate cases of sheep-hunting in dogs I ever met with. It is said, that this propensity may be got rid of by tying a cord covered with wool to the dog's lower jaw, so that the wool may be kept in the mouth.
I should mention, that in a manuscript of Froissart in the British Museum, which is highly illuminated, there is a representation of the grand entrance of Queen Isabel of England into Paris, in the year 1324. She is attended by a noble greyhound, who has a flag, powdered with fleurs-de-lys, bound to his neck.
Greyhounds were a favourite species of dog in the middle ages. In the ancient pipe-rolls, payments are frequently made in greyhounds. In Hawes' “Pastime of Pleasure,” (written in the time of Henry VII.) Fame is attended by two greyhounds, on whose golden collars, “Grace” and “Governaunce” are inscribed in diamond letters.
In the pictures of Rubens, Snyders, and other old masters, some of the powerful dogs there represented would appear to be a breed between the greyhound and mastiff. Nothing can exceed the majestic and commanding appearance of these dogs, and such a breed would be most likely to produce the sort of animal most capable of contending with the wolf.
The Irish wolf-dogs were formerly placed as the supporters of the arms of the ancient Monarchs of Ireland. They were collared or, with the motto,
“Gentle when stroked—fierce when provoked.” Mr. Scrope, in his agreeable book on deer-stalking in Scotland, has communicated an account from Mr. Macneill, of Colonsay, of the Highland deer-hound, in which are some interesting remarks relative to the Irish wolf-dog, and from which I shall make a few extracts.
In making these extracts, it is impossible not to be struck with a remark in the work referred to, that from modern writers we learn nothing further respecting the Irish wolf-dog, than that such a race of dogs at one time existed in Ireland, that they were of a gigantic size, and that they are now extinct.
One great obstacle in the way of investigating the history of this dog has arisen from the different appellations given to it, according to the fancy of the natives in different parts of the country, such as Irish wolf-dog, Irish greyhound, Highland deer-hound, and Scotch greyhound, and this circumstance may have produced the confusion in fixing its identity.
In the fourth century a number of dogs, of a great size, were sent in iron cages from Ireland to Rome, and it is not improbable that the dogs so sent were greyhounds, particularly as we learn from the authority of Evelyn and others, that the Irish wolf-dog was used for the fights of the bear-garden. “Greyhound” probably means a “great hound.”
Holinshed, in his “Description of Ireland and the Irish,” written in 1586, has the following notice:—“They are not without wolves, and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt;” and in a frontispiece to Sir James Ware's “History of Ireland,” an allegorical representation is given of a passage from the Venerable Bede, in which two dogs are introduced, bearing a strong resemblance to that given by Gesner, in his “History of Quadrupeds,” published in 1560The term Irish is applied to Highland dogs, as everything Celtic (not excepting the language) was designated in England; probably in consequence of Ireland being, at that period, better known to the English than Scotland. This is, perhaps, a proof of the similarity of the Irish and Scotch deer-hounds.
Of the courage of the ancient deer-hound there can be little doubt, from the nature of the game for which he was used. If any proof were wanting, an incident mentioned by Evelyn in his Diary, in 1670, when present at a bull-fight in the bear-garden, is conclusive. He says, “The bulls (meaning the bull-dogs) did exceeding well, but the Irish wolf-dog exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature, indeed, who beat a cruel mastiff.”
Here, perhaps, is a proof that the Irish wolf-dog was a greyhound; and there can be little doubt that it is the same dog we find mentioned under the name of the Irish greyhound. Buffon remarks that “the Irish greyhounds are of a very ancient race. They were called by the ancients, dogs of Epirus, and Albanian dogs. Pliny gives an account of a combat between one of these dogs, first with a lion, and then with an elephant. In France they are so rare, that I never saw above one of them, which appeared, when sitting, to be about five feet high. He was totally white, and of a mild and peaceable disposition.”
The following description of these dogs, translated from a Celtic poem, is probably an accurate one:—
“An eye of sloe, with ear not low,
With horse's breast, with depth of chest,
With breadth of loin, and curve in groin
And nape set far behind the head—
Such were the dogs that Fingal bred.”
