THE IRISH SETTER IN SPORT AND FIELD TRIALS
By John Nash
John Nash is considered by some to be the father of the Irish Setter revival in Ireland.
Unlike the pointer and English setter, the Irish setter is not unlike his countrymen in not being fortunate enough ever to become the objective of even one wealthy patron who might have gathered the better strains together, bred intelligently, and fixed the qualities for posterity. The pointers had Arkwright, Edge, Prices, Salter and Sharpe, the English Setters had Laverack, Purcell-Llewellyn, Lowe, Blaine. Mitchell, Sharpe and many others. Consequently the Irish Setter who was, incidentally, a separate breed long before the Gordons and English sorted themselves
out, always seemed to be the fancy of men who did not seem to have the herewith, or the inclination, to push them, as the pointers and English setters had been pushed. Even so, when Laverack visited this country he wrote that some of the finest individual setters he had seen were Irish setters, and that they were very prized by their owners, and he mentioned being unsuccessful in his attempt to buy one or two, notably a dog by Hunchison's Bob from the Misses Ledwidge. However he did comment that there seemed to be no particular strain, nor had the owners given much thought to pedigrees, and that many of the best looking dogs did not seem to have what he termed "sufficiency of point", and that those that had it, seemed unable to transfer their qualifies to their progeny. This was written in 1840, and it must be taken that it was some years earlier that Laverack visited this country.
About 1882 the Irish Red Setter Club was formed, and it is a source of constant surprise to the writer that it was called the Irish RED Setter Club, when at the time there were plenty of good Red and White setters about. Let me digress a little, that the whole coloured red setter did not become generally accepted as the true Irish Setter until about 1900. Rawdon Lee, in his book "Modem Dogs" speaks of the many fine strains of the red and white setters that were about, and in particular names Lord Rossmore's setters and those of Sir Francis Loftus strain of Co. Kilkenny, and also of Mr King of Queens County (now Co. Offaly) as being the best, and in particular being easier trained than the whole coloured red.
Whether the red and white people took it badly that they were ipso facto excluded from the ranks of the Irish Red Setter Club, or if, in fact, it was the bone of contention of one of the many all too common feuds that were so prominent in this country at the time, the fact remains that from that date, with one or two notable exceptions, the red and white became extinct from competition from then on.
Many old setter people would have one believe that the reason for founding the Red Setter Club was to foster and improve the working qualities of the whole coloured breed, which were not at all on par with the red and whites. 1 shall leave it to the reader to take his own choice of reason as to why the Club was in fact called the Irish RED setter Club. However the fact remains, that in drawing up the standard for the Red setter the founder members decided that a white blaze, white paws or toes, a white chest, or white tip to the tail was not to disqualify a red dog, and in the early 1900's many Irish Setters did in fact have these marks. The most famous and prepotent sire of all time Ch. Palmerston had in fact a white blaze, and transferred it to many of his progeny, and it is still referred to as the "Palmerston snipe".
