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History of the Kerry Blue Terrier

 

"In the morn they herd the cattle; at noon they come in and treat the wheel to churn the butter; in the afternoon they herd again and after supper are turned out to guard the sheep, the chickens and geese and pigs. The last thing that they do before going to bed is take off the pants of an Irishman."

An Irish Kerry breeder writing in an 1924 magazine, quoted by Montgomery.

The Kerry Blue Terrier (also known as the Irish Blue Terrier in Ireland) is one of three closely related, long-legged, all-purpose working terriers which were distilled from the great mixture of coat colours, textures and dispositions that were found throughout the Irish countryside over the last few centuries. The Kerry's two Irish cousins are the Irish terrier and the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier; the latter is often considered an ancestor of the Kerry Blue.

Forbidden by law to own the ancient Irish wolfhound (that privilege was reserved for the aristocratic class), the crofters concentrated on breeding terriers to their own needs and tastes. These farm dogs needed to combine herding, guarding, hunting, retrieving and vermin destroying talents. They were also family members who played with and watched over the children and curled up at the hearth. Crosses between various groups of dogs including hounds were made to obtain these traits and it is likely that a fair amount of Irish wolfhound blood ended up in the terriers.

A popular story told of the Kerry is that during the invasion by the Spanish Armada, a small spaniel with a soft blue-grey coat swam ashore from a ship wreck and mated with the native terriers, producing off-spring with terrier form and a soft bluish coat. Other variations of this story cast the invading dog as a blue-coloured Russian terrier from a wreck in Tralee Bay and as a Portuguese water dog from a Portuguese trading ship.

The Kerry as a distinct breed showed up slightly later than the Irish and Wheaten, emerging in the notes of dog enthusiasts in the latter part of the 1800's. Although the Wheaten is considered one of the more direct ancestors of the Kerry, most Kerry sources claim that the race of blue terriers with soft coats were present for several centuries, particularly in the south-west Irish county of Kerry and its environs.

Kerries were first at shown in England in the early 1920's and were recognized by the Kennel Club in 1922. The first Kerry Blues in North America were five pets imported in 1918-9; the breed first appeared at shows in the very early 1920's. Kerries have been used for retrieving small game and water fowl, for herding sheep and cattle, as police dogs in the United Kingdom, and as guard dogs at UK military installations during the Second World War.

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The Kerry Blue Terrier Foundation is a nonprofit charity dedicated to promoting the welfare of the Kerry Blue Terrier breed in the areas of education, rescue and health & genetics. Learn More.

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