The Glen of Imaal terrier is not one of the most common dog breeds seen in the UK, but they are worth a second look as they are one of Ireland’s home-grown native breeds, and one with a very interesting history!
Like many of the small terrier breeds, the Glen of Imaal terrier is a feisty, energetic breed that is very smart and tends to be into everything-much like the Jack Russell! They are also fairly economical to feed and keep as they do not need long periods of daily grooming and are reasonably hardy, and they are a great choice for families with older children and single people alike. They are definitely worth considering if you have your heart set on a plucky, intelligent small dog from the terrier grouping and have already ruled out the Jack Russell!
However, because dogs of the breed are not hugely common in the UK, a lot of people know little to nothing about the Glen of Imaal terrier, other than that the name perhaps implies that they are a Scottish breed. This, however, is misleading, and the Glen of Imaal itself is actually in Ireland, not Scotland. This is where the breed named for the area originated of course, and they have a very interesting recorded history in their native home of Ireland.
In this article, we will look at the interesting and complex history of the Glen of Imaal terrier in Ireland in more detail, for those keen to know more!
The Glen of Imaal is located in County Wicklow, which falls to the south of Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. The glen itself is located in the mountains of Wicklow, which is today famous for the terriers that were named after their place of origin.
The Glen of Imaal itself is one of the most remote and hard to reach places in Ireland, with a small population that is mainly involved in farming, where these small, bold terriers make for very versatile assistants!
During the Irish rebellion in 1570, what we now know as the republic of Ireland was ruled by Great Britain. During the rebellion, the British monarch of the time, Queen Elizabeth the First, sent soldiers to break the rebellion, and when they achieved this they were gifted with the Glen of Imaal itself in return for their work, to settle as their new homes.
Some of these soldiers were French, Belgian and Hessian, and when they settled in County Wicklow, they brought their own native hounds from their home regions with them. These hounds in turn of course interbred with the local dog population of County Wicklow, which ultimately resulted in the formation of an entirely new breed-the one that we now know as the Glen of Imaal terrier.
This new crossbreed between continental European hounds and the local Irish dog population were very versatile, and helped the settlers of the glen itself in a huge variety of ways. They have a natural instinct for hunting vermin, helping to keep the rat population down, and they were also used as set dogs to flush out badgers and foxes, often battling them fiercely to take a set.
They are fairly vocal little dogs, and made for a good early warning system if someone was approaching or a predator was threatening livestock, and they also used to be used to operate turnspits-a method of rotisserie cooking on an open fire, which requires the spit to keep turning to ensure even cooking!
Despite their long history and strong foundations in County Wicklow, the relative remoteness of the Glen of Imaal means that the breed has not been distributed worldwide as widely as many other breeds have, and the population of dogs of the breed in Ireland nearly died out entirely during World War 2.
Because resources were scarce, dog ownership soon became a luxury that few people could afford, and so the breeding and sale of the Glen of Imaal terrier dwindled off to almost nothing.
However, the few dogs that remained extant and of breeding age rallied after the war, as conscious efforts were made to increase the numbers of this historical breed and ensure their continued survival.
By the late 1960’s, the breed was almost back to its pre-war population numbers, and by the 1980’s, dog enthusiasts in the wider world began to take an interest in dogs of the breed, leading to the first large-scale exports of the breed to the USA and other countries.
Interestingly, the Glen of Imaal terrier is not as closely related to the other Irish terrier breeds as you might expect, due to the remoteness of their home area, and the input from European hounds. However, it is thought that all of the Irish terrier-type dogs are descended from the soft-coated wheaten terrier.
The breed received formal recognition by the Irish Kennel Club in 1933, but only competed in its first UK Kennel Club events as recently as 1982, when the breed first began to gain traction in the UK. They are also listed in The Kennel Club’s database of vulnerable native breeds, due to the small number of new puppies of the breed registered with The Kennel Club each year.