It is probable that even in Scotland very few of the pure breed of dogs are left, but those which are show a surprising combination of speed, strength, size, endurance, courage, sagacity, docility, and it may be added, dignity. The purest specimens of the deer-hound now to be met with are supposed to be those belonging to Captain M'Neill of Colonsay, two of them being called Buskar and Bran. And here let me give an extract from an interesting and graphic account, published by Mr. Scrope, of the performance of these dogs in the chase of a stag. Let us fancy a party assembled over-night in a Highland glen, consisting of sportsmen, deer-stalkers, a piper and two deer-hounds, cooking their supper, and concluding it with the never-failing accompaniment of whisky-toddy. Let us fancy them reposing on a couch of dried fern and heather, and being awoke in the morning with the lively air of “Hey, Johnny Cope.” While their breakfast is preparing, they wash and refresh themselves at a pure mountain stream, and are soon ready to issue forth with Buskar and Bran. The party proceeds up a rocky glen, where the stalker sees a stag about a mile off. He immediately prostrates himself on the ground, and in a second the rest follow his example. We will not follow all the different manoeuvres of the deer-stalker and his followers, but bring them at once near the unconscious stag. After performing a very considerable circuit, moving sometimes forwards and sometimes backwards, the party at length arrive at the back of a hillock, on the opposite side of which the stalker said, in a whisper, the deer was lying, and that he was not distant a hundred yards. The whole party immediately moved forward in silent and breathless expectation, with the dogs in front straining in the slips. On reaching the top of the hillock, a full view of the noble stag presented itself, who, having heard the footsteps, had sprung on his legs, and was staring at his enemies, at the distance of about sixty yards.
“The dogs were slipped; a general halloo burst from us all, and the stag, wheeling round, set off at full speed, with Buskar and Bran straining after him.
“The brown figure of the deer, with his noble antlers laid back, contrasted with the light colour of the dogs stretching along the dark heath, presented one of the most exciting scenes that it is possible to imagine.
“The deer's first attempt was to gain some rising ground to the left of the spot where we stood, and rather behind us, but, being closely pursued by the dogs, he soon found that his only safety was in speed; and (as a deer does not run well up-hill, nor like a roe, straight down hill) on the dogs approaching him, he turned, and almost retraced his footsteps, taking, however, a steeper line of descent than the one by which he ascended. Here the chase became most interesting—the dogs pressed him hard, and the deer getting confused, found himself suddenly on the brink of a small precipice of about fourteen feet in height, from the bottom of which there sloped a rugged mass of stones. He paused for a moment, as if afraid to take the leap, but the dogs were so close that he had no alternative.
“At this time the party were not above one hundred and fifty yards distant, and most anxiously waited the result, fearing, from the ruggedness of the ground below, that the deer would not survive the leap. They were, however, soon relieved from their anxiety, for though he took the leap, he did so more cunningly than gallantly, dropping himself in the most singular manner, so that his hind legs first reached the broken rocks below; nor were the dogs long in following him. Buskar sprang first, and, extraordinary to relate, did not lose his legs. Bran followed, and, on reaching the ground, performed a complete somerset. He soon, however, recovered his legs, and the chase was continued in an oblique direction down the side of a most rugged and rocky brae, the deer, apparently more fresh and nimble than ever, jumping through the rocks like a goat, and the dogs well up, though occasionally receiving the most fearful falls.
“From the high position in which we were placed, the chase was visible for nearly half a mile. When some rising ground intercepted our view, we made with all speed for a higher point, and, on reaching it, we could perceive that the dogs, having got upon smooth ground, had gained on the deer, who was still going at speed, and were close up with him. Bran was then leading, and in a few seconds was at his heels, and immediately seized his hock with such violence of grasp, as seemed in a great measure to paralyse the limb, for the deer's speed was immediately checked. Buskar was not far behind, for soon afterwards passing Bran, he seized the deer by the neck. Notwithstanding the weight of the two dogs which were hanging to him, having the assistance of the slope of the ground, he continued dragging them along at a most extraordinary rate (in defiance of their utmost exertions to detain him), and succeeded more than once in kicking Bran off. But he became at length exhausted—the dogs succeeded in pulling him down; and though he made several attempts to rise, he never completely regained his legs.
