History of the Irish Red and White Setter

 

 

An Irish Red and White Setter, thought to date from around 1880, preserved by a taxidermist

The colour has faded, but otherwise the dog is in wonderful condition. He was a good sized dog with powerful hindquarters, probably about 24  inches at the shoulder, the head broad but with a slightly tapering muzzle,  the ears set rather high, and clear coated with no ticking.

From the Fly Fishing and Game Shooting Museum at Attanagh, Co Laois

 

 The history of the setter can be traced back for several centuries. He was known in England & Ireland long before the Pointer, but was preceded by the Spaniel, and there is little doubt that from the different varieties of Spaniel, the various setter families evolved. Dr. Caius, in 1570, writing about dogs used for sport, says "The common sort of people call them by one general word, namely "Spaniels", and in speaking of colour, says: "The most part of their skins are white, and if they are marked with any spots they are commonly red, and somewhat great".

We may therefore assume that the original "setting" dogs were white with big red patches.

 

Early Setters, around 1800

The Irish Red & White Setter is not a "new" or "made-up" variety but has a history going back to the mid 18th century, and for a period of time were numerically as popular, if not more so than the more-or-less all red coloured Irish Setter. It is reasonable to deduce that the original breed was red and white in no fixed proportion of colour, some more red than white and vice-versa and thus breeding from those predominating in red, the red colour became the fixed in time. The correctness of this theory is more or less proved by the fact, that breed as you will, whole red to whole red even for several generations the white markings will inevitably turn up in a few of the whelps. Many present lines of working Irish Setter still display white markings on the chest and feet.

Historically, Red & White were either bred to Red, or Red and White setters, dependent entirely upon working ability rather then on the grounds of colour.

In those days, mobility was limited and people tended to breed to the best dog available regardless of colour. Dogs were kept on the great estates in sufficient numbers for the continuance of stock, and the difficulties of travelling meant that there was little interchange between kennels. Indeed, the view that both Red and Red & White are one breed prevailed in Ireland until towards the end of last century.


In the last century good dogs were highly valued.Colonel Millner in his book "the Irish Setter" quotes prices paid around 1820 at an average of 15-20 guineas. If we bear in mind that the average wage was around a shilling a week - this amounted to around 300 times the weekly wage.

Well known breeders 1775 to end of Nineteenth Century:
 

Some of the well know breeders who had Red and Red & White setters in the period from 1775 to the end of the 19th Century were the following:

The Reverend Mahon of Castlegar : (died 1838) who owned and worked red and whites.
The Rossmore family : of Rossmore Castle, County Monaghan, who had a separate strain of red and whites dating back to the mid eighteenth century, and preserved into the twentieth century. There are many paintings of these dogs still in the possession of the family.
Yelverton O'Keefe : who had some excellent red and whites, which were well known for their working abilities.
Miss Lidwell : (sometimes referred to as Ledwich) was another famous breeder, who often refused services (matings) to other breeders. Her dogs, Old York and Young York, both red and whites were seen by Edward Laverack, but she would not allow him to use them. She bred both red and red & white. A dog called Hutchinson's Bob, was descended from her stock
Mr Maurice Nugent O'Connor : had a strain of Setters, about the same time, mainly red with white markings.
Mr Latouche of Harristown : also had a mainly red strain with white markings.

Sir Francis Loftus of Mount Loftus , County Kilkenny, had a line of mainly red and white setters from around 1817 to 1840, three of which appear in a well known painting

By 1863 at the Rotunda show in Dublin, both colours were exhibited, but from this time onwards the red Setter seems to have overtaken the red and white in popularity. This was in some part due to the rising fashion for the red dog in the United States, and a continuing demand for red dogs in Ireland, for which good prices could be obtained. But despite the slow decline in numbers over the next 50 years, the Irish Red and White Setter was bred, albeit on a small scale. It was still prized for its working ability and reigned supreme in the terrain for which it was originally bred.

Revival
 

The revival of the Irish Red and White Setter really begins after the first World War primarily through efforts of the Rev. Noble Houston from Ballinahinch, Co. Down.

Rev. Noble Houston (Eldron Prefix) : During the 1914-18 war, he was an army chaplain and when he returned home he found that almost all the good dogs had disappeared. Keeping stock during the war had proved enormously difficult because of the shortage of food and the breeding of dogs for sport had virtually ceased.

