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104 – November/December, 2020

By Lee Connor

My personal experience of the Irish Setter is limited to interactions I had with my Uncle’s dog when I was a child.

This was in 1970s London and he then owned a lanky Irish Setter imaginatively named ‘Red’.

At that time he drove a Mini, and my uncle (who stood 6 feet) along with his beloved dog (who went everywhere with him) would cram themselves inside this tiny car making quite a spectacle!

Family members recall (and the Irish side of my family bizarrely always spoke of the breed as ‘red setters’ – never Irish) that ‘Red’ was a complete loon but my Uncle Ken absolutely adored him and cried buckets when, at the age of fifteen, with his boundless energy diminished and sporting a completely white muzzle, he eventually died.

It seems to be a reoccuring theme amongst Irish Setter owners; they all become quite besotted by this big, beautiful, red dog, so much so that no other breed will do.

Although I have never owned one, I have to admit to being quite an admirer of them myself – probably no great surprise given my surname – and I can often be found sitting ringside enjoying the judging.

As with so many of our pedigree dog breeds, the origin of the Irish Setter is lost in the obscurity of history. However, using art and the words of ‘sporting gentleman’ from the past we can piece together a relatively reliable timeline.

What is certain is that a distinctive type of dog called a ‘Setter’ had emerged by the beginning of the 18th Century and, not much later, a renowned variant peculiar to Ireland soon became well-known.

One of the first references to the ‘Irish’ breed was in the diary of Sir Francis Loftus, Kilkenny, where he describes his bitch, Quail.

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104 – November/December, 2020

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