CHAPTER XXXVI. THE IRISH TERRIER
The dare-devil Irish Terrier has most certainly made his home in our bosom. There is no breed of dog more genuinely loved by those who have sufficient experience and knowledge to make the comparison. Other dogs have a larger share of innate wisdom, others are most aesthetically beautiful, others more peaceable; but our rufous friend has a way of winning into his owner's heart and making there an abiding place which is all the more secure because it is gained by sincere and undemonstrative devotion. Perhaps one likes him equally for his faults as for his merits. His very failings are due to his soldierly faithfulness and loyalty, to his too ardent vigilance in guarding the threshold, to his officious belligerence towards other canines who offend his sense of proprietorship in his master. His particular stature may have some influence in his success as a chum. He is just tall enough to rest his chin upon one's knee and look up with all his soul into one's eyes. Whatever be the secret of his attraction 'tis certain that he has the Hibernian art of compelling affection and forgiveness, and that he makes one value him, not for the beauty of his ruddy raiment, the straightness of his fore-legs, the set of his eye and ear, the levelness of his back, or his ability to win prizes, but rather for his true and trusty heart, that exacts no return and seeks no recompense. He may be but an indifferent specimen of his kind, taken in as a stranger at the gates; but when at length the inevitable time arrives, as it does all too soon in canine nature, one then discovers how surely one has been harbouring an angel unawares.
Statistics would probably show that in numbers the Fox-terrier justifies the reputation of being a more popular breed, and the Scottish Terrier is no doubt a formidable competitor for public esteem. It is safe, however, to say that the Irish Terrier shares with these the distinction of being one of the three most popular terriers in the British Isles.
This fact taken into consideration, it is interesting to reflect that thirty years ago the “Dare-Devil” was virtually unknown in England. Idstone, in his book on dogs, published in 1872 did not give a word of mention to the breed, and dog shows had been instituted sixteen years before a class was opened for the Irish Terrier. The dog existed, of course, in its native land. It may indeed be almost truthfully said to have existed “as long as that country has been an island.”
About the year 1875, experts were in dispute over the Irish Terrier, and many averred that his rough coat and length of hair on forehead and muzzle were indubitable proof of Scotch blood. His very expression, they said, was Scotch. But the argument was quelled by more knowing disputants on the other side, who claimed that Ireland had never been without her terrier, and that she owed no manner of indebtedness to Scotland for a dog whose every hair was essentially Irish.
In the same year at a show held in Belfast a goodly number of the breed were brought together, notable among them being Mr. D. O'Connell's Slasher, a very good-looking wire-coated working terrier, who is said to have excelled as a field and water dog. Slasher was lint white in colour, and reputed to be descended from a pure white strain. Two other terriers of the time were Mr. Morton's Fly (the first Irish Terrier to gain a championship) and Mr. George Jamison's Sport.
The prominent Irish Terriers of the 'seventies varied considerably in type. Stinger, who won the first prize at Lisburn in 1875, was long-backed and short-legged, with a “dark blue grizzle coloured back, tan legs, and white turned-out feet.” The dam of Mr. Burke's Killeney Boy was a rough black and tan, a combination of colours which was believed to accompany the best class of coats. Brindles were not uncommon. Some were tall on the leg, some short; some were lanky and others cobby; many were very small. There were classes given at a Dublin show in 1874 for Irish Terriers under 9 lb. weight.