Kerry Beagle

Kerry Beagle

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These dogs were probably brought to Ireland by the Celts, where they were perfected over the centuries. By the 18th and 19th centuries, their numbers became low and the dogs were found only in one kennel. Later, the interest in the breed was revived.

From very early times, a large distinctive scent-hound has trod the Emerald Isle. He most likely arrived with the Celts and has been refined over the years with crosses to the Southern Hound and French hounds.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, their numbers had dwindled until they were primarily in only one kennel owned by the Ryan family of Scar-teen, County Limerick. With interest in native breeds growing, however, there are now a good number of fine packs with Kerry Beagles hunted throughout rural Ireland. Many specimens came with Irish immigrants to the USA, where they contributed to the famous Trigg strain of American Foxhounds as well as being one of the major stems of the American Black and Tan Coonhound. The breed is unsponsored by any formal dog organization, even in its homeland.

The origin of his description as “beagle” is unknown, as he was never a small dog like the familiar Beagle. In fact, in earlier times, he was even larger, but has carried the label of Beagle for centuries. The present-day word for the breed in the Irish language is pocadan, which describes him as a hunting dog. In the beginning, he was mainly used for stag hunting, a sport requiring speed and stamina. He is now generally utilized for hare hunts as well as drag trials.

The exhilarating sport of foot hunting for hare is pursued in Ireland mainly for the enjoyment of following a fine pack of hounds. Watching these dogs from a high vantage point as they work the rocky mountainsides is a never-ending thrill, and listening to their beautiful voices echo across the valleys culminates the hunt. The Native Dogs of Ireland says that, “it is extremely rare if a hare is caught. The Hunt Master invariably calls off the hounds should the hare be in any danger or distress.”

Drag trials are held in Ireland for the Kerry Beagle. The Kerry hounds fan out in a large circle when casting, and automatically turn to the first dog that finds the scent and indicates it by “opening” with a loud bay. They have astonishing speed and independence.

The Kerry Beagle sports long ears, full chops and a robust, athletic build. The black-and-tan jacketing is the classic coat, although a great variety of other “hound” colors as tan or red bicol-ors, tricolors, or even the very rare blue-mottled (merle) color, are seen and allowed. One 19th-century writer’s description of him as “an indifferent bloodhound” was not meant to be unflattering, but merely indicated that they looked much like a Bloodhound without the exaggeration of bone and skin. One hopes that sufficient interest is maintained in this ancient Irish hound to ultimately find it included among the recognized and exhibited dogs of the world.

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