“On coming up, we found him perfectly dead, with the joints of both his forelegs dislocated at the knee, his throat perforated, and his chest and flanks much lacerated.
“As the ground was perfectly smooth for a considerable distance round the place where he fell, and not in any degree swampy, it is difficult to account for the dislocation of his knees, unless it happened during his struggles to rise. Buskar was perfectly exhausted, and had lain down, shaking from head to foot much like a broken-down horse; but on our approaching the deer he rose, walked round him with a determined growl, and would scarcely permit us to get near him. He had not, however, received any cut or injury, while Bran showed several bruises, nearly a square inch having been taken off the front of his fore-leg, so that the bone was visible, and a piece of burnt heather had passed quite through his foot.
“Nothing could exceed the determined courage displayed by both dogs, particularly by Buskar, throughout the chase, and especially in preserving his hold, though dragged by the deer in a most violent manner.”
It is hoped that this account of the high spirit and perseverance of the Scotch deer-hound will not be found uninteresting. This noble creature was the pride and companion of our ancestors, and for a long period in the history of this country, particularly in Ireland, the only dog used in the sports of the field. When we consider the great courage, combined with the most perfect gentleness of this animal, his gigantic, picturesque, and graceful form, it must be a subject of regret that the breed is likely to become extinct. Where shall we find dogs possessing such a combination of fine and noble qualities?
* * * * *
The following anecdote, which with the accompanying fine engraving is taken from the New Sporting Magazine for January 1839, presents a striking example of the same kind:—
“The incident which the artist has made the subject for our embellishment occurred with Lord Ossulston's stag-hounds, on Tuesday, the 1st of May, when the stag, after a fast run of an hour, jumped over a precipice, and broke his neck. The hounds were, at this time, close to his haunches, and a couple and a half of the leading dogs went over with the stag. Two of the hounds were so hurt that they could not move, and the third was found by the greencoat first up, lying on the dead deer.” * * * * *
I am indebted to that clever and intelligent authoress, Mrs. S. Carter Hall, for her recollections of an Irish wolf-dog and his master, which I cannot do better than give in her own words:—
“When I was a child, I had a very close friendship with a genuine old wolf-dog, Bruno by name. He was the property of an old friend of my grandmother's, who claimed descent from the Irish kings. His name was O'Toole. His manners were the most courtly you can imagine; as they might well be, for he had spent much time and fortune at the French court, when Marie Antoinette was in her prime and beauty. His visits were my jubilees—there was the kind, dignified old gentleman, who told me tales—there was his tall, gaunt dog, grey with age, and yet with me full of play; and there were two rough terriers, whom Bruno kept in admirable order. He managed the little one by simply placing his paw upon it when it was too frisky; but Vixen, the large one, like many ladies, had a will of her own, and entertained some idea of being mistress. Bruno would bear a good deal from her, giving, however, now and then, a low deep growl; but when provoked too much, he would quietly lift the dog off the ground by the strength of his jaws (his teeth were gone), stand with her in his mouth at the doors until they were opened, and then deposit her, half strangled as she was, in a nettle-bed some distance from the house. The dog's discrimination was curious. If Vixen was thrown upon him, or if we forced her to insult him, he never punished her; but if she of her own accord teazed him more than his patience could bear, the punishment was certain to follow.
“O'Toole and his dogs always occupied the same room, the terriers being on the bed with their master. No entreaty, however, ever induced Bruno to sleep on anything softer than stone. He would remove the hearth-rug and lay on the marble. His master used to instance the dog's disdain of luxury as a mark of his noble nature.
