This is a tale from the 1960’s when life was much different and far less complicated for working dogs and their owners. In those not-so-far-off days the Irish Kennel Club organised working trials for Terriers in two distinct categories, “Strong Dogs” and “Sounders”. Both were tests against live quarry – the Badger. Both were well organised in a sportsmanlike manner and both took place with very strict rules and under public scrutiny.
“Kilwilkie Lad” was a “Strong Dog”, a first rate Badger dog. Supreme in many trials, hegained a host of awards but was equally at home working out in the field, in natural conditions.
My grandfather, James Creaney, was at a hunt in Southern Ireland with the Terrier Club. They had a great days sport, and as they often did, stopped at a pub on their way home to enjoy a pint and to discuss the days events. The pub was in Dundalk, a working dog stronghold, and my grandfather was offered a Staffordshire bitch. He would never buy on impulse, he was a market dealer by trade, and he would wait and haggle. But anyway, he bought the bitch and, bringing her home that night, kenneled her in the yard.
Two weeks later the club were out locally and James tried the bitch, but she showed no interest at all, and he thought that he’d been caught with a ‘dud’ dog. Weeks passed, until one day at a market being held at a local fair, he spotted a lad with an English Bull Terrier. Naturally enough, he engaged the youth in conversation to find out all that he could about the dog and discovered that it was a full bred pedigree dog, which belonged to the boys mother. James made it his business to go and see her about having a service for his bitch and the woman agreed, asking a small fee instead of the usual pup from the litter.
In due time the Stafford bitch whelped eight pups, most of which were purchased by other club members. Harry, my grandfathers brother, ended up with the last of the pups and took it home to his wife Annie, who looked after it and treated it like a child of the house.
As time passed the dog grew strong and powerful, and James and his friend Ned took it out to see if it would kill rats. The dog was almost two years of age and had a great temperament. Anyway, They put Harry’s dog into a barrel with two live rats and it made no attempt to kill them. I have heard it said, that a terrier that doesn’t kill rats isn’t much of a dog, but certainly in this case that proved to be a load of rubbish. James and Ned, probably disappointed, took the dog back home to Harry.
Two months later the club were out hunting and Harry was there with the dog, and you can be sure that he had to endure a great deal of taunting and comment over the strong dog that wouldn’t kill a rat. Such news travelled fast in the working dog world.
As the day progressed, two foxes were dug out and Harry was offered the chance to start his dog on one of them. He entered the dog with the club members all watching and the dog took a hold on the fox at the head and immediately killed it outright. The members were amazed and silenced to see what had happened and the dog drew the dead fox from the earth, refusing to part with his prize. With great difficulty, he was eventually removed from the carcass and during the whole process he had made no sound at all. Later, this was to become his hallmark and during his whole career Harry never once heard the dog make any sound while working. This, of course, meant that he was ideally suited for the strong dog trials.
As the name suggests, the trials for “Sounders” were a contest for the more usual, earth working, baying Terriers. While being tried these dogs had to continually give tongue, to stop doing so was to fail the test. But for the “Strong Dogs”, catch dogs really, the reverse applied. They had to enter the earth and remain, working all the time but never making the slightest sound while doing so. If they also succeeded in drawing the Badger from the earth, then so much the better. It was a test of sheer gameness before the mighty Badger. “Patch” or more formally, “Kilwilkie Lad” won many cups, trophies and certificates. He was entered as a full bred dog, for the trials, organised by the Irish Kennel Club, were for the benefit of pedigree dogs rather than cross breeds. When it was discovered that “Kilwilkie Lad” was an English Bull/Stafford cross he was barred from taking any further part.But he had made his name by then and brought honour and fame to all that were involved with him. It was the end of his Trial career, but he continued to work naturally for many years, until he was retired to enjoy his leisure at home.
Many people sought the service of the famous dog and many bitches were brought to him, but unfortunately he never sired a single pup. He spent his remaining years in comfort, honoured and pampered as one of the family, and it is a fact that game dogs adapt so well to such treatment and enjoy and revel in their place of honour.
The tale of “Kilwilkie Lad” has a sad and mysterious ending. “Patch” had grown old and sick and could hardly walk, and Harry had let the dog out of the house to lie in the garden. He was never seen again.! Somehow, he had left the confines of the garden and vanished. Harry searched for many weeks but no trace of him was ever found and the circumstances of his disappearance have remained a mystery ever since. Harry still has very fond memories of his tremendous dog and shows great pride each and everytime he talks about his old warrior favourite – “Kilwilkie Lad”
(In respect of this article and its references to badger drawing, it is worth pointing out that at these trials the badgers were returned or released unharmed after the days events were completed. The Irish Kennel Club, which organised the trials at the time, ensured that this was the case. In our view, events such as these which were held in public and subject to close scrutiny and regulation.)
This article was written by Mr Barry Liggett.
(Mr Tom Haughey can be seen in the article photo with Haughey’s ‘North Star’ who was a second generation battle cross (Staffordshire Bull Terrier x English Bull Terrier) working in the field in the early 1960’s when the Irish trials were ran by the Kennel Club in Ireland. One of North Star’s littermates was the well known ‘Blunders Lad’ owned by Mr Jerry McIntyre. Jerry was Mr Jerome McIntyre’s brother who owned the ‘Barney’ dog and other great working dogs like ‘Lance’ who was a son of ‘Howdy’ the famous Red Hand of Ulster (Working English Bull Terrier) and a working Wheaten Terrier bitch. North Star’s sire was the legendary Creaney’s ‘Kilwickie Lad’)