HISTORY OF THE BREED
The dog now officially called the Irish Terrier is possibly the oldest of the Terrier Breeds of Ireland, but records are so scarce that it would be difficult to prove this conclusively. It is certain that smallish, terrier-like dogs were invaluable to small Irish farmers and were always common in the Irish countryside. They would have been used to control vermin, help with stock and guard the homestead. Dogs of this type were mentioned in the Brehon laws which are a collection of laws dating from the middle ages.
The Irish Terrier was the first member of the terrier group to be recognised by the English Kennel Club in the late 19th Century as a native Irish breed.
When Irish Terriers were first shown in 1870, there seems to have been a great variation in the standard and few of the dogs shown could claim a documented pedigree. Two early champions – Killiney Boy and Erin –are considered to be the founders of the modern breed. Most pedigrees can now be traced back to this pair. Before the 1880’s the colour of the breed had not been settled. Apart from red, they were sometimes black and tan or even brindle.
The now characteristic red coat seems to have come from a bitch called Poppy (Killiney Boy x Erin) who was a bright red colour and threw pups all the same. At the end of the 19th Century efforts were made to breed out the black and tan and brindle coats so that by the 20th Century all Irish Terriers showed the red coat. It was also common in the 19th Century to see terriers with cropped ears, including Irish Terriers. The movement against cropping, pioneered by the Irish Terrier Club, grew so rapidly that by 31st December 1889 it had persuaded The Kennel Club to rule that no Irish Terrier whelped after this date was eligible to compete if cropped. This was to lead ultimately to a ban on the ear-cropping of all breeds.
The founders and key supporters of the Irish Terrier Club at this time provided the building blocks for the development of the breed in the 20th Century, and certainly contributed much to its astonishing popularity before the First World War. The sums offered for good specimens were remarkable, it is said that £500 was once refused for Ch Bolton Woods Mixer, and Ch Straight Tip was sold for £400. It is perhaps Mr William (Billy) Graham, the ‘Irish Ambassador’, to whom most credit is due for producing the modern show standard Irish Terrier. Breeding from the best dogs and bitches, he more than anyone else established the breed’s recognisable character, colour and appearance. The dogs that have passed through his kennel are nearly all the dogs that have made history in the breed, these include; Ch Erin, Ch Sporter, Ch Garryford, Ch Breda Rattle, Ch Breda Mixer and Ch Breda Muddler.
The Irish Terriers red coat soon made its appearance on show benches in England and in the United States where it was enthusiastically received. Irish Terriers were used during the First World War as messenger dogs in the trenches and their reputation was enhanced by both their intelligence and their fearlessness.
Records show a gradual decline in popularity starting in the 1920,s. This may have been due to breeding restrictions during the war and a desire on the part of the dog-owning public for a change of fashion. Whatever the cause, the breed certainly reached a very low ebb during those years. We do owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the dedicated handful of breeders who, despite food shortages and the terrible anxiety of a country in the grip of a second World War, managed to keep their breeding lines intact. Today’s dogs are in direct line to the dogs bred by these stalwarts. Some of these were Mrs Howard Jones (Breezy); Mrs Hayes (Borstal); Mrs Moore (Russetone); Mr Howard Fairlough (Ballymakenny); Mrs Slater (Nadder) and last but not least, Miss Woodifield (Pathfinder).
In the 1960’s the Montelle Irish Terriers appeared, bred and shown by Ann Bradley. Her dogs have been consistent winners over the years but also one of the best known kennels for producing good tempered family pets. Ann Bradley is well known and respected in the dog world and is Secretary of the ITA and a popular judge both in the UK and abroad.
Kennel Club registrations for Irish Terriers are roughly about 300 per year and while the Kennel Club list the breed as a’ vulnerable native breed’, it is bred in sufficient numbers to be in a healthy position to be maintained and go forward.