History of the Irish Terrier

Legend has it that there was no room on the Ark for Irish Terriers so the pair simply swam alongside. Others have sworn that there were references to Irish Terriers in ancient Irish manuscripts. Some have even suggested that the Irish was featured as a red dog with a green head in an Egyptian funeral cortege painted several hundreds of years ago. All this may be fact, fiction or unabashed blarney.

More modern claims cite to the Black and Tan Terrier and the noble Irish Wolfhound. James Brabazon dispatched all conjecture regarding origin when he wrote in 1922, “It does not require any strain on the imagination to conclude that the Irish Terrier far from owing anything to any other variety might justly take its place as the father of many of the sub-divisions of the Terrier tribe ...”

Long before the advent of dog shows, the Irish Terrier was integral to the agrarian life in both Northern and Southern Ireland. While there were some differences in appearance between the two regions, breeding the very best farm dog fixed the type and formed the character that perseveres to this day.

The Irish had to be the all purpose dog to win favor with people of limited financial means. He was expected to guard, hunt, and serve as a steadfast family companion.

He was ferocious when required to be and fierce in battle. He was to be equally at home after rabbit or fox on land, badger and otter in the water and rats – anywhere. It was vital that he could differentiate these from the animals found on the farm. In the field he protected crops and not just potatoes! He was agile enough to dispatch even birds intent on doing damage to tender fruit bushes and trees. He was to possess remarkable stamina, quickness, keen awareness, good humor and abundant intelligence. He was to be comforting, clever and competent. In short he was bred to be – and is – the quintessential pal.

It has been noted by more than one commentator that the forbearance and faithfulness to family (especially children) is not usually found in a dog so game and independent. Yet the Irish has that capacity and more.

It has been a regular fixture in the dog show world since 1873 when “Daisy” broke onto the Dublin scene. The Irish Terrier Club was formed in Dublin in 1879. It was soon followed by other “Breed Societies” throughout the UK. By 1905 the breed was so strong in the UK that a magazine devoted entirely to it was founded. The Irish Terrier Review was published quarterly for some years thereafter.

The breed has enjoyed selective popularity in America since the 1870’s. The first Irish Terrier class at Westminster was held in 1881 with an entry of four. By 1891 the entry increased to thirty! The Irish Terrier Club of America was founded in 1896 and was recognized by the AKC in 1897. Ours was one of the first twenty clubs to gain delegate representation in the American Kennel Club.

The work of early breeders on our shores succeeded in maintaining popularity well through the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. This was an important element in breed history since during this period, economic and political circumstances in the UK and Europe led to a decline in the breed. In America, popularity spread from the east coast to the rest of the country. Today there are 5 regional clubs (soon to be 6), a small but dedicated group of breeders and enthusiasts in nearly all of our 50 states and Canada.

The reckless, heedless pluck the Irishman persistently displays has earned him the nickname “Daredevil.” It is said that our breed tends to the pugnacious. But if you live with one you quickly see that the Irish does not really fight more than other dogs – he just enjoys it more!

The Irish have served valiantly as messengers in both World Wars and its abundant attributes have been celebrated in art, literature and poetry. Its irrepressible roguishness has enhanced many an advertisement through the years.

There is no doubt that the Irish Terrier is deserving of the affection and respect his supporters shower upon him. His is a rich history – even if it’s only about 148 years old!