“I should not omit to tell you, as characteristic of my old friend, that O'Toole was proud, and never would submit to be called 'Mr.' Meeting, one day, Lord Arne in Dame Street, Dublin, while the old man was followed by his three wolf-dogs, of which Bruno was the last, the young nobleman, who had also his followers in the shape of 'Parliament men,' said to the descendant of Irish kings, nodding to him familiarly at the same time, 'How do you do,Mr. O'Toole?' The old man paused, drew himself up, lifted his hat, made his courtly bow, and answered, 'O'Toole salutes Arne.' I can recall nothing more picturesque than that majestic old gentleman and his dog, both remnants of a bygone age. Bruno was rough, but not long-coated, very grave, observant, enduring every one, very fond of children, playing with them gently, but only crouching and fawning on his master; 'and that,' O'Toole would say, 'is a proof of my royal blood.' I could fill a volume with memoirs of that fine old man. He was more than six feet in height, and his dog always sat with his head on his master's knee.”
This is altogether a pretty and interesting picture.
The sagacity of this fine breed is well illustrated in what follows:—
A gentleman walking along the road on Kingston Hill, accompanied by a friend and a noble deer-hound, which was also a retriever, threw his glove into a ditch; and having walked on for a mile, sent his dog back for it. After waiting a considerable time, and the dog not returning, they retraced their steps. Hearing loud cries in the distance, they hastened on, and at last saw the dog dragging a boy by his coat towards them. On questioning the boy, it appeared that he had picked up the glove and put it into his pocket. The sagacious animal had no other means of conveying it to his master than by compelling the boy to accompany him.
* * * * *
The following anecdotes are from Capt. Thomas Brown's now scarce work, “Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of Dogs.” He says:—
“Sir Walter Scott has most obligingly furnished me with the following anecdotes of his celebrated dog Maida:—
“I was once riding over a field on which the reapers were at work, the stooks being placed behind them, as is usual. Maida having found a hare, began to chase her, to the great amusement of the spectators, as the hare turned very often and very swiftly among the stooks. At length, being hard pressed, she fairly bolted into one of them. Maida went in headlong after her, and the stook began to be much agitated in various directions. At length the sheaves tumbled down; and the hare and the dog, terrified alike at their overthrow, ran different ways, to the great amusement of the spectators.”
“Among several peculiarities which Maida possessed, one was a strong aversion to a certain class of artists, arising from the frequent restraints he was subjected to in having his portrait taken, on account of his majestic appearance. The instant he saw a pencil and paper produced he prepared to beat a retreat; and, if forced to remain, he exhibited the strongest marks of displeasure.”
* * * * *
Ranaldson Macdonell, Esq. of Glengarry, has most kindly furnished the following interesting notices and anecdotes of the Scottish Highland greyhound:—
“Not many years since one of Glengarry's tenants, who had some business with his chief, happened to arrive at Glengarry House at rather an early hour in the morning. A deer-hound perceiving this person sauntering about before the domestics were astir, walked quietly up to him, took him gently by the wrist with his teeth, and proceeded to lead him off the ground. The man, finding him forbearing, attempted resistance; but the dog, instantly seizing his wrist with redoubled pressure, soon convinced him that his attempt was in vain. Thus admonished, the man took the hint, and quietly yielded to his canine conductor, who, without farther injury, led him to the outside of the gate, and then left him. The whole of the dogs at Glengarry House were allowed to go at liberty at all times.
“The Highland greyhounds, or deer-hounds as they are called in the Highlands, have a great antipathy to the sheep-dogs, and never fail to attack them whenever an opportunity offers. A shepherd, whose colley had frequently been attacked by the deer-dogs of Glengarry singly, and always succeeded in beating them off on such occasions, was one day assailed by them in a body; and his life would have been in considerable danger, but for one of the keepers, who happened to pass at the time, and called them off.
