Lisa Unleashed: The History Behind The Glen Of Imaal Terrier

Published: January 21, 2018 at 12:00 am


The first time I saw a Glen of Imaal Terrier in person was during a Sports Illustrated magazine photo shoot at the American Kennel Club (AKC) headquarters. It was 2005, and the breed was newly recognized by AKC the year before. There were several employees who brought their show dogs to work that day as well as some invited guests. I didn't know who I was more excited to meet, a new breed I'd never seen or its owner, the writer-lyricist Bruce Sussman, famed writing partner of Barry Manilow, who penned "Copacabana." But I kept my cool and didn't melt into groupie mode.

We were all gathered to shoot a "sports tribe" photo, a collection of passionate sports people who held similar values. The renowned photographer Michael O'Neill spent more than an hour placing each of us in a variety of positions based on the size of the dog, color of our suits, maybe even the color of our dogs. Eventually, the final pic that made the July 11, 2005, issue of the dog show tribe has me holding back Jinx as she eyed the Kerry Blue Terrier, a few feet away. But hovering above my head, and looking over my shoulder at Jinx, was the cutest Glen of Imaal Terrier.


Centuries-Old History

This medium-sized terrier hails from a secluded area in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland. He known to be a tad quieter in the barking department than his tenacious terrier cousins. He's also known for his strength and maximum substance for a dog of his size.

According to the Glen of Imaal Club of America (GICA), "The history of the breed finds its roots in the starkly beautiful Glen of Imaal in County Wicklow. Like its three Irish cousins - the Kerry Blue Terrier, the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, and the Irish Terrier - the Glen of Imaal Terrier was initially bred to rid the home and farm of vermin, and hunt fox and badger. The European badger weighs in at 40 pounds and the Glen was tough and strong enough to go to ground and dispatch the vermin soundlessly."

I love what the breed standard says about his looks, "Unrefined to this day, the breed still possesses 'antique' features once common to many early terrier types; its distinctive head with rose or half-prick ears, its bowed forequarters with turned out feet, its unique outline and topline are hallmarks of the breed and essential to the breed type." Its medium-length coat consists of a harsh texture with a soft undercoat. A "rough-and-ready working terrier" they are not overly groomed or trimmed when I see them at dog shows. They still look like the ancient breed they are.

The colors as described, again in the breed standard, are, "Wheaten, blue or brindle. Wheaten includes all shades from cream to red wheaten. Blue may range from silver to deepest slate, but not black. Brindle may be any shades but is most commonly seen as blue brindle, a mixture of dark blue, light blue, and tan hairs in any combination or proportion." Blue brindle! Doesn't that sound divine.

But I think what really attracted me to this dog was its temperament. The standard says, "Game and spirited with great courage when called upon, otherwise gentle and docile. Although generally less easily excited than other terriers, the Glen is always ready to give chase. When working they are active, agile, silent and dead game." While "dead game" is something they frequently brought to their masters in the barnyard, one of their most unique jobs was that of spit turner in large British kitchens since the Sixteenth Century.


Turnspit Dog

There are many descriptions of turnspit dogs on the internet, including one that claims the very last turnspit dog in the world was "Whiskey," who was stuffed and is still on display at Abergavenny Museum in Wales. According to a 2014 NPR story, "They were referred to as the kitchen dog, the cooking dog or the vernepator cur," says Caira Farrell, library and collections manager at The Kennel Club in London.

"The very first mention of them is in 1576 in the first book on dogs ever written." The turnspit was bred especially to run on a wheel that turned meat so it would cook evenly. And that's how the turnspit got its other name: vernepator cur, Latin for "the dog that turns the wheel."

I always defer to the national breed club when looking for historical information. Here's what the GICA says, "According to legend, the Glen of Imaal also has a unique task which it was expressly designed for: it was a turnspit dog. The turnspit was a large wheel which, when paddled by the dog, would turn the spit over the hearth - a canine-propelled rotisserie, if you will. The Glen's highly individualized bowed front legs and powerful hindquarters were ideally suited for this. For several hundred years, these hearty dogs performed their tasks unnoticed by all except those who treasured them. With the advent of dog shows in the Nineteenth Century, the breed began to emerge into the public eye."

If you want to see some Glen of Imaal Terriers in person, there are going to be seven champions at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday, February 13, at Piers 92/94 in Manhattan. This dog show is unique in that the dogs are benched all day long for the public to visit and interact with the dogs and their owners, breeders, and handlers.

For additional information and tickets visit westminsterkennelclub.org.

Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses, and hounds at lisaunleashed.com. You can reach her at lisa.peterson@barngirlmedia.com.

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