The Terriers of Ireland

In County Wicklow, Ireland, there is a glen, many years ago the hunters or terriermen, call them what you will, would go badgering, a term they used to describe their terriers work, this is the story of the dog they used.

Way back in the mists of time, a terrier little known outside of its native Eire was sent forth into the blackness of the Wicklow settes, traditional the badger dog, his physique was built on these lines, low to the ground, long, flexible and heavy, like the badger himself almost pound for pound.

The Wicklow men, like those who worked the Wicklow terriers cousins the Kerry Blue or Blue Devil, the red Irish and the Irish Wheaten Terrier, prided themselves on being the owners of the gamest terriers that ever drew breath, it was true that all these terriers were, and indeed still are just that, dead game. So it came to be that the men of the glen from which the terrier takes its name started to call their wards just this: The Glen of Imaal Terrier.

Today of course the badger is forbidden as a quarry species and with that eventually one would imagine, and be totally mislead too I hasten to add, to assume the terrier from Wicklow has been made somewhat redundant as a working terrier, for the modern terriermen or women who wish to still work the Glen of Imaal Terrier there is however salvation.

Fortunately the contemporary modern day Glen still has a great desire to work, true many of the terriers encountered are somewhat too heavy for fox work, nevertheless smaller types will work fox with great relish, make efficient rough cover workers and are excellent rat hunters and aquatic dogs.

Unfortunately some sceptics (some should have known better, but some did not know what they were talking about at all) hardly did the breed as a working dog any justice, which was a great pity. Personally I have seen small type Glens work fox many times, spent many happy hours ratting with these curious looking terriers, used them for flushing vermin and game for running dogs to intercept, as aquatic and marking dogs I honestly cannot fault them. Glen of Imaal Terriers can and do work.

It is a fact that a vast majority of Kerry Blues, Irish Terriers and Wheatens are owned by show enthusiasts, the trend also points this way for the valiant Wicklow dog, despite this the working enthusiasts of the Glen of Imaal are numerically more than the former three breeds.

So then the reader should seek out the person who still works this terrier and ultimately pick a small bold type of puppy from the litter, the same type of approach that one adopts in the picking of any potential working terrier should apply.

The first mention I can find of the breed dates back to the sixteenth century, from this time on and up to 1966 the terriermen partook in some rather unpleasant baiting and even it is said loathsome dog fighting, three size ranges of terrier existed (indeed still do though of course today as show dogs) to satisfy different peoples needs. The large or middle sizes were favoured by the badger and dog fighters, the smaller terriers were the practical dogs used by the Irish sportsman or farmers. It goes without saying then there is absolutely no reason in the world why large or middle sized Glens be needed, as workers there is nothing legal, as show dogs there is danger that this trend (for even heavier dogs) will ensure and thereby ruin the terrier as a sound breed. History proves that the soundest terrier within any breed are those that are bred with work in mind.

The three sizes are as follows the large Glen anything from thirty five to eighty pounds in weight, far too heavy and of absolutely no use whatsoever, the less said about this one the better. A middle sized Glen up to thirty five pounds in weight, again not of any real use, though they were probably used as seizing dogs at the end of a dig, they also may have uses as rough cover dogs, say as a Clumber Spaniel has, or for herding. Finally there is the smallest, though by working standards still no lightweight, a terrier up to approximately twenty four pounds, such terriers are of heavy bone structure but are capable of working foxes in certain earths.

Lighter Type could be brought about by outcrossing to other suitable breeds, wither Borders or Lakeland/Fell terriers they would prove viable terriers to use in this direction, indeed they have been used.

Alternatively small 100% Irish stock are of great use for hybridising or outcrossing to other breeds in a bid to enhance or improve certain types of terrier.

Large jaws, teeth, heads and coat improvement can all be achieved by dint of a Glen of Imaal outcross.

Jack Russell/Glen of Imaal Terrier hybrids are extremely popular in some parts of the south of England, many are the stories of working terriers this way bred and their exploits to ground on fox. Equally so some Irish hunters cross Glens to Borders and Lakelands in a bid to produce an ideal fox dog whilst small Glens see work both sides of the Irish Sea.

