The Irish setter is not a new breed of dog. We can find a reference to a setter dog as long ago as the 16th century. But the Irish Setter we know today was originally given that name because it was used widely in the Emerald Isle. It was in Ireland that major breeding work in the early 1700s took place. The Irish Setter breed has long been known as a superb hunting and field game dog.
It was in Dublin, Ireland in 1886 that the first Irish Red Setter Club was established. The national bus company in Ireland today uses the Irish Setter as its corporate logo. But its fame and popularity has spread. The Irish Setters first arrived in the United States in the early 1800s and quickly became a favourite with hunters in many states.
The Red Setter was not always red
In its earliest days, and in many cases still today, the Irish setter was a red dog. It’s long and glorious coat was made even more distinctive because of its red color. But as breeding changed so that the Llewellin and English Setters intermixed with the Irish setter, the appearance of the all red Irish Setter began to change. Today the deep orange-red color can include flashes of white around the neck, the chest, on the feet and at the end of the tail.
The Irish Setter, sometimes called the Red Setter, has featured prominently in both real and fictional situations. The character Big Red has appeared in literature and on the silver screen as have many other Irish Setters in paintings and songs. Famous people including presidents, governors and even a tsar of Russia have all owned Irish Setters. The breed is formally recognized in many countries.
At first these dogs were bred for hunting. They had many advantageous characteristics. They have boundless energy, can cover vast distances and are seemingly tireless. They work very well in wet lands and in fields. In locating a fallen bird, they are able to ‘face point’ in the direction of the game. Their sense of smell is said to be acute. It was little wonder they became so popular.
In the middle of the 20th century, the Irish Setter field dog was thought to be dying out with the showd0g variety dominating. An inter-breeding program with the English Setter saw a revival in the field version of the Irish Setter and that remains the case today.
Generally speaking, show dogs are some 50% heavier than their working-dog cousins. The working Irish Setters often have a lighter coat tending to russet or fawn. Their coat is not as silky and their feathering is shorter than their larger show-off, show-ring cousins.
And the breed has enormous appeal for families and for those who enter their animal in dog shows. Irish Setters are today thriving in homes, on farms and with families as pets.