March 14, 2022
Happy Saint PAWtrick’s Day!: 8 Unique Dog Breeds From Ireland
Ireland is home to rolling green hills, impressive seaside land formations, and world-class cities. The Emerald Isle also has a long and storied history with unique canine breeds. When these dogs aren’t being employed as working dogs or beloved pets, they have been the inspiration for literature, poetry, and music for hundreds of years.
As the saying goes, everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and the dogs in this post are Irish through and through, with many proudly bearing names that reveal their Celtic roots. So put on your green, sit back, and read all about the dogs of Ireland. Sláinte!
Known for its gorgeous, glossy mahogany coat, the Irish Setter has been one of the most popular dogs in Ireland for over one hundred years and was one of the first breeds to be recognized by the American Kennel Club® at its inception in 1884. Irish Setters first appeared in Ireland in the 17th century, assisting in hunting various game, but specifically, birds, and were bred as a taller, more athletic version of their English Setter ancestor. They quickly became renowned for their hunting abilities and intelligence.
Irish setters have lively (and sometimes pushy) personalities and require a good amount of exercise. They can be loving companion dogs and especially enjoy the company of children, but may not be the best fit for a first-time dog owner. Irish Setters take longer to mature than the average dog – generally about 3 years – and have high exercise needs, so if you’re considering welcoming one into your family, be prepared for a longer-than-usual puppy phase, and make sure you’re ready for this energetic, fun-loving addition.
Irish Terriers originated in County Cork and are direct descendants of the oldest known terrier breeds. They are brave, intrepid animals that possess a deep devotion and commitment to their owners. Breed standards were introduced in the 1870s, and by the next decade, they had become one of the most popular breeds on the British Isles. Their popularity quickly expanded across the Atlantic Ocean, and they were first recognized by The American Kennel Club in 1885.
Used in World War I to carry messages across the front lines, Irish Terriers are tenacious and adaptable to any situation with a near reckless abandon, which led them to receive the nickname “Daredevils.” They are generally good-spirited companions but are sometimes aggressive toward other animals. Irish Terriers aren’t recommended for a house with non-canine pets. Irish Terriers also need and love a lot of daily exercise, making them a great jogging or hiking companion for active people or families.
Irish Water Spaniel
The Irish Water Spaniel is a rare breed and one of the oldest spaniel breeds in existence, with evidence that they roamed Ireland as far back as the 7th century! Legend has it that the Irish Water Spaniel is a descendent of the mythological Dobhar-chu, a half-dog, half-fish famous in Irish Mythology.
The Irish Water Spaniel was one of the original nine breeds recognized by the AKC® in 1884. Called the “clown” of the spaniel family, the Irish Water Spaniel is the tallest of the spaniels and has webbed feet to aid in swimming, which served it well in its original job retrieving ducks from the water.
Irish Water Spaniels are known for their smooth face, a curly, poodle-like coat that requires regular brushing, and hairless tail, which acts as a rudder in the water. The Irish Water Spaniel possesses great endurance and agility and is generally intelligent and inquisitive, but can at times be shy and independent.
Glen of Imaal Terrier
The Glen of Imaal Terrier (named for a valley in the Wicklow mountains, where it originated) is very much your typical terrier: spirited, rowdy, rambunctious, cocky, brave, and stubborn. Low to the ground with bowed legs and a shaggy, wiry coat, and first bred to serve as all-around farm dogs, using excellent digging skills to go after all manner of small creatures and rodents.
Legend has it that these spunky dogs first appeared on the island in the 1600s, during the reign of Elizabeth I. After an Irish Rebellion, Elizabeth granted land on the island to soldiers from the Flemish region of Belgium. Those soldiers brought Flemish Hounds, who bred with terriers and hounds native to the island to give birth to the first semblance of the Imaal Terrier.
Like Irish Terriers, they are not well-suited to sharing a home with other small animals like cats or rabbits, unless they are well-socialized from a very young age. Unlike other terriers, however, the Glen of Imaal is not a frequent barker. It is one of the newest breeds of dog, recognized by the AKC in 2004, and one of the rarest Irish dog breeds in the US.
