CHAPTER XXV. THE SPORTING SPANIEL
The history of the Irish Water Spaniel is in many ways a very extraordinary one. According to the claim of Mr. Justin McCarthy, it originated entirely in his kennels, and this claim has never been seriously disputed by the subsequent owners and breeders of these dogs. It seems improbable that Mr. Justin McCarthy can actually have originated or manufactured a breed possessing so many extremely marked differences and divergences of type as the Irish Water Spaniel; but what he probably did was to rescue an old and moribund breed from impending extinction, and so improve it by judicious breeding, and cross-breeding as to give it a new lease of life, and permanently fix its salient points and characteristics. However that may be, little seems to have been known of the breed before he took it in hand, and it is very certain that nearly every Irish Water Spaniel seen for the last half century owes its descent to his old dog Boatswain, who was born in 1834 and lived for eighteen years. He must have been a grand old dog, since Mr. McCarthy gave him to Mr. Joliffe Tuffnell in 1849, when he was fifteen years old; and his new owner subsequently bred by him Jack, a dog whose name appears in many pedigrees.
It was not until 1862 that the breed seems to have attracted much notice in England, but in that year the Birmingham Committee gave two classes for them, in which, however, several of the prizes were withheld for want of merit; the next few years saw these dogs making great strides in popularity and, classes being provided at most of the important shows, many good specimens were exhibited.
During the last few years, however, the breed seems to have been progressing the wrong way, and classes at shows have not been nearly so strong, either in numbers or in quality, as they used to be. Yet there have been, and are still, quite a large number of good dogs and bitches to be seen, and it only needs enthusiasm and co-operation among breeders to bring back the palmiest days of the Irish Water Spaniel.
There is no member of the whole canine family which has a more distinctive personal appearance than the Irish Water Spaniel. With him it is a case of once seen never forgotten, and no one who has ever seen one could possibly mistake him for anything else than what he is. His best friends probably would not claim beauty, in the aesthetic sense, for him; but he is attractive in a quaint way peculiarly his own, and intelligent-looking. In this particular his looks do not bewray him; he is, in fact, one of the most intelligent of all the dogs used in aid of the gun, and in his own sphere one of the most useful. That sphere, there is no doubt, is that indicated by his name, and it is in a country of bogs and marshes, like the south and west of Ireland, of which he was originally a native, where snipe and wildfowl provide the staple sport of the gunner, that he is in his element and seen at his best, though, no doubt, he can do excellent work as an ordinary retriever, and is often used as such.
But Nature (or Mr. McCarthy's art) has specially formed and endowed him for the amphibious sport indicated above, and has provided him with an excellent nose, an almost waterproof coat, the sporting instincts of a true son of Erin, and, above all, a disposition full of good sense; he is high-couraged, and at the same time adaptable to the highest degree of perfection in training. His detractors often accuse him of being hard-mouthed, but this charge is not well founded. Many a dog which is used to hunt or find game as well as to retrieve it, will often kill a wounded bird or rabbit rather than allow it to escape, while there are many Irish Water Spaniels who, under normal circumstances, are just as tender-mouthed as the most fashionable of black Retrievers. Besides his virtues in the field, the Irish Water Spaniel has the reputation—a very well-founded one—of being the best of pals.
Most people are well acquainted with the personal appearance of this quaint-looking dog. The points regarded as essential are as follows:—
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