An Adventure in Africa

By Mary Benyon, 1925

Herewith some of my experiences with Irish Wolfhounds. The first I owned was given to me by Col.Ley in 1897 in India. I have always found them to be a strain of proved courage and endurance, very faithful and trustworthy with children, and at their best when treated as house-dogs. They are not rough or clumsy, and will quickly learn to see off any tramp. There has lately been a great increase in the popularity of this breed, and those of us who love this hound must naturally be pleased, having owned these magnifiecent hounds for so long I am frankly delighted to think their character is getting better known and more appriciated, and I sincerely hope the breed will continue to improve in popularity, number and quality.

I have an old poem written by Mrs. Catherine Phyllis about 1660. The character of the Irish Wolfhound is so well portrayed, and proves the estimation in which he was held at that period.

To the Irish Wolf Dog

Behold this creature's form and state!
Him Nature surely did create,
that to the world might be exprest
What mien there can be in a beast;
More nobleness of form and mind
Than in a lion we can find:
Yea this heroic beast doth seem
In majesty to rival him.
Yet he vouchsafes to man to shew
His service, and submission too -
And here we a distinction have;
That brute is fierce - the dog is brave.
He hath himself so well subdued
And all his manners do confess
That courage dwells with gentleness,
War with the wolf he loves to wage,
And never quits if he engage;
But praise him much, and you may chance
To put him out of countenance.
And having done a deed so brave,
He looks not sullen, yet looks grave.
No fondling play-fellow is he;
His master's guard he wills to be:
Willing for him his blood be spent,
His look is never insolent.
Few men to do such noble deeds have learn'd,
Nor having done, could look so unconcern'd.

This is quite the best description I have ever come across in any books about my favorite breed. They are full of courage and modesty.

Montfacon give a relation, and a print of a duel between a gentleman and a large Irish Wolfhound in the year 1371, in the presence of King Charles V of France. After an account of this fight, in which the dog was victorious, it is added that is has always been observed of this breed of dogs that they have an uncommon alacrity at singlecombat.

Strabo mentions a tall greyhound in use among Pictish and Celtic nations, which he states was held in high esteem by our ancestors, and was even imported into Gaul for the purposes of the chase. Silaus calls it also a greyhound, and asserts that it was imported into Ireland by the Belgae, and is the same with the renowned Belgae dog of antiquity, and it was during the days of Roman grandeur, brought to Rome for the combats of the amphitheatre. Pliny relates a combat in which the Irish Wolfdog took a part. He calls them "Canes Graii Hibernici" and describes them as much taller than the mastiff.

I enclose a photo of the three puppies that saved my life from lions while in Kenya Colony - where I took a Bournstream Faugh-a-Ballagh and Bournstream Biddy in 1920. I walked almost into a lion, lioness and two cubs on a newly killed stag, and they were not pleased. I called out "Tally-Ho" to the hounds - a cry I only used when I viewed game, and they knew it well, and Bournstream Buller, Bournstream Simba (called Tiger by us) and Terry (sold to a lady in Holland) were away hunting in some bushes. Tiger heard me first, came into view, and hesitated for a moment, when up went the lion's tail, and I thought I was going to be dessert. I called Tally-Ho again, and out came Buller - he in a flash gave one roar of fury and galopped at the lion, and Terry and Tiger then joined in - the lion never waited. The hounds followed the lion across the bit of open into some bushes, the lioness crouched down, evidently in doubt, and I walked on. This was Christmas, 1923, 8 a.m.

I would like to have one thing especially noted by all who care to read my notes. That Buller has light eyes, and several old breeders who, alas are gone from us, would agree with me. Light eyes are always the bravest, and present day shows are making a big mistake in penalising light eyes, and so helping to breed out courage. If your life depends upon the quick responding to your call for help - even to attacking a lion - if the lion won't run - I would always pick a light-eyed hound if it was to be my life which was to be so tested.

On another occasion, about fifteen years ago, I was walking across a field with a white West Highlander bitch and some of my Irish wolfhounds, and a bull came charging across. My old bitch (light eyes again) was the first. In a flash she sprang right up at the bull's nose, slashed and tore some part of his face, and turned him, and then, of course, the next second the others joined in.

