wolfhound history

In the past, the Irish Wolfhound was known as cĂș faoil in the native Irish language. The term 'Irish Wolfhound' is relatively new. The breed itself, though previously known by many names, served historically as a dog of war, herding, guarding, and hunting.

The Irish placed a great deal of value on these dogs, recognizing their true value in combat and protection of lands. A person's status indicated how many such hounds he was allowed to possess, though sources remain unclear on whether this had a historical Irish precedent, or if this was a law strictly introduced by the invading English as was codified in later centuries. Legendary Irish hero and giant-slayer Fionn MacCumhail (Finn MacCool) was said to possess a few hundred Irish Wolfhounds, using them as loyal dogs of war in battle.

Used largely as a fierce guard dog in legendary times, Ulster folk hero Cuchulainn is deeply associated with and compared to the Irish Wolfhound due to the young hero's early encounter with one such dog.

Detailed Roman accounts describe encounters with the Irish hounds and the Romans' bringing of the breed back to their homeland. While Rome never conquered Ireland, accounts of the Irish and their war dogs were documented and taken back to Roman leaders.

The Irish Wolfhound's name is derived not from its large stature, but from the breed's intended purpose: to hunt wolves. The wolf and boar (which the dog was also used to hunt as early as the first century, BC) no longer exist in Ireland, in part to the presence of these protective hounds.

Through various historical conflicts between Ireland and England, the Irish infantrymen often found themselves in the position of facing mounted and armored knights. The Irish Wolfhound was large and trainable enough to dismount, injure, and kill many English knights. It is due to this use that the English monarchy and nobility banned ownership of Irish Wolfhounds amongst Irish common folk (amongst many other bans, starting officially with the Statutes of Kilkenny in the 14th century).

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Irish nationalists therefore disagreed with using the hound as any sort of symbol of Ireland, as the Irish Wolfhound was used against the Irish as a means of control.

The breed is, therefore, deeply ingrained in the cultural disagreements and politics of Ireland. Despite also being used by the English for purposes of war and status, the dog helps to maintain a sovereign national identity for many outside of Ireland; it is for this very reason that many individuals of Irish descent choose to own an Irish Wolfhound.