In a remote valley nestled in the western Wicklow mountains in Ireland is a glen called Imaal. The history of the Glen of Imaal Terrier begins with turmoil, mercenaries, and a queen who needed soldiers to put down rebellious citizens. Had it not been for trouble brewing in Ireland, this tough and spirited terrier might not have been created.
Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was barely 25 when she assumed the throne of England in 1558. From the beginning of her reign Elizabeth had to deal with assassination plots from her half sister, Mary Queen of Scots and her followers, religious conflicts with Ireland, and wars in Scotland and France. In the 1570’s rebellion broke out in Ireland. Elizabeth had a big problem – no standing army and no money in the treasury to pay mercenaries. So, she had to come up with a creative way to squash the rebellion and control the Gaelic population, and keep Flemish and Hessian mercenaries she had hired happy. In lieu of payment, she promised them Irish land in County Wicklow located in an isolated region of the Wicklow mountains. The soldiers for hire accepted her offer, put down the rebellion, and settled in the Glen of Imaal and surrounding area with their families and dogs. One of the breeds was a short-legged rough coated French hound that resembled the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. The mercenaries turned farmers allowed their low slung French dogs to mix with native Irish dogs, mainly terriers. Liking what they saw in the new breed, they developed the canine into an efficient hard working all around farm dog adept at working in the harsh terrain of the Glen. There were no free lunches in this land, and dogs were expected to do their job.
The Glen of Imaal Terrier was bred to work and guard livestock, protect the home, hunt fox, badger, otter, rats, and mice, and go to ground to haul them out of their burrows. Dogs had to be brave, tough and resilient. This powerful little terrier was developed with short front legs that were bowed and turned outward, and exceptionally strong hindquarters. He’s a bit more laid back than most terrier breeds, but make no mistake about it, when hunting this is a quick, fiery, and silent hunter that rarely misses his prey. He will not back down from a fight, and was used in dogfighting at times to earn his owner a few extra coins. The Glen, as the breed is affectionately nicknamed, has a high prey drive and should not be let off leash. He will chase cats, rabbits, squirrels, and anything else he sees of interest.
One very important job performed by the Glen of Imaal was to help with the preparation of meals as a turnspit dog. A turnspit is a wheel treadmill like device that was connected to a pulley which was connected to a rotisserie device over a fire to evenly cook meat. A dog was placed inside the wheel and as he ran on the treadmill, the rotisserie slowly spun around. Butter was churned in pretty much the same way.
This hardy dog remained isolated from the rest of Ireland for centuries and is much like he was when the breed was created. It wasn’t until the 1800’s and the first dog show in England in 1859 when the Glen of Imaal emerged from the isolation of the Wicklow mountains and presented itself to the rest of the world.
Weighing in at around 40 pounds, standing up to 14 inches at the shoulders with an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, the Glen is an affectionate, energetic, good natured, strong willed, intelligent, independent, courageous, and tenacious terrier who is an expert escape artist, and thinks he’s as big as a Great Dane. He makes a great watchdog and will let you know if someone’s around, but he isn’t a barker like other terrier breeds. If a dogfight breaks out, he most likely wasn’t the one to start it, but he will defend himself if challenged.
Like other dog breeds, both World Wars, especially WWII, reduced the breed to a small number of dogs and it took 30 years to bring their numbers back up. The Glen to this day remains a rare breed, and has retained his original characteristics and appearance. This hard working breed is a good family pet and is laid back and calm when he’s not working. He is patient, loyal, and enjoys playing with children.
The Glen of Imaal Terrier is an athletic dog that needs a way to run off excess energy. He can excel at dog sports like agility, obedience, and Earth dog trials. You probably don’t have a turnspit for him to run in, but a 30 minute walk or even a two mile hike can help this skillful and cunning terrier burn off energy. He was born to be a fierce hunter, and still be able to cuddle with the one he’s formed a bond with.
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