The Iberian Influence on the Irish Collie

Herding Dogs by Iris Combe

Herding Dogs, Their Origins and Development in Great Britain by Iris Combe – Excerpts from Chapter 12 – The Collie of Ireland:

“Until recent times cattle have been of more importance than sheep in the Irish livestock market, but the collie has always been a versatile farm dog.  It is from the history of the Celts in Ireland that I have been able to trace what are possibly the most ancient herding dogs in the British Isles.

“Three distinct Celtic groups occupied Ireland between the fifth and first centuries BC.  The Cruthins arrived prior to 500BC, followed by the Erainns and the Goidils.  Each group live in isolated communities but spoke a common Gaelic dialect, which was known as ‘Q Celtic’, from which the word collie, meaning ‘useful’, is derived.…” – page 129

“…..their herds and flocks were small, but it is known that specially trained dogs were kept to ward off attempts by wild animals to attack the lone herdsman and his stock while grazing, or the farmer tilling his land.  These dogs were probably descended from those used by the Basque Celts, for they were of medium height with lithe, athletic bodies covered by a dense, harsh coat usually brindle in colour…..” – page 129

“When the Goidil Celts made their way over to the Western Isles of Scotland, history ewcalls the impact, but gives no information on the state of agriculture or livestock.  Later, however, as Christianity spread, so too did the use of a trained dog to help with livestock farming. – page 131

“When the monks from Ireland founded the monasteries on the outer islands of Scotland and ran farms to supply the daily necessities of life, they brought with them their own livestock and the labour to look after them.” – page 131

Irish collie left border collie on right

Irish Collies (old style cattle dog on left) and a Border Collie on the right from The Old Herding Dogs of Ireland by Marjorie Quarton

“…..These monks fully appreciated the value of a well-trained dog for whatever purpose. So for the first time the true ‘collie’ arrived in Scotland from Ireland.” – page 131

“From customs records it appears that a few sheepdogs arrived in Ireland with the merino sheep from Spain and Portugal in the early part of the eighteenth century.  The sheep from that area were being exported all over the world to effect improvement in local breed.” – page 132

“Another type is the Iberian strain, as it was known, and which is thought by some to have been brought to the Irish monastery farms by monks returning from Spain and Portugal. “ page 132

“Shipments of woos found their way to France and Belgium, and Spanish merino sheep, the breed that was fast becoming popular all over Europe, made illegal entry into Ireland together with a few sheepdogs accustomed to working the herd. These were smuggled by the crews as tiny pups, along with lambs.” – page 132

Point of Interest: The Book of Leinster, written in the 12th century, states that the first group of Celtic settlers to Ireland came from Iberia.