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Data shows that dogs are the most popular pet around the world. Looking at Ireland, there were just under half a million pet dogs in 2020 with around 25% of households owning one. But dogs aren't just pets in Ireland, many breeds actually came from there. In fact, there are more than 350 dog breeds recognized worldwide that originate from all over the globe. Here are nine Irish dog breeds you may not have heard of.
The Glen of Imaal Terrier, also know as the Wicklow Terrier or Glen, is one of four Irish terrier breeds. They are named for the remote and mountainous region from which they originated, the Glen of Imaal in County Wicklow, Ireland. They were bred to be badger hunters and farm dogs, with the sturdy build of a working dog for the rocky terrain. The Glen's history supposedly began during the reign of Elizabeth I, when her soldiers quelled a rebellion in Ireland. Many soldiers settled in County Wicklow with their small hounds, which they then bred with local terriers, eventually becoming the Glen.
The breed was kept secret for several hundred years until the 1900s and almost went extinct. But a revival occurred in the early twentieth century and the breed was recognized by the Irish Kennel Club in 1934. There are some reports of Glens in the U.S. during the 1930s, but their popularity really rose in the 80s. The Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of America was founded in 1986 and the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2004. It is still one of the rarest breeds in the world today, with only hundreds of registered Glens in the U.S. and fewer than 300 puppies registered in the U.K. each year. Because of this, they are labeled as a vulnerable native breed by the UK Kennel Club.
The Red And White Setter is a hunting bird dog that has been around since at least the 1600s. This means the breed came before their taller, leaner and more famous relative, the Irish Setter. The purpose of the Red And White's multi-colored coat was to enable hunters to see these working gun dogs from a distance. At the end of the 19th century, the breed nearly went extinct due to the rise in popularity of the solid red Irish Setter. But a few breeders in remote areas of Ireland worked hard to revive the breed, which became more established once again in the 1980s. Red And White Setters are now primarily developed as show dogs in England, though they remain working dogs in Ireland. The breed is officially recognized by several Kennel Clubs, with the AKC accepting it in 2009. But because fewer than 300 new dogs are registered per year, the UK Kennel Club lists it as a vulnerable native breed.
Irish Setters - perhaps the most famous of the breeds from Ireland - originated in the 1800s by Irish hunters. They wanted a sleek, athletic hunting companion who could cover ground on the wide and flat countryside of the Emerald Isle. Their bright red coat served a purpose, as it made the dogs easier for hunters to spots. Once dog shows rose in popularity from the mid to late 19th century, the all-red Irish Setter became very fashionable. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1878 and even a U.S. President (Nixon) had one. In addition, eleven Irish Setters have won the Sporting Group at the Westminster Kennel Club show.
The Irish Terrier - another of the four terrier breeds from Ireland - is considered one of the oldest terrier breeds, with their exact origin unknown. They're believed to be descendants of black and tan terrier dogs from England and Ireland with maybe some Irish Wolfhound mixed in. What is known about this dog is that it was part of rural Ireland for hundreds of years. Bred to be an all-purpose farm dog, the Irish Terrier had many jobs - from hunting rats and other critters to guarding the herd and property, and beyond. The breed was standardized sometime around the 1870s and by the 1880s, the breed was one of the top five most popular in Ireland and England. Irish Terriers were the first native Irish breed in the terrier group to be recognized by the UK Kennel Club, right before the end of the 19th century. The breed landed in the U.S. around the same time and was recognized by the AKC in 1885.
Irish Water Spaniels (IWS) are the tallest of all the AKC spaniels, standing 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weighing 55 to 65 pounds. The breed was developed by a sportsman from Dublin in the early 1830s, though it's exact origins are unknown. It is believed that the IWS comes from both of Ireland's prior strains of water spaniels - the South Country and the North Country Water Spaniel - though it more closely resembles the South Country one. Other theories on breed ancestry include Poodles, Barbets, Portuguese Water Dogs and the now-extinct English Water Spaniel.
By 1859, the IWS began to participate in dog shows and the breed's popularity rose in England and Ireland - especially thanks to its ability to hunt and retrieve waterfowl in cold waters, such as the North Sea. The breed was imported to the U.S. in the 1870s and became the country's third most popular sporting breed by 1875. The IWS was actually one of the nine original breeds recognized by the AKC when it was founded in 1884.