“The following circumstance will prove the exquisite sense of smell possessed by the deer-hound. One of this breed, named Bran, when held in the leash, followed the track of a wounded stag, and that in most unfavourable rainy weather, for three successive days, at the end of which time the game was shot. He was wounded first within nine miles of Invergarry House, and was traced that night to the estate of Glenmoriston. At dusk in the evening the deer-stalkers placed a stone on each side of the last fresh print of his hoof, and another over it; and this they did each night following. On the succeeding morning they removed the upper stone, when the dog recovered the scent, and the deer was that day traced over a great part of Glenmoriston's ground. On the third day he was retraced to the lands of Glengarry, and there shot.
“My present dog, Comhstri, to great courage unites the quality of a gentle disposition, with much fidelity and attachment. Though not so large as some of his kindred, he is nevertheless as high-spirited and determined as any of his race, which the following circumstance will testify: 'About three years ago, a deer from the wood of Derrygarbh, whose previous hurts had been healed, came out of Glengarry's pass, who wounded it severely in the body with a rifle bullet. The deer-hounds were immediately laid on the blood-track. The stag was started in the course of a few minutes; the dogs were instantly slipped, and the fine animal ran to bay in a deep pool of water, below a cascade, on the Garyquulach burn. Comhstri immediately plunged in, and seized the stag by the throat; both went under water, surrounded with the white foam, slightly tinged with the deer's blood. The dog soon came to the surface to recover his breath; and before the other could do so, Comhstri dived, and again seized him by the throat. The stag was soon after taken out of the pool dead.
“Comhstri's colour is grey, with a white chest; but we have had them of different colours at Glengarry, such as pure white, black, brindled, and sand-colour.
“When the Highlanders dream of a blackdog, it is interpreted to mean one of the clan of Macdonell; but if of a deer-hound, it denotes a chief, or one of the principal persons of that clan.”
* * * * *
That the Scottish dogs were much prized in England from the earliest times, the following interesting account, taken from Holinshed's Chronicles, 'Historie of Scotland,' p. 71, printed in 1586, will show. “And shortlie after the return of these ambassadors into their countrie, divers young gentlemen of the Pictish nobilitie repaired unto King Crathlint, to hunt and make merie with him; but when they should depart homewards, perceiving that the Scotish dogs did farre excell theirs, both in fairnesse, swiftnesse, hardinesse, and also in long standing up and holding out, they got diverse both dogs and bitches of the best kinds for breed to be given them by the Scotish Lords; and yet not so contented, they stole one belonging to the king from his keeper, being more esteemed of him than all the others which he had about him. The master of the leash being informed hereof, pursued after them which had stollen that dog, thinking indeed to have taken him from them; but they not willing to part with him, fell at altercation, and in the end chanced to strike the maister of the leash through with their horsespeares that he died presentlie: whereupon noise and crie being raised in the countrie by his servants, diverse of the Scots, as they were going home from hunting, returned, and, falling upon the Picts to revenge the death of their fellow, there ensued a shrewd bickering betwixt them, so that of the Scots there died three score gentlemen, besides a great number of the commons, not one of them understanding (till all was done) what the matter meant. Of the Picts there were about an hundred slaine. This circumstance led to a bloody war betwixt the two nations.”
* * * * *
The following interesting anecdote, related by Mr. Carr in his “Stranger in Ireland,” there can be no doubt, I think, refers to the Irish wolf-dog. Mr. Carr says, that while on his journey to Ireland he “wandered to a little church, which owed its elevation to the following circumstance. Llewelyn the Great, who resided near the base of Snowdon, had a beautiful dog named Gelert, which had been presented to him by King John in 1205. One day, in consequence of the faithful animal, which at night always 'sentinelled his master's bed,' not making his appearance in the chase, Llewelyn returned home very angry, and met the dog, covered with blood, at the door of the chamber of his child. Upon entering it, he found the bed overturned, and the coverlet stained with gore. He called to his boy; but receiving no answer, he rashly concluded that he had been killed by Gelert, and in his anguish instantly thrust his sword through the poor animal's body. The Hon. Robert Spencer has beautifully told the remainder of the story.
'His suppliant looks, as prone he fell,
No pity could impart;
But still his Gelert's dying yell
Passed heavy on his heart.
