Get to Know the Irish Wolfhound: The Majestic Wonder

As one of the tallest and grandest of dogs, he's been owned by kings and queens.


This ain’t no pocket pooch. The Irish Wolfhound is one of the tallest, grandest, and most majestic of dogs. Rivaled only by the Great Dane in height, he’s not a dog to get without first making sure you have the facilities. Forget the compact car, you’re going to need a van! Or maybe a limo.

More interesting things about the Irish Wolfhound

  • The AKC standard calls for a height of at least 30 inches in females and 32 inches in males, and a weight of at least 105 pounds (females) and 120 pounds (males), but in reality most Irish Wolfhounds are considerably larger.
  • The Irish Wolfhound may be confused with the Scottish Deerhound. The Wolfhound is heavier bodied with a less arched backline and less of a Greyhound look.
  • Huge dogs fought alongside Celts as early as 600 BC. They also fought in the Gallic Wars and were mentioned by Julius Caesar.
  • Some were used to fight lions and bears, to the amazement of the Romans.
  • The Irish bred them for hunting and protection. Irish chieftains used them to hunt wolves and Irish elk, and to present to foreign nobility as gifts.

  • The Irish name for the breed is Cu Faoil. “Cu” is a term implying bravery.
  • The breed flourished until the disappearance of wolves in Ireland in the 18th century diminished his usefulness. Oliver Cromwell issued a prohibition against exporting the dogs. The Irish Wolfhound was almost extinct in Ireland by 1800, a situation made worse by the famine of 1845. The breed had to be reconstituted with crosses to Scottish Deerhounds, Borzois, and Great Danes. By 1880, the breed was once again doing well.

  • Several sad stories detail the Irish Wolfhound’s loyalty. A famous story involves a 13th-century Wolfhound named Gelert, who was owned by Prince Llewellyn of Wales. Returning from a hunt from which the dog was absent, he found it at home, blood-spattered, next to his infant’s empty crib. The prince slew the dog, only to find out the child was alive, and the blood was from a wolf the dog had killed protecting it.
  • The hound of Aughrim was a Wolfhound who went to battle with his owner, an Irish knight. The owner was killed, but the dog remained by his side for six months, leaving only to search for food. When soldiers approached some months later, the dog, determined to protect his owner’s bones, attacked, whereupon he was shot and killed.

  • Bally Shannon was an Irish Wolfhound who served in WWI. He dragged 10 wounded men to safety, but was eventually wounded in action. On the way home, the hospital ship he and his master (who had also been wounded) were on was torpedoed and sank. Only four beings managed to escape the sinking ship: Bally Shannon, his master, and two other men. Unfortunately, the wreckage the men clung to would not support the dog’s additional weight, and he was ordered off. Still wounded, he swam around them in circles all night, occasionally resting his exhausted head upon the flotsam. He was still swimming when rescuers plucked them all from the sea, and he was taken to New York, where he became a celebrity of sorts.
  • Anne Boleyn’s Irish Wolfhound is said to have had his head chopped off alongside hers.

  • Owners include King Richard III, King Henry VII, Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, George Washington, General Custer, Herbert Hoover, Robert Kennedy, Roman Polanski, Sally Jesse Raphael, Sting, Rudolph Valentino, Claudia Schiffer and Roger Moore.
  • Two Irish Wolfhounds have won the Hound group at the Westminster dog show, in 1985 and 1975.
  • The Irish Wolfhound is the 73rd most popular AKC breed, up from 83rd a decade ago.

Do you own an Irish Wolfhound? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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