Irish Wolfhounds are not only one of the tallest breeds alive (males stand up to three feet at the shoulder and weigh as much as 180 pounds), but also one of the more ancient breeds. For instance, related Irish hounds were already around when the Roman Empire reached the British isles in the year 391. They originated as a cross between large, indigenous British dogs and Middle Eastern course hounds brought in through trade. These large hunters were first used on the now-extinct Irish Elk, which stood six feet at the shoulder.
In the 15th century, wolves had taken over the Irish countryside and so these Irish hounds began to specialize in wolf hunting. Once the wolves and other larger game animals were hunted to extinction by the late 1700s, the wolfhound almost went extinct itself. But in 1862, British army captain George Augustus Graham revived the breed by creating today's Irish Wolfhound. The modern breed is believed to come from crossing the original hounds with Scottish Deerhound, Great Dane, Borzoi, English Mastiff, Greyhound, Whippet and possibly Tibetan Mastiff or Tibetan Kyi Apso. Recent DNA analysis showed that the Irish Wolfhound shares the most DNA with the Deerhound, Whippet, Greyhound and Great Dane. Captain Graham and other breeders founded the Irish Wolfhound Club in 1885 and the AKC officially recognized the breed in 1897.
The Kerry Beagle - which isn't actually a beagle at all - is the only scent hound native to Ireland. One theory as to why the dog was named a Beagle is from the Irish Word "beag," meaning "small." But the Kerry Beagle is considered a medium-sized dog, standing 22 to 24 inches at the shoulder and weighing up to 60 pounds. Though little is known about the origin of the name, more is known about the history of the breed. There are detailed pedigrees from 1794 and the breed is believed to date back even farther, into the 16th century. The exact ancestors of the breed are still a mystery, but it is believed to have descended from the Old Southern Hound and other Celtic Hounds from the area. The Kerry Beagle was originally bred to track stags and large game, but today hunt smaller animals like foxes and hares. They also served as watchdogs, which means they are barkers.
In the 1800s (particularly by the time of the Great Famine of 1845-49), the breed dwindled so much that only one major pack remained - the Scarteen of County Limerick, still exists today and was able to maintain and continue the breed. Eventually, Irish immigrants took their Kerry Beagles the U.S., where they became one of the foundation breeds of Coonhounds. Kerry Beagles are so rare that the Irish Kennel Club only just officially recognized them in 1991 and other major kennel clubs, including the AKC, still have not recognized them.
Kerry Blue Terriers, also known as Irish Blue Terriers, are one of the largest AKC terriers and the third terrier from Ireland. They're named for the county in Ireland from which they originate - Kerry - and their famous blue coat. The first reference to the Kerry Blue is from 1847, though its exact origins are unknown. Breeds theorized to be part of the Kerry Blue's ancestors include the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Bedlington Terrier, Portuguese Water Dog, Irish Terrier and Irish Wolfhound. What is known is that the breed was created for pest and rodent control and hunted rats, hares, badgers, foxes and otters. They developed into a general working dog, versatile farm dog, watch dog and family companion.
By the early 1900s, the Kerry Blue Terrier was well defined and making waves in dog shows throughout Ireland and England. The rise in attention allowed the breed to spread and even become a mascot for patriots during the struggle for Irish independence. Kerry Blue Terriers spread to the U.S. in the 1920s and the AKC recognized the breed in 1922. Though the breed is uncommon today, it is not on the vulnerable native breeds list.
Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, or Wheatens, are the fourth and final terrier from Ireland. They were bred for more than two hundred years to perfect an all-purpose farm dog who herded, guarded and hunted. They are related to the Irish Terrier and the Kerry Blue Terrier, but, unlike those breeds, were not owned by the wealthy. In fact, they were often referred to as the "Poor Man's Wolfhound" and their tails were docked to keep them smaller to avoid taxes. Although the Wheaten has a long history, the Irish Kennel Club didn't recognize the breed until 1937 and the UK Kennel Club in 1943. The first Wheatens were exported to the U.S. in the 1940s and serious interest began in the 1950s. In 1962, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America was founded and the AKC recognized the breed in 1973.