Far into the mists of time is the origin of the world's largest breed of dog the Irish Wolfhound. The Irish word for this breed is 'Cú' (translated to mean hound, war hound, war dog, wolf dog, etc.).
A warrior by the name of Sétanta was on his way to join the Red Branch Knights of Ulster ac-cidentally killed a dog belonging to a farmer by the name of Cullain. To put the farmer at ease the warrior stated that from then on he would be his hound until another one could be raised; the name 'CúChullain' (Cullain's hound) was born and he became a great warrior in Irish myth.
The ancient Irish laws known as the Brehon Laws which predate Christianity, and also found in Old Irish literature from 500 A.D. - 900 A.D, treat the subject too. Julius Caesar writes about his encounter with them during the Gallic Wars. In fact depending on one's station in life depended on how many hounds one was allowed to own. The 'Filid' (professional class of singers, composers of poetry, bards, musicians, and historians) were entitled to two such hounds.
Originally the big hound was used in the hunting of wolves, deer, boar and elk, but were also trained as a war dog with the job of knocking horse soldiers from their saddles to the ground or out of chariots. Wars were fought using wolf hounds, and even a few wars were fought over the possessing of such animals.
The hound of Aughrim was a Wolfhound who went to battle with his owner, an Irish knight. The owner was killed, but the dog remained by his side for six months, leaving only to search for food. When soldiers approached some months later, the dog, determined to protect his owner’s bones, attacked, whereupon he was shot and killed.
Bally Shannon was an Irish Wolfhound who served in WWI. He dragged 10 wounded men to safety, but was eventually wounded in action. On the way home, the hospital ship he and his master (who had also been wounded) were on was torpedoed and sank. Only four beings managed to escape the sinking ship: Bally Shannon, his master, and two other men. Unfortunately, the wreckage the men clung to would not support the dog’s additional weight, and he was ordered off. Still wounded, he swam around them in circles all night, occasionally resting his exhausted head upon the flotsam. He was still swimming when rescuers plucked them all from the sea, and he was taken to New York, where he became a celebrity of sorts.
The last wolf in Ireland is said to have been killed by a Mr. Watson in County Carlow in 1786 and, once their prey was gone, the Irish wolfhound went into decline with only a few families keeping them "more for ornament than for use" and complaints abounded that they were reduced in size, made coarse through being crossed with Great Danes, or so crossed that two were hardly seen alike. [IWS.]
The next to appear on the scene was Captain George Augustus Graham, determined to bring the Irish wolfhound back to its former glory. Not only were there very few specimens available of the old blood lines, but some of them were not able to breed and others were very delicate. He complained that death and disease robbed him of his finest specimens. Capt. Graham made no secret of his use of outcrosses, mainly Glengarry deerhounds, but some Borzoi and one Tibetan. He did not himself use a Great Dane but he did acquire the progeny of such crosses, mainly from the Earl of Caledon who used a Harlequin Dane called "Earl of Warwick". Crosses with Gt. Danes were carried out well into the 1930s. [IWS.]
The breed had problems during both of the World Wars. In the 1914-18 war, the progeny of Hindhead Mollie kept the breed going. Her sire was Hy Niall, which was bought as a puppy from a tramp and registered as an Irish wolfhound with a made-up pedigree. The sire which did most to help at this time was Sulhamstead Pedlar. [IWS.]