Probably one of the best known enthusiasts who has worked Glens is Jack Chisnall, whose bitch Pebble is said to have been a terrier that worked and was shown. Fred Newman was another whose kennel produced both show and working dogs, people acquired dogs off Fred from both sets of supporters, Fred Newmans dogs had working dogs in their bloodlines and his stock was 100% Irish.

Up until 1966 all the four breeds of Irish terrier had to in order to gain the title of “Full†instead of just bench champion, had to complete a working test, which basically was baiting, thankfully these trials are now illegal, both the Teastas Beag and the Teastas Misneach, which basically mean the small and great test respectively. The Teastas Beag was a test above ground, where the dog was tested on rat or rabbit, the Teastas Misneach was below ground in a falsely built “sette†the unfortunate, poor quarry was badger. To gain the coveted title of dead gameness, the Glen (and also working Kerry Blues, Irish and Wheaten) had to draw the badger in a combined time of seven minutes. One minute was given for the dog to engage the quarry and a further six minutes for the terrier to draw the unfortunate animal without a sound, most Glens were mute though even a yelp of excitement on the dogs part were sufficient to fail the terrier.

The reader then should be in no doubt, that reference to these so called trials are purely of an historical context, today such trials are quite rightly illegal, indeed they were barbaric, however they do show though that Glens were game to satisfy their owners requirements. I repeat these trials are now illegal.

Surely then taking all things into account, the reader will not be surprised that most working Glens are mute when at work to fox, nevertheless this does not proce a problem in these days of locators.

In parts of Eire some terriers are used as sheepdogs or cattle dogs, sometimes they are pure Glen, other occasions they may well be Glen/Wheaten terrier hybrids, one enthusiast still has I believe, or did have one terrier he called his sheepdog, to be perfectly honest I still do not know even to this day whether this dog was a Glen or a Wheaten. History seems, along with some sketchy information that a form of ancient herding dog may be in the breeding of early Irish earth dogs, red Irish, Kerry Blues, Wheatens and Glens will all work sheep and cattle given the opportunity, and it should be remembered that all herding breeds will work on legal live quarry, herding and work go hand in hand.

Of the four Irish terrier breeds the Glen is the low slung one, the other three are basically long legged, it also differs from the other three in that a greater amount of coat colour variance is allowed in the breed. Basically the breed is encountered in blue and wheaten, but blue/brindle types sometimes occur, though these are still called blues, blue and tans sometimes called blue/wheatens are also known.

The popularity of the working Glen although not widespread does seem to be spreading, certainly many working terrier people find them interesting, one might even be tempted to say attracted by the novelty of this unusual terrier. Certainly the terrier has more than a look of Dandie Dinmont about it, to the Dandie it is definitely not related, the link ends where the similarity starts, it is just that similar, though of course the Glen of Imaal is a somewhat heavier terrier than a Dandie. However, it is my firm belief that should some enthusiasts set about re-creating the famous old fashioned Dandie, the Glen of Imaal would prove a satisfactory outcross to use.

In these days of increasing Mink numbers, many Glens are being tried at this quarry, I have found them excellent and heard from other people who have worked Glens to mink, one bitch, a little red, hard coated terrier bred by someone who undoubtedly was one of the great owners of working Glens, Fred Newman, is I am told carving quite a reputation for herself and working Glens as a whole, due to her prowess as a hunter of mink.

Certainly I found no problems at entering Gelns to any quarry, puppies usually entering to rats as soon as their second teeth are through, working through the spectrum, rabbits to fox with no problems.

As time goes on though, (indeed it is already happening) the breed will become more and more popular within the show ranks. Perhaps, somewhat fortunately the show enthusiasts who own Glens (unlike, I have found, the wheaten owners) are keen to enhance the breeds image as a formidable working terrier, they are proud of their breeds heritage, hence even today it is quite easy to obtain one of the smaller type of pups from a breeders litter. The problem I see for the future lies with some of the show fancy who have in the past called for the weight limit for the breed to be open, were this to happen I think it would be the ruination of the breed, the start of the end so to speak. This will not happen with the working enthusiasts, but it will hardly encourage new working owners to take up the breed. All the four breeds of terrier that originate from Eire will still give a good account of themselves in the hunting field if they are given the chance, however it appears certain that the Wheaten and the Kerry Blue have deviated away from this more than the red Irish Terrier and most definitely the Glen has. With reference to work certainly where Kerry Blues or Wheatens are concerned, they can hardly be considered earth dogs any longer, though of course other work is not beyond them i.e. rough cover hunting, herding etc.