Arous'd by Gelert's dying yell, Some slumb'rer waken'd nigh:
What words the parent's joy could tell,
To hear his infant's cry?
Nor scathe had he, nor harm, nor dread:
But the same couch beneath,
Lay a gaunt wolf all torn and dead,
Tremendous still in death.
Ah! what was then Llewelyn's pain?
For now the truth was clear:—
His gallant hound the wolf had slain,
To save Llewelyn's heir.'[F]
In order to mitigate his offence, Llewelyn built this chapel, and raised a tomb to poor Gelert; and the spot to this day is called Beth-Gelert, or the Grave of Gelert.”
I should not omit to mention, that in Mr. Windle's account of Cork, Kerry, &c., there is the following notice of the wolf and Irish wolf-dog.
“The last wolf seen in Ireland was killed in the neighbourhood of Annascuit, near Dingle, in 1710. The place is still known by the name of the Wolf's Step. The Irish called the wolf-dogSagh cliun; and old Campion, speaking of the Irish, says, They are not without wolves, and greyhounds to hunt them bigger of bone and limne than a colt.”
This noble animal is also described as “similar in shape to a greyhound, larger than a mastiff, and tractable as a spaniel.”
The following fact will serve to prove that the deer-hound is possessed of a fine sense of smelling, a circumstance which has been doubted by many persons.
The head keeper of Richmond Park is possessed of a famous old deer-hound bitch, remarkable for her sagacity, and for having taken five bucks in one day. After a battue in the Park in the winter of 1845, he directed one of the under-keepers to examine the ground carefully, which had been shot over the day before. He was accompanied by the old dog, who was to act as retriever. She came to a point in one of the covers, as was her custom when she seemed to find a rabbit; but the keeper, finding that it was a hare, called her off. After going some distance, the dog went back and pointed the hare a second time. The keeper put her up, and then found that she had been wounded, having had her hind leg broken. Here the fine sense of smelling was the more remarkable, as this old dog will not look at a hare, nor indeed can she be induced to run after one.
One of her progeny ran a wounded buck into the large pond in the Park, swam after it, killed it in the water, and then seizing it by the foot, swam with it to the shore.
Having now given my reader all the information I can gather on this dog of bygone times, I will gratify him with a letter I have received from a lady whose name is dear to Ireland, and highly placed in the ranks of English Literature:— “Dear Sir,
“I am much flattered by your compliment to my national erudition,
a very scanty stock in my best of times, and now nearly used up,
in 'furnishing forth' the pages of many an idle tale, worked out
in the 'Irish Interest,' as the mouse nibbled at the lion's
net,—the same presumption, if not with the same results! However,
I will rub up my old 'Shannos,' as Elizabeth said of her Latin,
and endeavour to recollect the little I have ever known on the
subject of the Irish wolf-dog.
“Natural history is too much a matter of fact to have ever
interested the poetic temperament of the Irish; Schools of Poetry,
Heraldry, and Music, were opened (says the Irish historians),
'time immemorial.' St. Patrick found the Academies of Lismore
and Armagh in a flourishing condition, when he arrived on his
great mission; and the more modern College of Clonard (founded in
the fifth century by Bishop Finnan), had a great reputation for
its learning and learned professors. But it does not appear that
there was any Chair of Natural History or Philosophy in these
scholastic Seminaries. Their Transactions recorded the miracles of
saints rather than the miracles of nature. And had some daring
Cuvier, or enterprising Lyell or Murchison, opened those spacious
cabinets, once 'In the deep bosom of the ocean buried,'
or entombed in mountain layers for unnumbered ages, the Druid
priests would probably have immolated the daring naturalist under
his highest oak. Is it quite sure that the Prior of Armagh, or the
founder of the Royal Academy of Clonard, the good Saint Finnan
himself, would have served them much better? Certain, however, it
is, that the Druids, Bards, Filiahs, Senachies and Saints of
Ireland, who left such mighty reputations behind them for
learning, have not dropped one word on the subject of the natural
history of their 'Isle of Song;' and though they may have dabbled
a little in that prosaic pursuit, they probably soon discovered
its perilous tendency, and sang with the last and most charming of
'No, Science, to you
We have long bade a last and careless adieu.'
