The Republic of Ireland is a country that loves its dogs. So does Northern Ireland, and though it remains part of the United Kingdom most of what is offered here applies to Northern Ireland, too.
The wolf has lived in what is now Ireland since far back in prehistory, until the last one was killed in the late 18th century. Irish domesticated dogs today, however, trace back to the Celtic Hound, brought in by the first Celtic tribes when they arrived in Ireland from the Russian steppes in about 500 BCE.
Celtic Hounds looked much like the very large Irish Wolfhounds that we know today, though a Celtic Hound was much fiercer. They had to be, because they were used as guard, attack, and war dogs as well as to hunt the dangerous wolves.
With their long history of dogs, it’s not surprising that the Irish have some superstitions concerning them. If a dog howls near the house of a sick person, it is said that that person will not recover. Anyone unfortunate enough to see a ghostly black dog with red eyes, sometimes called the puca (pook-ah,) will not live out the year.
And should you be getting married, do not allow a dog to lick either the bride or the groom on the morning of the wedding. It is considered very bad luck!
Because of their hardworking history, almost all Irish dog breeds are extremely active and have a great need for plenty of exercise. Be sure to remember this should you consider owning one.
A “spaniel” is a dog that chases game out of brush or water so that the hunter can shoot it. The Irish Water Spaniel has its roots at least a thousand years into the past and has the blood of many hunting dogs. Today it still dearly loves the water and can make an affectionate family pet.
A “setter” is a dog that locates game and then freezes in place to show the hunter where it is, rather than chasing it down. The Irish Setter traces back to the mid-16th century and today is a large, beautiful red dog with a long feathery coat. It became somewhat famous after the 1962 Disney film Big Red. The Irish Setter is very affectionate and, given enough exercise, makes a wonderful companion dog.
The Kerry Blue Terrier originated sometime in the 18th century in County Kerry. They are medium-sized but strong-minded dogs which, though affectionate with their owners, are hunters that may be aggressive towards other animals. Puppies are born black and gradually lighten to the blue-grey color.
The Irish Terrier is a very powerful and tough-minded creature that will never make a lap dog, but a stronger canine work partner will never be found.
The Wheaten Terrier is a friendly, obedient companion which may be the best bet for a house dog.
Irish Wolfhounds are all gentle giants today, though outwardly they still resemble their Celtic Hound ancestors and are a reminder of the history of dogs in Ireland.