Dispatches from Ireland ~ For Dogs’ Sake

March 16, 2019
A classic image of working dogs in Kissane, Ireland — Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, all rights reserved – Click to view larger image

By Andrea Cleghorn

No matter the intention, every trip has a theme, either at the get-go or as it evolves. My most recent trip to Ireland was no exception.

A couple of years ago I wrote about my first St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, actually my first-ever trip there, many years ago. My companion and I ended up at the annual dog show in Dublin, where there were few American tourists and a sea of red setters.

Dogless for a couple of months when I left for Ireland this past summer, the house in Bedford had been quiet since losing my 14-year-old buddy. Life was easier in some ways, but not better. I was off to Ireland with two items on my agenda: interview people for “Dispatches From Ireland,” my new show on Bedford TV, and to think about filling the canine vacuum.

Just for fun, I Googled ‘Irish dogs’ and found Gadharchumann na hEireann or, in English, the Irish Kennel Club with nine native breeds. After I ruled out the gun dogs and the hounds, the field was narrowed. The Irish Wolfhound is the size of a small pony, and I was thinking about something more portable, a pet, not a hunting companion. To my surprise, I discovered four Irish terriers: the Irish Terrier, the Kerry Blue, the soft-coated Wheaten, and the Glen of Imaal. OK, OK, OK, and … the what? Still, it was vaguely familiar.

I moved into my rented house in County Kerry and finalized the Bedford TV interviews. The first was with the caretaker at Skellig Michael, the island monastery seen in Star Wars movies. It was a hard to get to place, bobbling along in the tiny boats that resembled corks on the 7-mile foray into the Atlantic.

All the interviews worked out, happily enough, plus several more, though not in any organized fashion which meant I ended up crisscrossing the country several times. In between I was secretly auditioning dogs, some I knew but mostly ones I admired along the way.

Dogs in Ireland

We dog people have a way of seeking out dogs when we travel, and I saw them at every turn. There is Rocky, who belongs to the butcher across the street, and who for years made a solitary pilgrimage to the pet shop for a pigs-ear lunch. It was a left out the door, straight through the parking lot, along the square, right at the corner of Henry Street, seventh door on his right. Lily, his human sister, would settle up at the end of each week, deducting the price of an ear on the odd day it was lashing rain. (Irish dogs are not typically raincoat-wearers.)

Frequently seen at the beach at Ballymoney in the sunny Southeast, there are handsome dogs I have known for years. Lucy, the black Lab, AKA Big Lu and a border collie Mad Molly from County Monaghan. Daisy is of undetermined origin, is a frequent guest who stays for weeks at a time.

Winston, a young Glen of Imaal Terrier, visits a pet-friendly cafe in County Kerry, Ireland

But the pup I fell in love with, a Glen of Imaal, belongs to my friends Terry and Anne. These dogs are rare, even in Ireland, and were originally named for their work with soldiers in the hills of County Wicklow, bred with local terriers originally and used to ferret out badgers.

They are not tall but mighty, with short legs and turned out paws that evolved from years and years of turning a spit to roast meat.

Anne and Terry decided to get a Glen, not for a badger problem or barbecuing help, but it wasn’t easy to find one. They traveled to County Longford, 200 miles away, after a full year’s wait. They named him Winston, because “he commands respect and is growing to a similar size!”

Winston went home in Anne’s handbag two years ago but would need a steamer trunk for transport at this point. He is sturdy and affectionate, with alluring brown eyes.

Not long after meeting up with Winston in a cafe that welcomes dogs, I was back on the other coast, in Wexford Town, when I spotted another Glen. He too was friendly and adorable – I just wanted to pick him up, but I had my own back to consider.

Just by chance ran into another Glen of Imaal in Wexford town, Boxty, named for the Irish pancake


Maisie on moving day – Image (c) Jen Piliero, 2018 – All rights reserved

So did I find my dog in Ireland? No, I did not, but shortly after returning to Bedford the perfect dog found me.

She came with a sweet temperament and a name to match: Maisie, a Scottish diminutive for Margaret. High energy, curious, fast as the wind, this daughter of Jack Be Nimble is spunky and non-shedding, a leaper and a leaner.

I lucked into the one I was meant to have, a gently-treated one-year-old who needed a home.

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