In the late 1880's the Irish Setter began to make his mark at trials, and the first time the Kennel Club Derby was won by an Irish Setter was by Ch. Millners Aime, about the same time Mr. W.H.Cooper had a very good kennel of Irish Setters, the best known of which was perhaps Wrestler. Mr. Humphrey de Trafford, father of the present racing magnate, had a very good kennel headed by the famous dog Ch. Punchestown. About 1890 a dog called Plunkett appeared on the scene, he was bred by Rev. R. O'Callaghan of Co.Tyrone, though the Kennel Club stud book has him down as having been bred by Hon. D. Plunkett. He competed successfully at field trials, and is the only Irish setter depicted in George Earl's famous mythical painting of "A Field Trial in the Eighties", he was eventually bought by Mr Purcell Llewellyn, and formed part of the most unbeatable brace with the famous English setter Countess, belonging to that owner and handled by Tweedsdale-Buckel, before that partnership broke up. It is recorded by Purcell-LIewellyn that the crossing of Plunkett with the Laveracks formed the foundation of what is known today as the show English Setter. Another interesting act is that the late William Humphrey, who was later to take on the Llewellyn dynasty first appeared at trials handling his fathers Irish Setters Bonny Dan of Cold Hill and Merry Jill of Cold Hill, about 1896. About this time also the late J.G.Hawkes of Kenmare and later of Hospital, Co. Limerick, was to have singular success at field trials and shows with his setters, the most famous being Signal. These setters formed the foundation stock of the late George Bennetts, and Major 0íKelly's famous field trialers of the 1920's, the most notable being Canapan, Eitog, Gilpin and June, as well as Ch. Grougach, who went best gundog at Crufts show in 1924. About this time also a very famous kennel in the South was Mr Flahive's "Kerry" kennel of Tralee, Co.Kerry, the most famous and influential breedwise being Ch. Kerry Palmerston. who was the dominating influence in the famous FTCh. Rhu Gorse, owned by W.J.Patterson of Omagh. This dog, besides being a legendary figure in his own time, was a very potent stud force. Bred to Dromcrow Sally on different occasions he produced in all six field trial champions, which must be a record for a brood bitch of any breed. This dog carried five separate lines to Young Phil, and most students of the Irish setters maintain that it is impossible to get a good worker without a preponderance of this blood. To digress a little, Young Phil was not himself a great worker, but he was supposed to be very brainy and possess a superlative nose, but not over-endowed with pace or drive, he was a lighter colour red than usual, and begot much lighter colour dogs, and possibly on this count alone, occurred the great divergence between the working and show Irish setter. Though one does see some very good dark red dogs, most of the workers are of a lighter hue than is fashionable on the bench.
The blood of this dog, via Rhu Gorse, is very prominent in today's field trial winners, via his grand-daughters, Uaine and Grawogue, Uaine being the darn of Cliona, who in turn bred Fermanagh St. Rua and her sister, that great producing dam, Annie Alla. Growogue was the dam of Joyful of Killone, and Cooel Lassie, all field trial winners, with the exception of Annie Alla, who was never campaigned, but who bred Int. FTCh. Una Moanruad and FTCh. Latton Lass, as well as a host of other winners.
Just before the war, probably the best Irish setter to run at trials up to then was Mr A.L.Spier's Int.FTCh. Garry of Burtown. His great rival at home trials was Dr O'Sullivan's great FTCh. Dunboy Rock. Though Garry was used at stud quite extensively he never seems to have been the stud force that some of the earlier pillar stones were. However it is interesting to note that bred to a Dunboy Rock bitch, he produced Rena of Burtown who became a field trial champion, and who was to become the dam of John Nash's famous Int. FTCh. New Square Red Lassie, when bred to what must surely rank as the most prepotent stud force of all time in the breed, Mr. J.McNamera's FTCh. The Blacksmith. But that is jumping our fences.
Up to and immediately after the war it would seem that the Irish setter enthusiasts had nearly always one or two dogs that could meet and beat the best of the pointers and English setters, and which was ample proof of the oft repeated theory, that once you have a good Irish setter he is the best dog of the lot, but the good ones are scarce. Laverack remarked this, so did Rawdon Lee, so did the Rev. Pearce, ldstone and many other people who were in a position to appraise and know. The history of trials would bear it out, Millners Airne in the 80's, Plunkett, Aveline(O'Callaghan), Forestor's The Delaware, Hawke's Signal, Nagle's Sulhamstead Sheelin d'Or, Cloghan Belle also. Patterson's Rhu Gorse, Dunboy Rock, Garry of Burtown, Galwey-Foleys, Redskin of QApelle and Treamont Dreamland, McMenamin's Juliet of Burtown, had it all. In their own particular era held their own against all corners, and gave the fanciers of the red dog something to shout about, but not until the advent of the Blacksmith and particularly his progeny was there a succession of good red dogs competing at trials, any of which could win a stake on their day. And getting back to Laverack. he noticed and commented that of the three pointing breeds the Irish setter seemed to have the least inherent instinct to point naturally, it is my belief that the advent of The Blacksmith fixed this, and gave the breed a new dimension.
