Irish Terrier

Irish TerrierIrish Terrier

Make room in your heart for the perfect dog - the Irish Terrier! These jaunty debonair daredevils have a deep affection for their master and family and their owners are well rewarded by these intelligent animals' responsiveness and personality. Previously known as 'the Dare Devil', the Irish Terrier has a mind of his own especially when he sees a strange cat, rabbit or potential canine adversary! Such is the description from a breeder whose Irish Terriers dominated her life[1].

History of the Irish Terrier

Irish Terrier 1879Irish Terrier 1879

With classes available in England from 1876, they were the first native Irish breed of Terrier to appear in the English Kennel Club's Stud Book in 1894. So, in a similar way to the Fox Terrier, the Irish Terrier's modern popularity is as a pure breed. However, as their background of hardship gave them the temperament which made them famous, it should always be respected.

Irish Terriers from c 1500 - 1876

Irish Terrier c 1900Irish Terrier c 1900

Ireland from around the 1500's became increasingly populated by peasant farmers, each of whom had a small plot of badly fenced land. By the 1800's potatoes had become their staple diet and families spent their nights gathered around the fire, waiting for their 'murphies' to cook. Completing this average family circle was a watch dog which chased away pigs or other animals from neighbouring farms and killed rats either out of necessity or for the sport of ratting.  During the day these dogs were general farm dogs which were often allowed to lay by the fire. But at night they had to patrol the property and when off duty, had nowhere else to curl up and sleep but in a ditch.[2] 

As these terriers effectively ran wild, they were randomly bred. So for centuries the hardiest dogs with the most pluck and endurance had the biggest influence on the breed. This is how generations of this life made the Irish Terrier the hardy, robust dog he is today. However, as the dogs' as well as their peasant owners' staple diet was potatoes, in order to escape starvation caused by the great potato famine of the 1800's, Irishmen migrated to other countries accompanied by their beloved Irish Terriers.

Irish Terriers in Australia

Irish Terrier with Camerons ScoutsIrish Terrier with Camerons Scouts

Irish Terriers began arriving here before 1883 and by 1912, 48 were recorded as being imported, another 57 formally registered[3]. As Australia's First Dog Shows had no registration system in place to record pedigrees until 1912, probably there were lots more Irish Terriers that were indiscriminately bred. But popular they were, the Victorian Irish Terrier Club being formed in 1894 separately to the Victoria Terrier Club which was formed in the same year. An Irish Terrier went overseas during the Boer War (1899 - 1902) to serve with the Australian Group pictured known as 'the Cameron's Scouts'.

The Pikeman's Dog The Pikeman's Dog

The Pikemen's Dog

Another Irish Terrier that became famous was 'Wee Jock', known as the 'The Pikeman's Dog'. He was a hero at the Eureka Stockade on December 13th 1864 where five British soldiers and 22 miners famously died. 'Wee Jock' guarded the Pikeman's body at the bloody battlefield that day and accompanied it to the cemetery afterwards. According to reports 'Wee Jock' howled continuously and would not be separated from his master[5].

His statue is pictured. It stands on the high ground outside the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka Street, Ballarat, Victoria. 'Wee Jock' is depicted looking up to his master. This statue is situated at the apex of the 'V' shaped  monument representing victory. The 'V' is formed by 22 golden posts, each representing one of 22 miners who were killed that day. This bloody battle became known as 'The Eureka Stockade'. It is important because it was a fight for miners' rights, the first battle for workers' rights in Australian History. Isn't it wonderful that a recognizable pure breed dog is the highlight of this monument to Australian Democracy?

Early Irish Terriers as Showdogs

Irish Terrier 1913Irish Terrier 1913

The Irish Terrier 1913 pictured, photographed in Ballarat, was Ch Crow Gill Muddler (Imp UK) who won Best Exhibit in Show at the Ladies' Kennel Club Show in 1911[3] as well as Best of Breed at the Ballarat Kennel Club in 1913. He came from a family of highly priced English bred Irish Terriers demonstrating just how extremely popular they were in Australia in those early years. It is on record that a Show held In 1914 in Victoria conducted by the 'Fox and Irish Terrier Club' drew 400 entries, with another Club, 'the Airedale and Irish Terrier Club' also active in NSW at that time[4].

