Irish and Irish Red and White Setters

Irish SetterIrish Setter

Although the Red and White Setter appears to be the older of these two breeds and an obvious descendant of 'setting spaniels', it is the Irish Setter that is better known today. The Irish Setter is a comparatively modern breed whose rise in popularity began around the 1850's with the advent of dog shows. Now almost two centuries later, his affectionate temperament, rich chestnut coat and sleek build have made him the spectacular dog we know today.

The History of Irish Red and White Setters

Setters 1805Setters 1805

The first documented description of an Irish Setter appears to be in 1770 when a variety of red spaniels (in Gaelic, Modder Rhu) was documented. Then came this drawing by Sydenham Edwards in 1805 where the centre dog is clearly a Red Setter with a white blaze up its forehead. So it seems unlikely that the predecessor of the Irish Setter was included in those referred to in 1570 by Dr Caius in the history of setters. Instead, it seems reasonable to assume that the more recently resurrected breed Red and White Setter, is a replica of the Setting Spaniel that Dr Caius originally described as a Land Spaniel.

This is confirmed by the recollections of Mr W Bennett who wrote the following in the early 1800's:

"My inquiries relative to the above breed (Irish Setters) have tended to convince me that, so far at least the Midland and Western Counties of Ireland, Dublin, and its vicinity were concerned... the Red Setter was but seldom encountered, and that the Red and White Irish Setter (differing in many essential qualities and general appearance from the English variety) is well known and highly esteemed[1] "

A Group of Red and White SettersA Group of Red and White Setters

But the Red and White Setter that had descended from the original 'Setting Spaniels' almost disappeared when Irish Setters were recognized as a pure breed by being listed in the First English Stud Book (1859-1874). Then the Irish Red Setter Club of Ireland was formed in 1882. This recognition was so successful in promoting the red variety that, despite encouragement from those involved with the Red Irish Setter, the Red and Whites did not form a Club of their own until 1944[2]. Today, they retain their individuality as a separate breed, together with a modern Breed Standard.

History of the Irish Setter In Australia

Irish Setter (Australia) 1973Irish Setter (Australia) 1973

Irish Setters were here when Melbourne's first dog show was conducted in 1864 when 3 Irish Setters were exhibited[3]. By 1882 Australia began documenting registrations and that year 3 more Irish Setters were registered as being imported. By 1909 another 10 were imported as well as an additional 60 registered as having been bred here[4]. Irish Setters have been extremely popular in Australia ever since.

Irish Setter pupIrish Setter pup

Irish Setters really began making their mark on Australia's dog world when some wonderful English dogs were sent out here because of the difficulty of keeping and feeding them when World War Two broke out. English Ch Marksman of Ide (Imp UK) bred by the famous Joe Braddon was one of the beautiful dogs that only came here because of the War and he won Best in Show at Melbourne Royal in 1941.

Because of the bloodlines available after World War Two, some of our best known Irish Setter kennels were founded during the 1960's when they also competed in Field Trials.

Irish Setter in Field TrialIrish Setter in Field Trial

Then, after a century of imports from England, the 1970's saw the arrival of American imports which added bone and a more glamorous coat to our Australian dogs. This boosted the popularity of Irish Setters enormously and saw the breed entry at the Royal Melbourne Show grow steadily from 102 in 1970 to a whopping 325 in 1977 for the famous English Gundog Specialist judge Mr L.C.(Jimmy) James. However by 1980 the entry had dropped back to 206 declining further to 108 by 1990[5]. But during this wave of popularity many dedicated breeders emerged. Since 1980 they have so far won 14 Best Gundog Exhibits and 2 Best Exhibit in Shows at Melbourne's prestigious Royal Show. So those who succeeded in using bloodlines cleverly laid a solid foundation for the Australian Irish Setter enthusiasts who are still actively breeding and showing today.

The Irish Setter Today

Irish SettersIrish Setters

The Irish Setter is a racy, refined dog. He is handsome, full of quality with untiring energy but demonstratively affectionate. There is no specified height or weight limits on this rich chestnut coloured breed.

Modern Irish SetterModern Irish Setter

The head is long and lean, the skull oval in shape, a well defined occiput and a moderately sloping stop between the raised eyebrows. The head planes are parallel and the moderately deep muzzle is of the same length as the skull. The flews must not be heavy or pendulous and the nose can be dark walnut, dark mahogany or black. He has a normal scissors bite. Set under his brows are his almond shaped eyes which can be dark hazel to dark brown but always with a kind expression. Although the ears are set on low and well back, they must be of thin texture and never heavy like a hound's.

The neck is moderately long, muscular but clean without dewlap, in profile flowing into well laid shoulders. The high withers give the topline the appearance of sloping gently down towards the slightly arched loin, this gentle slope being made more obvious by the low-set tail which is carried level with or just below the level of the back. Viewed from the front, the forelegs are straight and sinewy with plenty of bone. The feet are small and firm with strong, well arched toes. Although the front pasterns are straight, they should have sufficient slope to enable them to act like shock adsorbers.

