While the Irish Wolfhound and Irish Setter are household names when it comes to Irish breeds, there are a few other Irish pups you probably didn’t know about. Let’s celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish with these five furry lads who have curious backstories that begin in The Emerald Isle:
#1: Glen of Imaal Terrier
Anyone who looks into the eyes of the Glen of Imaal Terrier (after pushing back his shaggy hair) will see a spirited, brave, and playful fellow looking back. He’s named after a remote valley found in County Wicklow in the eastern region of Ireland. Many of the local farmers were descended from Lowland and Hessian soldiers and had been given the land in the 16th and 17th centuries for services to the crown. Because of poor soil conditions, these hard workers couldn’t afford to have dogs who didn’t earn their keep, so the Glen of Imaal flourished by hunting badgers, foxes, and rats. They were also recruited to work in the kitchens as “turn-spits”—they ran on a treadmill that would turn meat on a spit (or skewer) as it cooked over a fire.
#2: Irish Red and White Setter
Full of life and energy, the Irish Red and White Setter is a true family companion who thrives in the outdoors. Although the exact origin of setters is a bit of a mystery, their presence has been traced all the way back to the 17th century in Ireland. They were used to hunt fowl, and they had to freeze in place when they spotted prey rather than chase it so they wouldn’t obstruct the hunter’s eyesight. The Irish Setter was originally red and white only, with the occasional all-red pup in a litter. When the red setters became more popular in the 1850s, the red-and-whites began to decline. Many hunters preferred them, though, because they were easier to spot.
#3: Irish Terrier
Good tempered, affectionate, and animated, the Irish Terrier is also a bit of a daredevil who doesn’t back down. Behind his vigor and spunky strut lies a heart of gold—he becomes very attached to his family and is particularly good with children. He is believed to be one of the oldest terriers, originating in County Cork, Ireland, several thousand years ago. He was bred to help rid his family’s property of vermin. He was a necessity on small farms, where both a skilled ratter and great family companion was needed to live with families in small quarters. The Irish Terrier truly brings the best of both worlds.
#4: Irish Water Spaniel
Although he’s a little reserved toward strangers, the Irish Water Spaniel is a high-spirited clown with his family. With the courage and smarts to work a long day, this spaniel is endlessly intelligent, bold, and eager to please. He is an excellent hunter of waterfowl by design—his thick, water-repellant coat protects him in even the iciest water. Spaniels go back for centuries in Ireland. By the 1830s, Irishman Justin McCarthy began to produce the Irish Water Spaniels people know and love today. His own dog is acknowledged as the father of the breed, but he never revealed his sources for the gene pool. Portuguese sailors making stops in the UK also brought their Portuguese Water Dogs, who may have contributed to the breed.
#5: Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
The shaggy Wheaten is quieter than most other terriers, and is always alert, friendly, and happy. He is a confident and obedient family dog and makes a great watchdog. It is difficult to pinpoint his exact origin, as many terriers of Ireland share similar appearances and beginnings. The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier of 200 years ago was a poor man’s dog, and few considered him worthy of recognition. Under the Irish penal laws of the 1700s, tenant farmers were prohibited from owning a dog worth more than five pounds, so the Wheaten became very common among them. He was used in the Kerry and Cork areas to hunt otters and badgers, and worked on farms chasing small animals into burrows and dragging them out.