In the month of March, people the world over celebrate the Irish and its people on St. Patrick's Day. There are parades, feasts of corned beef and cabbage, and of course, green beer. But one piece of Irish tradition gets lost within the pints of Guinness poured and potatoes served — and that is Ireland's long history of breeding dogs for both work and companionship. That just won't do, so I've written a bit about Irish dog breeds that you should know before this month's holiday.
The biggest takeaway I want you to have about Irish dog breeds is that while there aren't many registered unique breeds native to Ireland, they've been bred for so long, and so perfectly, that there isn't need of more than what they've got. They have everything from the enormous work horse of a dog, the Irish wolfhound, to the small and spritely Imaal terrier. The county Kerry in southwest Ireland has produced two distinct breeds on their small peninsula — the Kerry Beagle and the Kerry Blue terrier are both working dogs wonderfully suited for both companionship and hunting small game, according to the Irish Kennel Club. (Fair warning though, beagles are not known for being the quietest of breeds.) Turns out, Ireland knows all about sweet pups — now you just need the perfect name.
The Irish Kennel Club boasts four terrier breeds. The Irish Glen of Imaal, Kerry Blue, Soft Coated Wheaton, and Irish Terrier. Having been the proud puppy mama of a terrier, I will tell you that terriers are hysterical. They are best at ferreting out small game and collecting it for their masters, and they let any errant squirrel that happens nearby know that they are on watch. I could practically hear what my terrier was thinking while he was watching outside. "Seriously, the minute my mom tells me it's cool to go get you, you are toast, Mr. Squirrel."
They also have a tendency to hide stuff in the sofa. Toys, biscuits, the more-than-occasional sock. An interesting fact about the Irish Terrier, noted the IKC, is that "the dog now officially called Irish Terrier is possibly the oldest of the Irish terrier breeds but records are so scarce that it would be difficult to prove this conclusively."
The Irish Red Setter and the Irish and White Red Setter are active, friendly, happy dogs that are noted to be great "gun dogs" (hunting dogs), according to the IKC. The IKC noted that these silky smooth canines require a metric ton of exercise, upwards of two hours per day, so it's probably a breed best left for those of us who have either a prodigious amount of spare time, or a good deal of land. Trust me, you don't want an active, smart dog to get bored in your house. It doesn't ever end well.
Irish Water Spaniel
If you're looking for a smart, loyal family dog, and you don't mind exercising it often — and a lot of grooming — this dog might be the one for you. Especially if you have a big yard with a pond or a pool. Irish Water Spaniels love swimming, and they'd have so much fun living on land where they could chase the ducks to their heart's delight, according to the IKC. A relative of the Portuguese water dog breed made famous by the Obamas, this dog has the potential to be the very best boy. Plus, just look at that dog. It's ridiculous looking and wants a smushy hug.
This is possibly the second oldest dog breed in Ireland, according to the IKC. They wrote that "It is generally assumed that the dog referred to as 'GADHAR' in Old Irish texts may be the direct ancestor of the modern day Kerry hound. The most likely outline of the history of this breed is a Celtic hound going back probably to the time of the first Celtic settlements in Ireland." And now Kerry Beagles are fun hunting dogs who love nothing more than to go on long walks, sniff out food at the family table, hunt down a hare or two, and then take a nap. What a life.
The Irish Wolfhound is the oldest dog breed in Ireland, noted the IKC. They are huge and bred to hunt wolves and deer. Now they work with the police and army, and also apparently, the children's book illustrator who lives on my block. I think that wolfhound's chief job is that of "footwarmer extraordinaire," and "entertainer of the household's children." (And also my children.)
Sidenote: a favorite book series of my entire family is the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. One of the main characters is an Irish Wolfhound named Oberon who can speak with his master. The audiobook version is sheer perfection, narrated by Luke Daniels, and if you like Irish Wolfhounds, you truly must listen to this series. Oberon is a hoot and a half.
In all seriousness, according to The Humane Society, more dogs were abandoned in March of last year than any other month. If any of these dogs are sparking your fancy, consider adopting one from your shelter, or finding a rescue through an organization like the Irish Wolfhound Club of America. You could mean the difference between life and death for these dogs, and surely that must bring with it a little luck of the Irish.