Irish Setter in Show CoatIrish Setter in Show Coat

The chest should be as deep as possible and although rather narrow, looking over the dog the well sprung ribs should be obvious. The powerful muscles of the hindquarters cover two bones which form a good turn of stifle. The strong, short hocks should propel the dog forwards with a free flowing trot with a coordinated, balanced reach and drive. The mobile tail covered with coat or furnishings is thick at the root and tapers to a fine point, its motion representing the thermometer of the dog's mood.

Coat suitable for Field WorkCoat suitable for Field Work

Except for short hair on the head and the front of the legs, the coat should be of moderate length and as flat as possible and free from curl. The feathering on the ears, backs of the fore and hind legs and between the toes, chest, belly and tail should also be straight but it should not be so exaggerated or profuse that it could become impractical should the dog be required to do field work.

But the rich chestnut colour of the Irish Setter's coat is truly his crowning glory. It should be a clear colour with no trace of black, but a little white on the chest, throat, chin or toes or a small star on the head or a narrow streak on the nose or face should not disqualify. Perhaps they are a reminder of the dogs' 'Setting Spaniel' ancestry!

The Irish Red and White Setter Today

Irish Red and White SetterIrish Red and White Setter

As outlined in the History of the Irish Red and Irish Red and White Setters above, the modern Irish Red and White Setter is probably a direct descendant of the Land Spaniel described by Dr Caius in the history of setters. However, in the late 1800's with the advent of dog shows the Irish (Red) Setter became so popular that the Irish Red and White Setter almost disappeared. But during the 1920's some dedicated Irishmen set about collecting Irish Red and White Setters whose pedigrees dated back to the late 1700's. By 1944 they had sufficient documented information to re-establish Irish Red and White Setters as a separate breed and form a Club[2].

Irish and Irish Red and White Setter Stamp 1983Irish and Irish Red and White Setter Stamp 1983

It would take several more decades for the Irish Red and White Setter to become recognized on the world stage as a separate breed. So, as it much more modern than Irish, English and Gordon Setters, we feel it is easier to understand by presenting it as a comparison to its closest relative, the Irish Setter.

For comparison between the English, Gordon and Irish Setters please follow this link.

Comparison between the Irish Red and White and Irish Setters

Irish Red and White Setter Irish Setter
General Appearance Athletic without being clumsy Racy and refined
Irish Red and White SetterIrish Red and White Setter Irish SetterIrish Setter
Head Broad domed skull with good stop without prominent occiput. Fairly square muzzle Long and lean oval shaped skull with a moderate sloping stop set between raised eyebrows and well defined occiput and parallel head planes. Fairly square muzzle.
Eyes Round with slight prominence without haw Almond shaped set under the brows
Ears Set level with the eyes and well back Set low and well back
Mouth Normal scissors bite Normal scissors bite
Neck Moderately long Moderately long flowing into well laid shoulders
Gait Irish Red and White SetterIrish Red and White Setter Irish SetterIrish Setter
Forequarters Forelegs with oval bone, chest deep Forelegs straight and well boned, chest rather narrow and deep
Body The deep chest and well sprung ribs give the impression of a level topline The high withers give the impression of a slightly sloping topline that slopes gently downwards the arched loin
Hindquarters Powerful with stifle well bent Powerful with stifle well bent
Feet Close knit and well feathered Small and firm with well arched toes
Tail Strong at root and tapering not reaching below the hock. Carried level with the back or below Strong at root and tapering. Carried level with the back or below
Coat Finely textured with good feathering. Slight wave permissible Moderate length and as flat as possible and free from curl
Colour Clearly parti-coloured with a base colour of pearly white with solid red patches. Mottling or flecking but not roaning permitted on face and legs. Rich chestnut with no trace of black. However a little white on the chest, throat, chin or toes or a small star on the head or a narrow streak on the nose or face is permitted

References and Further Reading

[1] Rawdon B. Lee, "Modern Dogs" (Sporting Division) New Edition Vol-11 Published London: Horace Cox, "Field" Office, Windsor House, Bream's Buildings, E.C. 1897 Chapter V, Page 142

[2] 'The Native Dogs of Ireland' published by the Irish Kennel Club, Dublin ISBN 0-9509998-1-4 'The Irish Red and White Setter ' Page 56

[3] Catalogue of the First Exhibition of Sporting & Other Dogs, Thursday & Friday April 7 & 8, 1864 promoted by the Council of the Acclimatisation Society, printed in Melbourne by Mason & Firth, Printers, Flinders Lane West

[4] 'Tyzack's Annual' Compiled by T. W.Tyzack and C.S.Turner  Published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912 by Bellamine Bros. Printers, 66-70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Page 90 (Importations) and 39-43 (Stud Book).

[5] Catalogues Royal Melbourne Show 1970- 1990, September 1970- 1990 Published by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria