In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here are six pet breeds from Ireland. Some are better known than others. All are Irish through and through. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!
KERRY BLUE TERRIER
Although no one knows when this breed was first created, Kerry Blue Terriers were highly prized in rural Ireland as early as the 1700s, and perhaps much earlier. Bred as vermin catchers, they helped keep mice and rats from consuming the grain of the farmer’s who prized them. Multi-talented, Kerry Blues can also retrieve game and herd sheep and cattle. They are, today, occasionally used as police dogs.
First recognized as a distinct breed in 1924, although it was shown in 1922 at the Westminster Dog Show, a Kerry Blue Terrier Club was founded in the United States in 1926. This breed is quite uncommon today.
Kerry Blue’s have the typical terrier tenacity. They are not known for friendliness with other dogs, and, unless socialized at an early age, do best as an only pet. You will find, however, that the Kerry is often child friendly. Terriers through and through, they love to play and can more than keep up with an active youngster. They weigh between 33 and 40 pounds and have tons of energy. Since they have an inborn prey drive, it is not recommended that they be kept near small animals or cats.
Particularly stubborn dogs, these terriers need professional training early in life. They’re relatively long-lived, with a life span of 12 to 15 years.
Kerry Blue Terriers available for rescue are listed here: http://www.kerryblues.info/rescue/available
SOFT COATED WHEATEN TERRIER
Not recognized as a breed until 1937, the Wheaten, like the Kerry Blue above, was originally bred in Ireland as a farm dog to keep down vermin and to alert its owners of danger. The first Wheaten didn’t come to America until 1946, but were not recognized by the AKC until 1973.
They are not ideal dogs to have around other small animals, such as cats, guinea pigs, and other caged mammals. They’re also a bit less tolerant of small children as a general rule. Wheatens have a wonderful, buff colored, soft coat which requires regular grooming to avoid matting. You will have to commit to giving a Wheaten Terrier consistent training and positive reinforcement to thrive. They love people, but will become overly exuberant in their greetings if not trained early. Wheaten Terriers still maintain solid popularity among terrier breeds.
Originating on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, the tailless Manx Cat was a working breed. At a later date, it was one of the original breeds of cats to be designated show cats.
The Manx is described as being dog-like in its loyalty to its owners. Active, but not hyperactive, they are fun cats to have in a household as they like to play just as much as they like to hunt.
A Manx kitten was the first kitten that Koko the gorilla chose to be her pet, and they were inseparable until the kitten’s accidental death later that year. Also, all Manx cats carry two genes – one for no tail, and the other for a normal length tail. Depending on which genes are passed along from both parents, purebred Manx can produce kittens with no tail, short tails, or full-length tails.
One of the many rescues which specialize in Manx cats for adoption is here: http://www.taillesscatrescue.com/
The breed in this list that has the longest documented history, seven of these huge dogs from Ireland were presented as gifts to a Roman consul in 391 AD. In later centuries, they were often given to royalty as gifts of state. As per the name, the Irish Wolfhound was bred primarily for hunting wolves that were killing livestock.
They are the tallest of all dog breeds. Accordingly, it can be amusing (and a little frustrating) to try to keep them from counter-surfing. Generally calm and gentle, Irish Wolfhounds will protect their families should the need arise.
Unfortunately, because of their size, they are very short-lived, averaging six to eight years at death. Your Irish Wolfhound will be great with children, although their height may be a problem for toddlers, They are also very attached to their owners. Wolfhounds will chase running small animals, but, if raised with cats or other small household pets, can be trained out of that behavior.
Wolfhounds have a rough, double coat, and do require weekly brushings, but more extensive grooming is usually not necessary. If you can bear the thought of losing your dog at a young age, and have a yard for this gentle giant to play in, Irish Wolfhounds are wonderful, calm dogs.
For a very tragic read, check out the poem Beth Gelert – although some sources say it’s about a greyhound, it’s from Irish folklore which makes it almost certainly a Wolfhound.
You can find local Irish Wolfhound rescues through the Irish Wolfhound Club of America here – https://www.iwclubofamerica.org/rescue-directory
Once one of the most popular dogs in the United States, the Irish Setter is first mentioned in literature in the 17th century. Back then you would find them colored red and white. The Red and White Irish Setter is still listed as a distinct breed. However, the solid red soon became the predominant coloration. Hunters prized them because the color was easy to see in the field. In the 1970s the Irish Setter was one of the most popular breeds in the United States. It now ranks 77th in popularity.
Irish Setters are energetic, playful, and rambunctious, even into maturity. Your Irish Setter might be protective, but they are not aggressive dogs. They’re known to be a bit stubborn, and will do well with other animals they have been raised with.
Full of energy, your setter will need plenty of exercise to keep him healthy and happy. An Irish setter without enough activity may become bored and destructive inside the home. Given plenty of opportunity to work off some energy, however, and they make a great family pet.
For adoptable Irish Setters, check this listing of rescues: https://www.irishsetterclub.org/rescue.html
These sweethearts are thought to be one of the oldest terrier breeds. These dogs, listed with kennel clubs since 1875, served with distinction in World War I as messengers and sentinels. At one point in the 1920s, it was the 13th most popular breed in the United States. Today that has dropped to about 116th place.
Irish Terriers can be stubborn, mischievous, and are apt to get into all sorts of trouble left to their own devices. That being said, they’re devoted to their owners and family, generally good with the little ones, and can be a city dog, as well as a country one. You will find, however, that they can be dog selective. Proper socialization and training are a must. Like the Irish Setter, this breed needs plenty of exercise, both mental and physical.
If you’re a jogger or power walker, the Irish Terrier is your breed. They love nothing more than accompanying their owners on expeditions. Relatively long-lived, the average life span is 12 to 15 years.
If you’re looking to rescue one of these increasingly rare, but enjoyable companions, check here: http://www.irishterrierrescuenetwork.org/
The origins of these six pet breeds from Ireland is often lost to history. You won’t find many of these dogs in shelters (although it does happen occasionally). They are usually transferred to breed-specific rescues who know their tendencies and are more able to find them the right homes. For the difference between shelters and rescues, read my post here.
Ireland has given the world many different companion animals, including a few, not listed here, that are unknown today. But these six pet breeds from Ireland are still around to share our lives.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to everyone!
Photo of Kerry Blue Terrier by Martin Hesketh on Foter.com / CC BY
Wheaten Terrier photo by sirispj on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo of Manx cat by voyagevixen2 on Foter.com / CC BY-ND
Irish Wolfhounds picture by Elvert Barnes on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo of Irish Setter by anastasia r on Foter.com / CC BY-ND