(This is a much debated topic. The opinion expressed below was first published in Blueprints, summer edition, 1997. It was written by Darwin Martin of Northern Ireland.)
The answer to this age-old question is a very simple NO. The Kerry Blue is not the national dog of Ireland. However, as with most things in Ireland, a simple answer cannot be given to a simple question! Let me explain why the Irish Blue has a greater right to the title . . .or has it?
There are nine native breeds of dog from Ireland, four Terriers, two Hounds and three Gundogs. (Irish Terrier, Soft Coated Wheaten Irish Terrier, Irish Blue Terrier (Kerry Blue, Glen of Imaal Terrier, Kerry Beagle, Irish Wolf Hound, Irish Setter, Irish Red & White Setter and the Irish Water Spaniel) All of which believe they lay some claim to the title of “National Dog of Ireland.” With the exception of the Kerry Blue, realistically all they can fully claim is to be a native Irish breed.
However, firstly let us consider Ireland: The history of Ireland, to say the least, has been colourful, and as a nation it is still evolving. (I do not want to turn this short article into a history lesson.)> Once Ireland was a nation split under the great kings; then it was a plantation colony of Great Britain, and now it is split into two countries, Eire (the Irish Republic), or as it is mostly referred to Southern Ireland, and the state of Northern Ireland. The south is a democratic republic and the North is now a democratic and integrated part of Britain. (It has not been proven, but we are told 60% of the population wish to remain integrated to Britain and 40% wish to align to, and become part of, the Irish Republic.)
During the first phase of Ireland – the reign of the Great Kings – we have no accurate record of dogs (or their breeds). There is mythology and legend that would suggest large hunting dogs, and there are tapestries and paintings in which there are encapsulations of a breed resembling the Irish Wolf Hound. We do not know what type of dog the ordinary folk of that time had. We are sure, that during the time of British occupation and plantation, the ruling class most certainly kept Irish Wolf Hounds, often referred to as the noble dogs of Ireland.
Before the Great Famine in the 1840′s, the population of Ireland was almost three times that which it is today, and the feudal system operated by absentee British landlords ensured that the native population of Ireland was poor. There was not the luxury of owning different dogs for different tasks. The common dogs of Ireland had to be hardy and practical. They had to be herders, guards, pest controllers, hunters, companions and most of all economical to feed and keep, unlike the noble Irish Wolf Hound.
Terrier type dogs were developed to meet the needs of the people. There is much colourful folklore surrounding the origin of the Irish Blue, Lurchers from England; spaniels swimming ashore from the Spanish Armada, but as we all really know, the Irish Blue was gained by selective breeding of the oldest type of Irish Terrier, the Soft Coated Irish Wheaten (an excellent herder) to create a common place dog for all the required tasks.
With the passage of time and the evolution of Irish history to the third phase, a most politically unstable time, (around the early 1920′s), the end of British Rule in 26 of the 32 Irish Counties, and the creation of “The Free State” – The Irish Republic, the Irish Blue had became the most renowned of the Native Irish Breeds. Indeed Michael Collins, one of the most active and noteworthy gentlemen in Irish History was an owner and exhibitor of Irish Blue Terriers. In point of fact, records exist of an Irish Blue Terrier Show taking place in October 1920 during the Irish revolution and after curfew, with exhibitors from all sides of the political divide. Michael Collins with his dog, Convict 224, competed for the Wyndham Quinn trophy, which was presented by a British Army Captain attached to the Vice-Regal’s Lodge of Britain.
The names of the competing dogs bore testimony to the exhibitors’ political persuasion! Examples are “Munster Fusilier,” “Trotsky,” “Markavich,” “Dawn of Freedom” and as already mentioned, “Convict 224.” Michael Collins, owning a Blue, almost certainly enticed many ordinary people to keep and breed our Exalted Blue.
The Dail Eireann, (The new Irish Parliament), was formed for the “new state,” and there is record of Michael Collins sponsoring an Act of Oireachtas (Act of Parliament) to elevate the Irish Blue to the status of National Dog of Ireland, however there is no record of this act being heard or legislation passed. This is not to say that it was not heard, just that there are no official records, even after extensive research. Records of this period are sketchy to say the least, and sometimes distorted or destroyed by forces loyal to the old regime. But one would imagine that with the formation of a new “State” and all the ensuing and associated instability, the passing of legislation on a National Dog was not a priority. After the death of General Michael Collins no other person “championed” the breed in the Dail and the initiative was lost.
It is worth note that in 1922, the members of the Dublin Irish Blue Club, (among them Mr. H.B. Fottrell, the owner of the first Irish Blue Champion –Rog Tailteann), formed the Irish Kennel Club, which held its first show on the 17th of March, Saint Patrick’s Day, 1922. As if to prove the claim that the Blue was the National Dog, the Irish Blue entry topped the bill with 257 entries!
At the same time, the 1920’s, the state of Northern Ireland was formed as an integrated part of Britain. It had its own Parliament for six if the Irish Counties and partition occurred from the rest of Ireland. The North being at loggerheads with the South for decades, some of the fold of Northern Ireland retained an affinity with the previous British ruling classes and, by default, consider the Irish Wolfhound to be the National Dog of Ireland. Indeed to this day, the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army retains an Irish Wolf Hound as its mascot for all official occasions. (This dog MUST be born and bred in Northern Ireland, and all dogs used- even the bitches-are named Brian Boru.)
Even if an act had been passed in the Dail Eirann to elevate the Irish Blue to the status of National Dog, it would only have been the national dog of Erin, the Irish Republic, or two-thirds of Ireland.
In today’s world of marketing, television, media, etc., the Irish Wolf Hound most certainly gets the lion’s share of publicity. The Kerry falls short; he gets a lot of unworthy press. He is known as the chap he is, the hunter, the fighter, the aggressor, but the lover is forgotten.
In Summary, everyone on the Island of Ireland recognises Saint Patrick as the patron Saint of Ireland and the shamrock as the national emblem, the Harp as the National Symbol, the national Dog? . . . The Kerry Blue? . . . This is questionable.
Sad to say that in a recent poll of non-dog lovers, in both Northern and Southern Ireland, 87% of people questioned were unable to name any native breed of Ireland, other than the Irish Wolf Hound. Also the Irish Wolf Hound has dominated publications of the Irish Kennel Club since 1991.
Are we losing the title, which we nearly had in the 1920’s?
Let’s just say that an Act of Oireachtas for the elevation of the Kerry Blue was written, and that it was the closest any of the native breeds of Ireland EVER got to become the National Dog. Let’s PRESUME the Kerry is it, . .but not shout too loud.
Editors note:Darwin Martin of GailGorm Irish Blue Terriers, Northern Ireland was born in 1958, two weeks after his family’s litter of Irish Blue pups were born. Darwin has had a life long association with the Kerry Blue Terrier. He often jokes that the pups were relentlessly tended, while he was left crying in the crib!