The Massereene Hound, mid -1600s
First I should like to take you to my original home county of Antrim, where our dear and famous Massereene Hound has been in the local news. For those who don’t know, the Hound is most likely the oldest statue of an Irish Wolfhound to be found anywhere in the world, dating from the 1600s. It has a fascinating history behind it.
The legend goes as follows:
“Antrim Castle and its beautiful woodland
estate on the shores of Lough Neagh seemed an idyllic home for Sir Hugh
Clotworthy in the early 1600s. However, as Sir Hugh's young bride, Lady
Marion Clotworthy found life at Antrim Castle a lonely and miserable
existence. Her husband was often absent on military business. She pined
for the excitement and glamour of her girlhood days at Carrickfergus
Marion whiled away long hours wandering through the woodlands of the castle grounds. On one of her solitary strolls she was confronted by a huge, savage wolf. At once the beast sprang at her. Marian screamed and collapsed in a faint.
Upon awakening, her gaze fell upon an incredible sight. The wolf lay dead, badly mauled. Standing guard by her side was an Irish Wolfhound, itself badly injured. Together they made their way back to the castle where she tended her protector. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The shaggy guardian escorted Lady Marion on her daily rambles. The close companionship was set to save many lives.
One stormy night, armed enemies crept stealthily towards the castle. Just as they were about to attack, a wild barking alerted those asleep within the castle. In the midst of fierce firing, an agonised howl was heard. The castle was saved, but daylight revealed a trail of blood that led to the wolfhound's corpse.
By encasing the hound in stone and mounting it upon one of the castle's front towers, Sir Hugh shrewdly calculated the effigy's potential to ward off hostile but superstitious enemies. An added insurance, he propagated a belief that if ever the statue should be removed, the Massereene family would speedily decay.”
Eventually, alterations to the castle
caused the statue be removed from the castle tower and placed on a wall
about 10 foot high at the gate of the estate. There it remained until
the late 1970s, when, invaded by ivy and in danger of falling, Antrim
Borough Council, with persuasion from the Irish Wolfhound Club of
Northern Ireland, had it removed to its current location in front of the
town leisure centre. In deference to the old Massereene family legend,
it still remained within the bounds of the original Antrim Castle estate
(the actual castle was destroyed by fire in 1922).
You can see from the photos that the “encased” hound has the characteristic features of an Irish Wolfhound, as we know it - neck, head and ears, great bone and size and that typical crouch. The statue stands about 3 foot tall from plinth to head. It is in need of repair having had some very crude work done on it some years ago. The council have promised to undertake this.
The Hound is currently in the news as there was local concern when the borough council stated that it would like to move it to the front of its civic offices - but outside the old Castle Estate. There is ongoing debate, which the IW Club of NI will be monitoring closely. There is some talk of a copy being made, and the original being placed in a safer environment. It’s good that the local community seems to be as protective of the statue and its history as we Wolfhounders.
Dublin Wolfhound Art
Now, to Dublin, where most of the best Wolfhound artefacts in Ireland are to be found. In nice Spring sunshine, myself, Marion and son, Max, set off armed with camera to check out the main Wolfhound must-see items. For anyone wishing to follow the route, it takes less than a day. Firstly then, to O’Connell Street, to view the Wolfhound on the O’Connell Monument.
The O’Connell Monument 1862
It was built to commemorate the "Liberator" Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) after whom the street was renamed after Irish independence. Started in 1862, it took 20 years to complete. It was designed by John Henry Foley (1818-1874) the leading sculptor of the day. He died before it was completed and his assistant finished the work. The monument is in three parts, surmounted by the figure of O'Connell. The base is heavy limestone with four winged figures representing Patriotism, Fidelity, Courage and Eloquence. I couldn’t identify which figure is talking to the Wolfhound. All four seem equally appropriate.
Arthur Jones Armchair and Statuette, 1851
Arthur Jones, the renowned Dublin cabinetmaker of the mid-nineteenth century, exhibited a suite of sculptured decorative furniture at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851. It included this chair worked in bog oak. It is full of Celtic motifs, including the well-defined Wolfhound heads on the arm rests. Also forming part of the suite is the statuette of Queen Victoria, flanked by the Royal British and the Irish Wolfhound.
We must proceed now on the Wolfhound quest, and cross Dublin once more to the Natural History Museum, which is situated next door to the Dáil (the Irish Parliament) in Merrion Street.
This museum, which is part of The National Museum of Ireland, is a zoological museum containing diverse collections of world wildlife. The Irish Room, on the ground floor, is devoted largely to Irish mammals, sea-creatures and insects. And who do we find there in a large glass cabinet shared with the polar bear and the grizzly but Ch Ouborough Acushla. I’ll let judge NA Loraine speak for us -
Ch Ouborough Acushla (born 1925)
"In this breed I had the pleasure of seeing one of the finest animals of any variety that is has been my lot so far. What have you breeders of Irish Wolfhounds being trying for? To produce an animal somewhat approaching the mythical stories of the giant dogs that inhabited Ireland in past ages. It has been a great effort and one that has produced some beautiful hounds, but never til now have you succeeded in producing a dog so nearly reaching in size and grandeur the old stories of the breed. Acushla of Ouborough’s commanding presence, enormous size, her wonderful proportions, a neck of such length and strong enough to hold an ox, great fine shoulders, a bit higher over the withers than the loin - it is the reverse in many of the breed; a helpless looking fault in a hound, I think – great strong loin and powerful quarters; the whole animal set on good limbs and with movement that would not disgrace a terrier".
Extract from Report of Irish Wolfhounds by NA Loraine, Metropolitan & Essex Canine Society’s Show 1926
National Bank Emblem
We had started out at 11 o’clock, and it is now time for a late lunch in the Avoca Café in Wicklow Street (Try their fish pie!). Then, a short walk through to College Green (in front of Trinity College). Here is the Habitat premises, originally, the National Bank of Ireland, which was founded by Daniel O’Connell. The emblem of the bank is represented on the roof line, which bears the inscription "Eireann go Brath" and features the usual round tower, wolfhound and Irish harp beside Hibernia. The work is by the partnership, Pearse and Sharpe (James Pearse was the father of the revolutionary, Padraig).
The Trinity Capital Hotel Wolfhound
Then, lastly, round beside Trinity College to the Trinity Capital Hotel to find the resident sculptured Wolfhound last seen lying in front of the reception area fireplace. But he has departed, the hotel revamped entirely. A member of staff kindly sent us this photo. We shall be tracking him down anon, as he is a handsome fellow.