Fred Newman worked his dogs regularly to fox, in earths, pipes and above ground, the foundation to this line was a blue bitch, bought directly from Ireland, the bitch was called Cara, otherwise registered as Shanghan Lady, it is interesting to note that one of the top Glens in the country is bred down from Shanghan Lady, bred out of her daughter Golden Rhyme. When Shanghan Lady was brought into England it marked a very important step for both the English, working and show enthusiasts.

Abbots Baby Blue a bitch who loved to go ratting, was another of Cara well known pups.

Fred Newman also bought in quality terriers that he worked alongside his lurchers in his fox hunting pack (Varleys back lurcher Jet learned her trade as a fox dog alongside Fred Newman Glens), his additions were wise ones, Blue Boy of Malonmoor and at least two excellent Granitefields line Glens, completed the Englishman pack, a few years later Fred was sending his own Glens back to Eire itself, a first I think.

Nevertheless Fred was not show orientated and never found showing to his tastes (though his kennel frequently produced top show terriers), his working Glens were quite simply the best.

If I was starting with Glens my choice would be perhaps somewhat predictable, I would choose one of Fred Newmans terriers, or a small genuine 100% Irish bred dog, I would also consider bringing in quality Border or Lakeland/Fell terrier blood to drop the weight down in the type. If I was just after a good all-rounder then a Russell/Glen might be ideal.

Old Rothbury Terriers are also possible from Glen genetic influence, Peter Vauxs Drifter a hybrid twixt Bedlington and Glen comes immediately to mind.

When the hunters of the Wicklow area created the Glen of Imaal little could they know how far their breed was going to go, for the breed has set its feet on much foreign soil, today that popularity still grows but mainly with a show fraternity, there lies the possible danger, show enthusiasts are less liable to work their dogs than the traditional owners of the Glen were, and although at present the show enthusiasts seem somewhat proud of their breeds heritage as a working terrier, I wonder how long this will remain the same. At present the terrier remains on the rare breed list though with its reputation as a show terrier growing very rapidly all the time I think that will change in the not too distant future, what would please me is that the breed be used more as a working terrier, for the potential is still very much there.

This article was written by John Glover and it was published in “The Working Terrier and Running dog” magazine in October 1990.


The following is a reply to the article by one of the readers in the following week’s edition…

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you in connection to an article written by John Glover about the working Glen of Imaal terrier. Whereby respecting Mr. Glovers interest in the Glen terriers and also assuming that he is writing on the basis of information received from others, I am compelled to object to his description of the Glen terrier. I also would like to enlighten him on the other three breeds of Irish terrier he mentioned in his article to a certain degree, as I don’t see the point in giving a volume of information on any working breed, as I firmly believe that the only way to get to know in details any particular breed is to own them and work them over a period of years. In Mr. Glover’s case this has certainly not happened. I will try to clarify or inform as the case may be in brief the reader on the four Irish breeds mentioned. The Glen of Imaal, a low sized dog with a good strong jaw resembling a Wheaten terrier with short legs, height about 14tts weight 28-40lb. Recognised as a breed in 1933 and used in the creation of the English Norwich Terrier. No Glen of Imaal or any other Irish breed of terrier reaches 8-10lb in weight.

Glen terriers are of no great use for fox as they would never fit in a fox earth, not are they used for farmyard work. They are essentially for badger digging which is of course nowadays illegal. The dogs mentioned by Mr. Glover must have been bred down to Jack Russells in order to get to foxes and if they were markers as he says they were definitely bred to something else. Glens are not supposed to mark, they are required to work in silence, even in the old days of badger digging most Glens were only left in after the entrance to the sett was widened as they would also have difficulty in getting into brocks lair.

The Wheaten terrier, resembling the Glen, only much taller height around 19tts weight much the same as the Glen, but if crossbred to Staff or English bull can vary from 35-50lb. This breed is not dying out as stated and is much more popular than the Glen terrier and would never get to a fox: it is much too big. Never, as in the case of the Glen, used as farmyard dogs with sheep or cattle. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.