Irish Terrier c 1970Irish Terrier c 1970

But during the Second World War, activity with many breeds including the Irish Terrier almost ceased. However, by the late 1940's some of the old stalwarts began renewing their passion with a new wave of impressive imports arriving from UK, one of which won Reserve Best in Show at Sydney Royal in 1964. Interest in the Irish Terrier is kept alive throughout Australia today by just a handful of dedicated breeders.

The Irish Terrier Today

Irish TerrierIrish Terrier

The Irish Terrier is a whole coloured red, red wheaten or yellow red dog without black shading, standing 46 - 48 cm (18 - 19 inches) tall.  He should always be good tempered and alert, displaying evidence of the instinctive pluck embedded in his temperament that has endeared him to enthusiasts for the past century, as a pet, watch dog and pure breed.

Irish Terrier (Female)Irish Terrier (Female)

The Irish Terrier has a racy but graceful outline, but never cobby. In balance with this overall racy outline, the Irish Terrier has a long and rather narrow head with a flat skull, clean cheeks and a slight but perceptible stop. His long strong foreface or muzzle and almost black tight fitting lips house a normal scissors bite. His nose should always be black and his small dark eyes and small moderately thin V-shaped high set neat ears that drop forward close to the cheek to complete his alert expression.

Irish TerrierIrish Terrier

In keeping with the Irish Terrier's racy outline, his neck is fairly long without loose skin or dewlap, running smoothly into the smooth topline created by his well laid back shoulders and muscular strong slightly arched loin. Built with the same basic construction of the long legged terriers, his body is moderately long, his back strong and straight and his chest and ribs deep but not round or wide, so accommodating his terrier front with the elbows working clear of the sides when the dog is either moving or digging. He moves with balanced reach and drive.

Irish TerrierIrish Terrier

His muscular forelegs are perfectly straight with upright pasterns running into small round feet, preferably with black nails but always with strong pads with never a sign of cracks or imperfections like warts. His hindquarters are also strong and muscular. His high set tail is carried gaily and should be of a thickness to complete the general overall balance of the dog.

The Irish Terrier has a double, broken coat. His harsh wiry top coat lies flat and is free of silkiness, curl and fringe should never obscure the overall racy outline of the dog. However, as the coat is still a double coat, there is some soft undercoat at the base of the stiff hairs that form the top coat. Although his ears and tail are free of fringe, unusually there is a slight fringe of hair running up the sides of his neck to the corner of his ears.

References and Further Reading

Published as - Jane Harvey, 'The Irish Terrier, the Pikeman's Dog' in 'Lets Talk Terriers' (Tracy Murphy, Dean Park NSW) Vol 11 No 2 2015 Page 13

[1] Betty Gerdsen, 'The History of Purebred Dogs in Australia' The Irish Terrier published by OzDog Newspaper 1997 Page 185

[2] Mr W J Cotten in Rawdon B. Lee's, "Modern Dogs" of Great Britain and Ireland (Third Edition) London:Horace Cox, "Field" Office, Windsor House, Bream's Buildings, E.C. 1903 Chapter IX, Pages 227 - 229

[3] T.W.Tyzack and C.S. Turner "Tyzack's Annual" published by the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club 1912, printed by Bellmaine Bros., Printers 66 - 70 Flinders Lane Melbourne Australia Page 68 (Advertisement) Pages 71 - 75 (Stud Book) and Pages 96 - 97 (Importations) Two separate Victorian Irish Terrier Clubs were formed 1894 Page 132.

[4] Mary Connolly, "The British Terrier Club of NSW Diamond Jubilee Handbook 1907 - 1967" published by Hi-Line Press Pages 105 - 108

[5] www.monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/culture/animals/display/30234-the-pikemanand96;s-dog

See also Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0


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