Kerry Blue Terrier
Great companions for those with allergies, the Kerry Blue Terriers, known as the ‘Leprechaun of the dog world‘, have a non-shedding curly blue-gray coat. Their fur is black at birth, with the blue-gray color gradually coming in during their first two years.
The breed first appeared in County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland, hence their name. The origin of this unique breed revolves around a well-known Irish myth, once again involving Elizabeth I. In 1588, 130 ships from the Spanish Armada shipwrecked off the coast of Ireland. It’s believed that Portuguese Water Dogs escaped those ships, swam to shore, and eventually bred with native Irish farm dogs, creating the first descendants of the Kerry Blue Terrier. Another myth states that the Kerry Blue resulted from the mating of a Russian Blue Dog and Irish Farm Dog after a similar Russian shipwreck. Whatever the case, these dogs have been shrouded in mystery from the beginning, adding to their appeal and legend.
Kerry Blue Terriers are highly intelligent, devoted to their people, and often gentle with children. Be forewarned, they are exceptionally energetic and need regular play and exercise. They are also happiest when they have a job to do, such as hunting or herding. They are even said to have a great sense of humor! The Kerry Blue (or Irish Blue) is the national terrier of Ireland and has become a symbol of the country.
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier has a special connection to St. Patrick’s Day, first appearing in the Irish Kennel Club Championship show ring on March 17, 1937. The breed’s name comes from its characteristic silky, wheat-colored coat. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier began as a farm dog, performing tasks like herding, protecting livestock, and scaring off vermin.
These dogs have long been a part of history on the British Isles, with Celtic myth dating them to prehistory. They were prized by early Romans and received much admiration from all who traveled to Ireland. They were also one of the most popular dogs among the lower class of citizens during the 17th and 18th century when it was made a law that only upper-class families could own hounds, beagles, greyhounds, and spaniels; most of the dog population of Ireland at the time.
Naturally energetic, the Wheaten has a warm, affectionate, outgoing personality and loves meeting and greeting new people. It is an athletic dog that excels in agility tasks and requires regular exercise. Like the Kerry Blue Terrier, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier is also hypoallergenic. It gets along well with other dogs but tends to dislike cats.
Although not recognized by any major kennel club, the Kerry Beagle may be one of the oldest of the Irish dogs (second only to the Irish Wolfhound). Irish myth proclaims this breed descended from the ‘Celtic Hounds’ or ‘Old Southern Hounds’ of the Middle Ages.
This breed has been present in Ireland for hundreds of years and has changed drastically in that time. Over that time, the Kerry Beagle was mixed with many different native Irish hounds to create the perfect hunting dog. That consistent effort has created the version of the Kerry Beagle that we know today.
The Kerry Beagle is a medium-sized hunting dog that is much taller than the popular modern Beagle (22-24 inches compared to 13-16 inches), and the connection between the two similarly named breeds is unknown. Kerry Beagles are still used by hunters today to hunt foxes and participate in drag hunts. They have also settled into life as family pets. Kerry Beagles often get along well with children and other dogs, and their athletic, energetic nature makes them a good fit for active adults.
The Irish Wolfhound has a long and storied history. One of the oldest known dog breeds in existence, these ancient pups trace their lineage back to 300 AD and the time of the Roman empire. Evidence of their existence has been confirmed by woodcuts and writings from the period!
Used primarily as hunting dogs and for defensive purposes in ancient Ireland, the Irish Wolfhound, there are many accounts that these dogs battled against bears, lions, and wild boars. They quickly gain near-mythological status in the Irish folk tradition and have been revered by visitors to the Emerald Isle for thousands of years.
The Irish Wolfhound is a large dog that can reach up to 32 inches in height, making them the tallest dog in the world. They can also weigh up to 120 pounds, meaning there’s nothing small about these dogs! However, they are gentle giants. They are highly affectionate canines who are loyal to their people but generally welcoming and not suspicious strangers. They are also typically well-behaved with children, making them a potentially great choice as a family pet.