Ireland is known for green, rolling hills; strong, vibrant people; and unique, native dog breeds as noteworthy as their country of origin.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve rounded up the 10 best (and only) Irish dogs. While there are other breeds believed to have origins in Ireland, these are the ones officially recognized by the Irish Kennel Club as purebred Irish dogs. Some are well-known and others, not so much. Raise a glass and say “sláinte” to these true Irish originals.
Irish Red Setter
If you’re anything like me, when you think “Irish dogs,” the setter is the first that comes to mind. These elegant, auburn-haired bird dogs are very intelligent, and like to have a job to do. They were recognized as a distinct breed in Ireland in the 18th century, and were likely descended from a mix of English dogs.
Irish Red and White Setter
According to the Irish Kennel Club, the red and white setter is the older of the two distinct Irish setters, though it wasn’t officially recognized by the American Kennel Club until 2009.
Nearly identical in build and personality to their red-headed cousin, the Irish red and white setter is distinct for its use as a gun dog (source).
The red and white setter nearly disappeared between the end of the 19th century and the 20th century, but was revived in the 1970s (I wonder if it had anything to do with feathered hair being so popular at the time).
There are four terrier breeds from Ireland, and they have a lot in common, so here’s a tip to help you identify THE Irish terrier: They’re the only one with an all-red coat.
They’re also likely the oldest of the Emerald Isle’s native terriers, as the IKC notes. Originally developed to hunt vermin, the Irish terrier gained immense popularity in Ireland, England, and beyond after serving as a messenger dog and sentinel during World War 1.
The hardy, devoted Irish terrier makes a wonderful family pet.
Glen of Imaal Terrier
Originating in the gloomy foothills of Glen of Imaal in County Wick, Ireland, this sturdy little terrier was originally bred to eradicate vermin, and according to the IKC, developed to withstand hard work and little love on the farm.
These days, they’re beloved family dogs with many familiar terrier traits: high enthusiasm, strong prey drive, and deep affection for their people. Plus, they’re so stinking cute, it’s a wonder they aren’t more popular worldwide!
Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish water spaniel is a big, vibrant hunting dog with a waterproof coat and distinct “rat tail.” They bear a strong resemblance to the Portuguese water dog, and it’s possible they derived from dogs brought over in Portuguese fishing boats, or from poodle-type dogs from France (source).
Whatever their origins, one thing is certain: The Irish water spaniel is a unique dog, and uniquely Irish!
Kerry Blue Terrier
Another terrier from Ireland originally bred to catch rats and other vermin on farms, the Kerry blue is as hardy and devoted as the rest, but has the distinction of being newer than other Irish terrier breeds, and wasn’t recognized as a distinct breed until the 20th century (source).
It’s possible Kerries were bred from a combination of Wheaten terriers and Portuguese water dogs, or simply various terrier types. Their diverse history speaks to their diverse charms: Kerries are known for being great all-around farm dogs, family dogs, and friends.
The Irish wolfhound has the distinction of being the tallest of all dog breeds, according to the AKC, with adult males measuring up to 34 inches at the shoulder.
It’s also likely the oldest Irish dog breed, dating at least as far back as the fifth century. These “Big Dogs of Ireland,” as they are sometimes called, turn up all over classic Irish literature.
Back in the day, the wolfhound was bred to hunt wolves, and was popular among Irish nobility; once the wolf went extinct in Ireland in the late 1700s, the wolfhound lost favor and almost went extinct itself. It was revived in the late 19th century, and today the Irish wolfhound is a beloved symbol of Irish resilience.
Don’t be fooled by the name: the Kerry beagle is different from the beagle recognized by the AKC, and is in fact a larger, longer hound with more in common with the American coonhound (source).
The Kerry beagle stands alongside the Irish wolfhound as one of Ireland’s oldest breeds of dog, likely originating from Celtic hounds bred with dogs from “the continent” to make strong hunting stock.
Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
You may have noticed by now that the various Irish terriers have a lot in common with each other.
Wheatens, like their Irish terrier brethren, they were originally bred to root out vermin on the Irish countryside.
Nicknamed “wheaties” (yep, like the cereal!), they’re named for their soft, wheat-colored coat, and are distinct for being the most popular dog of Irish origins in America. Soft coated wheaten terriers are beloved for their happy, playful, family-friendly personality.
Whether you’re a wolfhound hound, a terrier terror, or have your heart set on a setter, you have to admit, Ireland gives good dog. What’s your favorite dog of Irish origin?
Top image via Flickr/34186459@N00
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