The Reverend Houston sought to get started again and in his desire was supported by a Dr Elliot who lived in a house called Eldron, and this name was to become a prefix for many of their dogs. There were still a few dogs in Monaghan and they obtained a bitch called Gyp (later Eldon Gyp) from a gamekeeper. She was mismarked but from a red and white dog from County Cavan and a red bitch. She was mated to Mr Evatt's Johnnie and later to Glen of Rossmore. From the resulting litters, Mr Houston's line was built up and provides the link to the Setters of today via Mrs Cuddy's Knockalla breeding. Some of his better known dogs, such a Unagh, Blanco, Cohan and Bobs of Derryboy are in today's pedigrees. Bobs was shown on a number of occasions and did very well.

In the early 1940's the Rev. Houston by this time an elderly man was writing to Mrs Cuddy (then Mrs Clarke) about her interest in the Irish Red and White Setter.

The Irish Red & White Setter Society : In 1944 the Irish Red & White Setter Society was formed the objects of which were:

Lord Rossmore : whose family had been associated with the breed for some 200 years, wrote to Mrs Cuddy about the new society in the following terms:

"The colour of the Red and White Irish Setter is most important. White should predominate and form the background or major colour. The red should only appear in large blotched and should be a deep colour not less than the deepest red of the Irish Setter. The boundary between the red and white should be clearly defined although the boundary line may be irregular. There should be no gradual blending of colour between the red and the white. The head should carry a red blotch but the neck should be white. The ears should all be red. There should be no red specks on the body but freckles on the nose and feet are allowed. The tail may be all white but if marked with a red blotch is improved."
These comments from Lord Rossmore whose family have been involved with the Red & White Setters for nearly 200 years, are worthy of note in relation to colour.

Mrs Cuddy : was appointed secretary of the society and remained so. Whilst the society did endeavour to popularise the breed it did not have great success, and the ravages of time caught up with many of its members.

Mrs Cuddy however, continued to breed and kept careful records, which were to prove invaluable, to the establishment of the breed. Mrs Cuddy made a major contribution in keeping the breed going during the 50's and 60's. She bred her last litter in 1977 mating her bitch "Gaye of Knockalla" to "Glenkeen Sandy" - a red dog that carried a lot of white. The litter contained. "Harlequin of Knockalla" which went to Ann and Alan Gormley, Hickory of Knockalla (nearly all white) which went to Terry O'Leary, and Hawk of Knockalla (Red with white markings) which went to Sean Walsh.

Dermot Mooney : Dermot was brought up in a family where dogs played an important role. In 1966 he obtained his first Red and White Setter bitch called "Charleville Beauty". She was mated to Kilshannig Ranger ( a red dog). This produced Tristar who was mated to Pat Keenan's Glenkeen Sandy (who was a red dog with a lot of white). This produced "Winnowing Breeze" who was mated in 1978 to F.T.C.H. Moanruad Brendan. This produced 5 Red and White pups and has proved to be a key litter - many of whom stand behind our present Whites, particularly Winnowing Grouse, who died in 1984.

Willy Gaynor . In 1969 he  read that the Irish Red and White Setter was extinct. John Nash, the famous breeder of working Irish Red Setters, told him that Mrs Maureen Cuddy was no longer breeding any Red and White Setters, but that Dermot Mooney was still trying to keep the breed alive. John Nash also gave him the names and addresses of a few people who had these setters, but were not interested in breeding. He bought ‘Duchess’ from one of these breeders. She was the dam of the bitch that he gave to Mrs Cuddy-Gaye of Knockalla, a name inspired by my own surname. Mrs Cuddy breed this bitch to Glenkeen Sandy which produced her famous ‘H’ litter.


John Kerr (Rushfield) : John from Coleraine Co .Derry, presently living in Scotland has been breeding Red and White Setters for over 30 years. From the outset John was very keen to keep both colour and type correct and travelled the length and breadth of Ireland collecting as much data on the breed and on different lines as he could. One of his foundation dogs was a Red dog with white on nose, chest and feet called "Finn of the Fairy Host". Finn was a son of Waydown Sandy, who was also the sire of Patricia of Killone. John developed a very good line of working Red and White that were exactly as Lord Rossmore description of a Red and White in both type and colour. John was also the inspiration and driving force behind the formation of the Scottish Red and White Setter Club. His bitch Rushfield Whin was the foundation bitch for Vincent Brennan's Kennel in Fermanagh.

 

 

(To be continued and updated)