It is very important to understand the method of an Irish Wolfhound's fighting. It is jump in, slash, and jump out. Instance Buller, Tiger and Grim (Faugh-a-Ballagh), were out riding (while in Kenea) with me, when we met a wart hog - this was the one enemy I had always dreaded during our lonely rides or walks over the Kenya plains. The hounds showed the most wonderful agility as hog charged they waited till he was almost into them, then they jumped, and as he passed, they were round, slash, slash and away. The pig turned in a flash and charged again and again and each time he never even touched one of the three hounds. They tore him absolutely to pieces. The Irish wolfhound does not by nature hold on, and he is not good at catching small things, though after a thing is killed he likes to eat it and not give it up. I have had personally several experiences of attacks on humans - and they have all been the same. A spring at the chest - human knocked on to his back, when they will usually stand with their forepaws on the man's chest and wait to hear what is wanted. This happend to me at Bournstream - where I lived in 1917, when old Biddy and I caught a man breaking in. I was also treated once in exactly this way by mistake in the dark. So I can speak with some inside knowledge. They can easily be taught to see anyone udesirable off by walking close behind them, and if they stop, the hound will growl and show his teeth. Grim, always did this to any tramps if told so. They are not agressive, but like to care for their master's property. One of mine that I gave Colonel Durand (9th Lancers) during the war, and he took this hound to France, when they were very devoted to each other. One evening Col.Durand went out from his billet to dine with some of his officers. While he was out the dog was let out into the garden, and while he was there, the Frenchman and his wife, owners of the house, wanted to return home - they had also gone out somewhere to dine. The dog, Tiger I., refused to allow them to return, and he refused to go into the house in spite of a fierce snowstorm coming on, till Col.Durand returned, when he did, he found Monsieur and Madam very cold, but furiously angry. Likewise the maids indoors all shivering and crying and imploring Tiger I. to allow their master and mistress to come inside - or to come inside himself! He was quite friendly with them, but till his master returned they remained with him outside. He sat on the steps of the chateau and was very polite, but perfectly firm in his refusal to their entrance.

Theire is an idea among some owners that Irish wolfhounds hunt by sight. This has been chiefly done by the fact that they have wonderful sight, but they have a wonderful nose also. Some time ago, while in Kenya, about six months after the puppies, Tiger II. (Simba), Terry and Buller, had had distemper, and t was a hot day, we shot Tiger II. (Simba) into Col.Durand's room, as he was going out into some very dense bush to cut a new road through it, a part of the country none of the hounds had ever been to before. Tiger escaped an hour later (about noon). When the sun was really hot, this hound found Colonel Durand (whom he is devoted to) about two miles away in dense bush. Colonel head some animals coming at a gallop, and got his rifle ready, expecting to be charged by a furious rhino, at least, as we have several about that part of our property, and in consequence had never before taken dogs, and then he saw Tiger following his line. Grim (Faugh-a-Ballagh), picked up the line of a wounded impala in a ploughed field, and took the line at a gallop over the open. I was on my horse, and followed the old hound, at a good pace, too, he put the buck up in some thick bush, and Col.Durand was able to shoot the poor beast. Buller, Grim and Tiger have scores of times picked up the line of a duiker in the garden, and even after the sun has been up for some time they have taken the line at a gallop into thick bush and put the animal up again, and in some cases have got him.

When they are in hard condition they are very hardy. Tiger (No.I) accompanied Col.Durand during the war and did two marches of twenty-five miles and twenty-three miles on two succesive days in pelting rain, slept in snow and rain, but even so, the dog was none the worse.

During the time we were in Kenya Colony the hounds sometimes used to get on to some very thrilling line and disappear for days together. Once they (Grim, Buller and Terry) were gone for four days and four nights; right away in the lonely wild bush of Africa, and came home not a penny the worse.

Their chief peculiarities are: (1) Excellent guard, especially at night, (2) very brave in defence of their friends (3) not quarrelsome with other dogs, (4) very devoted to and fond of children, (5) hunts by nose as well as sight.

I have seen Grim often gallop in and with his nose toss first one of my fighting West Highland terries to the right, and then one to the left, and so end the fight.

All good luck to the best of breeds, and may their motto always be as it used to be, "Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked."



(c) 2007
Last Update: 13 Jan 2007