There’s a saying most people have heard, “we’re all a little Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day.” It certainly is a day when everyone wants to be Irish, whether they actually have a claim to the Emerald Isle or not. I do have a little Irish background on my mom’s side, so I’ll be wearing my green proudly.
As a Greyhound owner, I have to appreciate the fact that long ago, the clergymen of Ireland preserved the breed I love during a time when many others perished. During the Middle Ages many animals were considered carriers of disease during the plagues and times of famine and many didn’t want them around. Greyhounds were protected and bred by the clergy for the nobility and high clergymen to use for hunting. They are also the first breed of dog mentioned in English literature, appearing in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.
Of course, the Greyhound of that time differed quite a bit from the Greyhounds of today. Back then, they were much bigger and may have looked a bit like Irish Wolfhounds or Scottish Deerhounds. Some sources say that there were short and long coated varieties. They were most noted for being much faster than the game they hunted for their noble masters and they were treated well.
If you think Greyhounds wear fancy collars today, you should see what they wore back in their hunting days. Many wore gold collars with spikes that protected their necks when they hunted. It seems outrageous in this day and age, but their collars served a lifesaving purpose and are a testament to how highly they were valued.
Later on, coursing became popular among the nobility and Greyhounds found themselves evolving with the times of the Renaissance. There were elaborate rules and scoring systems for the sport. As the sixteenth century came to a close, more people owned them and it wasn’t strictly limited to the nobility anymore.
Late in the eighteenth century, the modern version emerged when the English Earl of Orford began cross breeding them with a few select breeds to get better stamina. People disagree about whether Bulldogs were used, but we do know the modern hound is the result. It was during this time that people started keeping pedigrees on their Greyhounds.
In the mid-1800s, Greyhounds began to migrate to North America. It wasn’t for lure coursing, though. They were brought over by farmers to get the jackrabbit population under control and keep their crops safe. I can’t tell you how happy I am that they made the journey here. I can’t imagine life without a few Greyhounds to help keep it interesting.
It seems that our hounds can make the same claim to being a little Irish that the rest of us do today. They have changed and evolved from their roots in much the same way that humans have. I know I won’t need that as an excuse to kiss them today, but I’m going to do it anyway. May the luck of the Irish smile on you today, no matter how much green you have in your blood!