Cleveland Comhrá: The Irish Wolfhound

Cleveland Comhrá: The Irish Wolfhound

By Bob Carney

Of all the Irish breed dogs, the Irish Wolfhound is the most recognized ambassador of Ireland and Irish identity. They’re a tall, handsome animal, with a gentle disposition; good natured, calm and very social.

They love attention and are always ready to make new friends. This makes them a big hit at festivals and parades, but makes them poor guard dogs; they will protect their families but are not territorialm so care little about protecting property.

Life with wolfhounds can have its challenges. A puppy at three or four months can weigh around sixty pounds, with all of the behaviors usual to any puppy. Training requires patience and perseverence; they respond to positive training methods, praise for good behavior, as opposed to being reprimanded for undesirable acts.

Rían and litter mates that photo courtesy of Hops and Hounds

Trying to dominate or force them to do something is a waste of time, they are Irish after all! Our first wolfhound, Cian, could be convinced to do many things with this approach, we could dress him up, put hats on his head, as long as we told him how pretty he looked, and he would pose for a photo. If you yelled at him or tried to force him do anything, he would dig in his heels and it would become a battle of wills, an Irish stand-off!


Irish mythology ties the Irish Wolfhound, or “Cu” with a god-like tribe of people. Their hounds were known for their size, great strength and courage, and their loyalty to their masters. They were portrayed as companions and defenders of kings and queens in many of the ancient legends.

There is usually an element of truth in old tales. We know wolfhounds were kept by Irish Chieftains as castle dogs and were used in battle, strong and powerful enough to pull a man from horseback or out of a war chariot. When the Roman Army attempted to conquer all of the British Isles, they were impressed enough to acquire wolfhounds for their own use in their campaigns.

In the 1600s, the British had gained control of Ireland, causing many of the chieftains to flee with their families, subjects and their Irish Wolfhounds, many ending up in what is modern day France. The breed gained popularity due to it’s reputation and impressive presence. They were often presented as gifts to kings, emperors and noblemen throughout the world.

That practice has continued into modern times. After Herbert Hoover took up residence in the White House, his family was gifted an Irish Wolfhound named Cragwood Padraic; he was called Patrick by the Hoover family. President Kennedy also had a wolfhound. His hound was called Wolf, and was a gift from family friends in Ireland.

The breed became scarce because of this practice in the land of it’s origin, so rare, that Cromwell issued a decree banning the export of Irish Wolfhounds, fearing a resurgence in the wolf population. This view of the giant hounds would not last.

As the people of Ireland suffered in the following centuries under Penal Law, rebellion and famine, the English government altered their policies. Unmuzzled dogs of any type were destroyed and the once revered Irish Wolfhound had a bounty placed on it’s head, equal to that placed on the head of a priest.

Along with the extiction of the wolf in Ireland, the Irish Wolfhound was made obsolete, kept only by a few chieftains who managed to keep their hounds but very little else. The end of the Irish Wolfhound seemed all but inevitable.

Born in Scotland in 1833, Captain George Agustus Graham became interested in the Scottish Deerhound. It was through that interest that he became aware of the old Irish wolf-dog, and in 1859, acquired his first “Irish Wolfhound”, Faust. From that time on, he dedicated his life’s work to the preservation of the breed. He believed that the wolfhound hadn’t died out, but rather, had not been kept to it’s original standard due to it’s lack of prey; the size and strength no longer needed for what it was originally bred for. Captain Graham felt that the Scottish Deerhound was the Irish Wolfhound in all but that size and power, and with selective breeding, could be restored to it’s original standard.

There were other experts in the field that disagreed, arguing that the wolfhound was related more closely with the greyhound and that the Great Dane was nothing more than a heavier Irish wolfhound that had arrived in Europe with the exodus of the Irish chieftains centuries earlier. Little detail survives about Captain Graham’s methods or the pedigrees of the dogs used in delivering the dog we have today that is recognized as the Irish Wolfhound.

Faust had an unknown pedigree, but his size was recorded. He was 29 ½ inches at the shoulder and weighed between 115-120lbs. For comparison, our two year old male Rían is 38 inches at the shoulder and is 180lbs. This is not overly large by today’s standard.

Rosemary Noland with Redmond and Mary Carney w Rían

We do know he used mastiffs, danes, Scottish Deerhounds and wolfhounds with unknown lineages. Restored to it’s

former standard or manufactured to become a new breed matters little now. The Irish Wolfhound will always be known as, “The dog of kings and the king of dogs”.

Mary and I are looking forward to seeing you all throughout the year at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and all of the local festivals. Rían and new “baby sister” Aisling, along with little terrier Doolin, (who thinks he’s a wolfhound) love

to make new friends and represent just one of the great breeds of Irish dogs.

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían and Aisling and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at [email protected]

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