“Nearly two thousand years after the foundation of the most
learned Academies of Ireland, a pretty little Zoological Garden
was opened in the capital of the country; but no living type of
the Irish wolf-dog is to be found there, nor were any 'fossil
remains' of the noble animal discovered in the Wicklow Mines,[G]
which were worked some fifty years back, but which, for want of
capital or perseverance, only furnished a few Cronobane halfpence, and materials for a musical farce to one of the most delightful
farcical Irish writers of his time;[H] for in Ireland,
'Tout finis par un chanson,'
(as Figaro had it of the France of his age,) when worse results do
not follow disappointment.
“The Irish wolf-dog, therefore, it may be asserted, belongs to the
poetical traditions of Ireland, or to its remote Milesian
histories. 'Gomer, the eldest son of Japhet, and others, the
immediate posterity of Noah, after the dispersion of mankind at
Babel, ventured (it is said), to 'commit themselves by ships upon
the sea,' to search out the unknown corners of the world, and thus
found out a western land called Ireland.'— (Dr. Warner.)
“It is probable they were the first to disturb its tranquillity by
the introduction of wolves, a fragment of the menagerie of the
Ark; for all noxious and destructive animals and reptiles were
brought into Ireland by her invaders. The soil and clime of the
'woody Morven,' however, though not genial to their
naturalisation, was long a prey to one of the most ferocious
animals imported by foreign aggression to increase and multiply.
Ireland swarmed with wolves, and its colonists and aborigines
would in time have alike shared the fate of 'little Red Riding
Hood;' when, lo! up started the noble Canis familiaris Hibernicus, which, greatly improved by a cross with the wolf
itself, was found everywhere in fierce antagonism with foreign
ferocity; and for his eminent services was not only speedily
adopted by patriot kings and heroes, as part of their courtly and
warlike parade, but sung by bards and immortalised by poets, as
worthy of such illustrious companionship. It is thus Bran, the
famous and beloved hound of Fingal, has become as immortal as his
master; and a track is still shown on a mountain in Tyrone, near
New Town Stuart, called 'The Track of the Foot of Bran, the Hound
of Fionne Mac Cumhall.' So much for poetry and tradition. Modern
naturalists, however, in their animal biography and prosaic view
of things, have assigned the introduction of the wolf-dog in
Ireland to the Danes, who brought it over in their first invasion;
and its resemblance to 'Le gros Danois' of Buffon favours the
supposition. 'When Ireland swarmed with wolves,' says Pennant,
'these dogs were confined to the chase; but as soon as these
animals were extirpated, the number of the dogs decreased, and
from that period were kept chiefly for state.' Goldsmith mentions
having only seen in his time in Ireland one Irish wolf-hound that
was four feet high. And though the father of the late Marquis of
Sligo endeavoured to preserve the breed, his kennels in latter years exhibited but a scanty specimen. These majestic and
beautiful animals are now, I believe, quite extinct in Ireland,
where their scarcity is accounted for by Mr. Pennant as 'the
consequence of the late King of Poland having procured from thence
by his agents as many as could be purchased.' The last notice
taken of the Irish wolf-dog in fictitious narrative may, I
believe, be found in one of my own national novels, 'O'Donnel,'
where the hero and his hound are first introduced to the reader
together. I borrowed the picture, as I gave it, from living
originals, which in my earliest youth struck forcibly on my
imagination, in the person of the celebrated Archibald Hamilton Rowan, accompanied by his Irish hound Bran!
“This is all I know or can recollect of my noble and beautiful
compatriot; but I remember that when some writer in 'Fraser's
Magazine' styled me 'that Irish she wolf-dog,' I felt complimented
by the epithet, since to attack the enemies of Ireland, and to
worry when they could not destroy them, was the peculiar
attribute of the species.
“I have the honour to be, dear Sir,
“Most truly yours,
“William Street, Albert Gate.”