A selection of Irish Wolfhound Art in Ireland

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 Castle.

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.

It’s a short drive west up the Liffey River to Collins Barracks, the imposing and vast building enclosing a parade ground quadrangle, which now has been given over to the National Museum of Ireland. We remembered various Wolfhound items there from a previous visit some years ago. Luckily, they were still on display, part of a permanent exhibition.

The Parnell Casket 1882
We were delighted to come across this magnificent piece again with its beautifully detailed carving. It was presented to Charles Stewart Parnell in 1882 on the occasion of his conferral with the Freedom of the City of Dublin. Supported by four carved wolfhounds, the sides and lid carved with interlaced work and mounted with engraved bands of silver. The lid is surmounted with a silver figure of Hibernian holding a wreath, and is decorated with the arms of Dublin, the Parnell arms, and the harp with Irish crown. Of course, it’s a great shame to see it languishing in a museum. It would be much happier on my dinner table


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

If the accompanying photo of the young Acushla is anything to go by, the taxidermist seems to have let the torso sink somewhat between the forelegs, as the stuffed animal is short on leg. But she is still impressive nonetheless, in neck, head and quarters. Looking at her, it’s fascinating to think of the 30 or so generations that separates her from our contemporary hound.

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.

© 2015 Gulliagh Kennels