This magnificent breed is of ancient origin, descended from Molossian hounds, Balkan wardogs and Asian mastiffs introduced to Ireland by the Celts well over 2000 years ago. Some believe that a number of these original Celtic Wolfdogs were taken to Rome by the returning troops to fight in the coliseums. In the past the Irish Wolfhound was owned only by the royalty, but this doesn't mean that only a few of these hounds existed. In fact, there were hundreds upon hundreds, seeing how old Ireland was divided among 150 kingdoms. Employed as a hunter of wild boars, elk and other game, as well as the exterminator of wolves, the mighty Cu Faoil also made an excellent war dog, used for knocking the enemy horsemen to the ground and mauling them.
This breed was also a capable herder and watchdog. The Irish Wolfhound is mentioned in a number of Celtic myths and historical stories of Ireland. One of the most famous ones is of course the story of Gelert, a dog given to Llewellyn, the King of Wales in 1210 by Prince John of England. This practice of giving dogs away as gifts to foreign nobility, coupled with the disappearance of wolves from Ireland greatly contributed to the breed\'s decline in numbers from the mid-1700\'s to the early 19th century, even though the exportation of Irish Wolfhounds was officially banned as early as 1652.
Reduced to the role of a companion animal and property guardian, the Irish Wolfhound was nearing extinction when a number of fanciers decided to save the breed in the 1800\'s. While living in Dublin, a Scottish Major H.D.Richardson wrote a book about dogs called "The Dog: Its Origin, Natural History and Varieties". In this book he claims that the Irish Wolfhound is a heavier variety of the Scottish Deerhound breed. Richardson started a breeding programme to save the great Irish Hound by reportedly using the Glengarry type of Scottish Deerhounds, Spanish Hounds, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs and now-extinct Pyrenean sighthounds, Serbian Greyhounds and a number of other breeds.
By using Richardson's stock as their foundation, Sir John Power of Kilfane and Mr. Whyte Baker of Ballytobin Castle played an important role in re-establishing the breed. Another noteworthy breeder was the Earl of Caledon, who crossed his Irish Hounds with Great Danes. However, it is Captain George Augustus Graham who is credited as the saviour of the Irish Wolfhound. He was successful in reviving the breed in the 1860's by crossing Richardson's hounds with dogs of Earl of Caledon and introducing Russian Wolfhounds, Tibetan Mastiffs, Greyhounds and other breeds into the breeding programme. This incarnation of the Irish Wolfhound was first shown in 1870's and the official breed Standard was written in 1885, although crossings with Scottish Deerhounds and Great Danes continued for the next 40 years.
Both World Wars had a devastating effect on the Irish Wolfhound, but efforts of dedicated breeders and the sheer popularity of the breed ensured its survival. This is presently one of the most popular dogs worldwide, thanks to its calm and sensitive personality and noble good looks. Tall, deep-chested and powerful, the Irish Wolfhound is one of the largest breeds in the world and makes an intimidating watchdog. It is devoted to its owner and generally gets along with people, but some specimens can be overly reserved and suspicious around strangers, needing early socialization and obedience training. This is an intelligent and reliable breed, playful and gentle with children, making a good family pet. However, it needs plentiful exercise and a fair amount of grooming.
The coat is rough and dense, coming in shades of white, gray, fawn, red and brindle. Black dogs still exist, but aren't as commonly encountered as in the past, while black-n-tan, which was once one of the most common colourings in the breed, hasn't been seen since the 2nd World War.
Average height is around 33 inches, but taller examples can be encountered.