The Irish terrier, very leggy dog not much use for anything, except show. Some lurcher men use them to put fire into their strains by crossing them with their lurchers, bad tempered towards other dogs. Height 18tts weight 25lb never used by the fox hunting men of Ireland.

The Kerry Blue, useless as a hunter and also too big for work. Bad with other dogs and humans, only for show. This dog has been used as a farm dog in the past. Its ancestors were known as Gadhers but in those days the Kerry Blue was blue and a great terrier to go to ground on anything. Rumour has it that it was crossed with the Standard French Poodle to establish it as it is today.

So this is a short account of the Irish breeds mentioned in your magazine but the vast amount of Irish workers of terriers are using the very same dogs as you are yourselves in Britain, i.e. Patterdale, Lakeland, Fell, Jack Russell and so on. Jack Russell type terriers have existed in Ireland as far back as they have in England and were the general terriers that were used down the years for ground work. Glens and Wheatens were only used to draw the game at the end of a dig. The good old Jack Russell terrier is still used over here, and although nowadays there seems to be a big influx of gladiator type breeds coming in, it is the same job that has to be done and in the case of fox digging the Russell can still hold his own with the best, and I would like to compliment Jack Price on stating so in your magazine. As the saying goes, it is not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the size of the fight in the dog.


And below is another reply to the article two weeks later…

The Wheaten terrier is the oldest breed of terrier in Ireland and most certainly the only true working terrier to come from this country.

Up until 1968 (sic) the Irish Kennel Club held a number of legal badger trials, for in order to be classed as a full show champion the Irish breeds had to prove themselves game to badger.

If we check these records you will see that the Irish Terrier has never been classed as a working terrier by Irish dog men.

Another breed that is highly overrated is the Kerry Blue, as even in the days of the legal badger trials they were very poor and in fact the only dog to qualify at a kennel club trial was a dog by the name of Irish Champion Fiery Batchelor and he qualified at a Kerry Blue only trials and he was later poisoned at a Kennel Club show.

A bitch by the name of Good Lass qualified at an All Breeds Trial in the late 60’s but these are the only two from amongst thousands that were rubbish.

Another dog given much praise as a worker is the Glen of Imaal. This breed originally was a small Wheaten and the late Peter Gorman told me how when he first came into working dogs there were two distinct types of Wheaten, the small one were later given the name Glens.

Peter Gorman also told me how dogs identical to Wheatens appeared in litters of Glens as late as the 60’s, also I have in my possession the pedigree to the first Glen ever to be registered by the English Kennel Club back in 1957 and this dog was bred in Ireland and appeared on television on a rare breeds show with Jack Hargeaves, however if you look at his pedigree you will see that he is bred strongly along the old Hacketstown lines, which as everyone knows were Wheaten terriers.

It does seem that the Glen lost much of his true gameness after the late 1950’s and they were long ago disregarded as a true deep game terriermans needs.

The Wheaten terrier is probably the last pure working terrier in Britain, in saying so I don’t refer to the pampered powder puff dogs one sees as KC shows but to the pure Irish working Wheaten.

These dogs have been kept going by the dedicated work of such great terriermen as the late Peter Gorman, he kept worked and bred them for over half a century and dedicated himself to the preservation of the working Wheaten.

If one looks back to the heydays of the Irish working dog scene in the early 60’s you will see such greats as the immortal Hacketstown Jack he dominated the badger trials and was never bettered, not only was he a good worker but also a superb producer. Just a few of his sons were Tom Boyles Gilbout a great working dog also the Great Brownslow Bob another excellent working dog who also had the ability to produce with one of his more famous sons being Freecrow Hero.

When bred to Prospect Lass the Hacketstown Jack sired a dog that was to have it all, this dog was a legend called Peter Sinead he was voted best badger dog for three years in succession this feat can never be equalled, he was a great worker at fox, badger, and otter and he never once had a bad day, and was worked up to being over ten years old.

He also produced a lot of great dogs such as Frazier, both Peter Sinead and Frazier were owned by that great terrierman Peter Gorman, a man who owned and judged some of Irelands best.

If you consider he had over fifty years experience then she must have been a helluva bitch.

These notes are dedicated to the late Peter Gorman and his good friend Sandy, without them we wouldn’t have the true working wheaten of the present day. God bless you all.

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