Irish Wolfhounds – “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked”

Irish Wolfhounds are one of the oldest breeds of dogs recorded in the history of man. They appear in early Irish law tracts under the name “Cú” (modern Irish word for hound). The dogs are known as the “gentle giants” of the canine world expressed in the breed slogan, “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked”. Wolfhounds also appear on the coat of arms of early Irish kings and were revered by the ancient Irish and remain a revered symbol of Ireland to this day. The name “wolfhound” is relatively new. In times past the dogs were refereed to as Cú Faoil. Cúchulain, a name which translates literally as “hound of Culain”, gained his name when as a child, known then as Setanta, slew the ferocious guard dog of Culain forcing him to offer himself as a replacement. The term Conn appears in many modern Irish Surnames like O’Connor, O’Connell, Connolly etc. Through the centuries they were referred to by many other names including the Irish wolf dog, Irish greyhound, or Irish war dog.

Circa 600 BC when the Tectosages and Tolistobogii Celts sacked Delphi, survivors left accounts of the fierce Celts and the huge dogs who fought with them and at their side. They were mentioned by Julius Caesar in his treatise, The Gallic Wars. In 391 AD Roman Consul, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, writes he received seven dogs “canes Scotch” as a gift to be used for fighting lions, bears etc. and in his words, “all Rome viewed with wonder”.

The Celtic Cross monument at Gettysburg National Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for the Irish Brigade primarily from New York features an Irish Wolfhound lying at the base of the cross, as a symbol of Irish heritage, in mournful respect. Sculpted by W. R. O’Donovan in memory of the fallen soldiers of the legendary unit of the Irish Brigade comprised of the 63rd, 69th and 88th New York infantry, the 14th New York Independent Battery, the 28th Massachusetts, and the 116th Pennsylvania.

“And all their manners do confess that courage dwells in gentleness.”


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