Irish Setter: Breed History

Irish Setter on GrassThe Irish Setter is a type of dog classified as a gundog.  It is thought to have come from a dog known as the setting spaniel and was crossed with other setters such as the English as well as spaniels.

The Setter was bred primarily for hunting, usually for setting or locating and pointing upland game birds.  They have an acute sense of smell and will locate the mark and hold a pointing position to direct to where this is.

One of the first historical references to the Irish Setter came from Caius’s De Canibus Britannicus dating from 1570 when they were described as being mostly white with spots that were commonly red.  This would probably mean the all-red colour has been selectively bred into the dogs.  The Country Farme by Surflet and Markham, 1616, referred to Setters as another sort of spaniel.

It is believed that the Irish Setter was first bred in Ireland in the early 1700s but by the early 1800s, it had spread across to the British Isles.  The original breed was said to have come from a cross of Irish Water Spaniels and Irish Terriers.  Stud records from the de Freyne family from French Park date from 1793 and other Irish gentry breeding Setters at the time were Lord Clancarty, Lord Dillon and the Marquis of Waterford.

The predominantly red colour had come about by 1845 with a clear preference for this solidly-coloured dog.  If patches were mentioned, these were red and white, lemon coloured or deep chestnut with white.

From the 19th century, the Irish Setter reached the United States and was quickly one of the most commonly used dogs for meat hunting professionals.  Many of the modern dogs can be traced from a British dog called Ch. Palmerston from the 1870s.  He stood as 23.5 inches high and weighed 64 pounds and was dark red in colour.  His daughters were taken to US and the breed there are all believed to descend from him.

The first official standard for the Irish Red Setter Club came from Dublin and was settled on 29th March 1886.  It was a 100 point scale, with points awarded for the dog’s physical attributes.  Points were later dropped as a system but there were only a few minor changes to the actual standards and is much the same today.

In 1874, the Field Dog Study Book was created in the US and the registry of dogs began.  This allowed dogs when the sires or dams were from different breeds and around this time, the Llewellin Setter was bred from English and Irish Setters.

By the 1940s, the breed was becoming far less common as a working dog and outbreeding was needed to strengthen the dogs.  The Field Study Stud Book gave its blessing to Ned LaGrande from Pennsylvania to cross with red and white English Setters and this saw the final form of the modern Irish Red Setter.  The Red tend to be smaller and lighter dogs than the standard Irish Setter.