It is only fair to recall that about 1950, Dr Deeny, Father Pat Mulligan and the writer got down to a serious discussion on Irish setters, and more or less formulated a breeding programme that might give them a new push forward, now that they were once again on the precipice of greatness, which let it be said, they had often been, but always something happened to prevent it. A noted breeder died or was forced to give up, a war intervened, or some such unfortunate occurrence. The first thing we did was take stock of our breeding material. we listed among the bitches, my New Square Red Lassie, P.Goodwin's newly crowned Int.FTCh. Fermanagh St. Rua, Walter Kehoe's Joyful of Killone, and a bitch that my cousin had got from me, Mr John Ryan's Red Blaze, which 1 assured the party was first class. The dogs of class were but two, Int. FTCh. Red Admiral, and Tom Robinson's Fastnet Rock, who had gained some placements at trials, was ideally bred and had class to burn. Some time afterwards at a field trial I was lucky enough to come across a shooting dog of impeccable lineage called Portown Romeo by The Blacksmith. He was not at the trials, in fact 1 saw him go in at the baker's door in Athy, Co. Kildare. The owners name was Tom Bradbury. 1 enquired about the dog, heard glowing tales to his prowess, and having examined his pedigree, 1 there and then decided to mate my cousin's bitch to him, Red Blaze. From that lot came two Int. FTChs. Rahard Belle and Moanruad Chilly Breeze. and from a later mating came Int. FTCh. Moylrath Blaze. Meanwhile 1 sent Red Lassie to Fasnet Rock, and though no field trial winner came from the mating, one of them, Moanruad Rock was used on Father Marron's Annie Alla, a sister of Fermanagh St. Rua, who had, much to our disappointment been exported to Italy. From Rock and Annie came Int. FTCh. Una Moanruad, the first Irish Setter to make her presence felt in "grand quete" trials in Europe.
New Square Red Lassie was bred to Red Admiral, and produced FTChs. Moanruad Admiral and Moanruad Ambassador, Dual Champion in Canada. Besides Una Moanruad, Dr Deeny had Bella Donna of Gartean off the Rock/Annie litter, she was a good winner in Omagh at trials, but failed to get the title. One of that litter, also, Alla Rock, bred to Moylrath Blaze and her dam Red Blaze bred Red Revolution of Fallows, and Ruby Moanruad, both winners, and both class setters. Moanruad Admiral bred to Rahard Belle produced Int. FTCh. Slievebawn Minnie, besides Slievebawn Admiral and Slievebawn Captain. Moanruad Admiral's sister, Moanruad Sheila, was herself a winner and a prolific dam of winners.
Rahard Belle bred to a dog the writer gave as a present to Father Mulligan, Waydown Sandy, who was supposed to have much of the old red and white blood bred FTCh. Moanruad Dan and Patficia of Killone, both FTChs. Belonging to the writer. Annie Alla, bred to Grousehall brother to Red Blaze produced FTCh. Latton Lass, probably the greatest bird specialist of them all, and she in turn bred to Int.FTCh. Ballymac Eagle bred FTCh. Moanruad Latton Jewel, which the writer was also lucky enough to own. Latton Colleen was another winner from that mating.
To conclude this article which brings this brief history up to the present day 1 should like to say that an effort of this nature would take a book to itself, and if any dogs or people who played a vital part in the breeds history are unmentioned, 1 apologise, as 1 only wrote this as it came to me.
Also, lest I give the impression that Dr Deeny, Fr. Mulligan and I alone are completely responsible for the prominent position of the Irish setter in field trials todav. I should mention that Mr T.J. Kennedy's Punch Bowl, who contains none of this breeding, became a worthy winner of the champion stake in 1962, and the Rev. A. S. O'Connor's Int. FTCh. Ballymac Eagle is among the better dogs of recent times, was bred by Mr S. Dennehy of Co. Kerry, from blood mostly outside those mentioned, though he has one line to the Red Admiral. None the less among trial winners today it is almost impossible to get a dog that does not trace very directly to the foundation stock mentioned, that was listed in Dr. Deeny's house at Bowling Green, Strabane, about 241 July 1950 1 think it was.