Irish sporting terriers have been mentioned in ancient manuscripts for centuries. As one of the oldest terrier breeds, the exact origin of the Irish Terrier has been lost to history. However, it is widely believed that the breed descends from the wirehaired black-and-tan terriers that graced Great Britain in the 1700s. Wheaten Terriers have also been suggested as possible contributors to this breed. The Irish Terrier was bred to be a hardworking farm dog: a capable hunter, affectionate and protective of its people, reserved with strangers and aggressive to the point of recklessness when threatened, blind to all consequences and willing to fight to its last breath if necessary. It retains those traits today. It has been used on rats, rabbits, foxes, otters and badgers, in addition to its guardian and companion roles.
The Irish Terrier was first recognized as a distinct breed in the early 1870s, when it was permitted to enter a class of its own at a Dublin dog show. The Irish Terrier Club, founded in 1879 with a branch in London, developed a written standard to guide breeders in their attempts to produce the ideal Irish Terrier. The Irish Terrier Club of America was formed in 1897. Both standards essentially define the ideal characteristics of the breed similarly: a spunky temper, a graceful racing outline, keen expression and a dense, wiry red coat with a distinctive broken appearance.
Irish Terriers were courageous messengers and sentinels on the front lines of World War I. Their extraordinary bravery is reflected in an anecdote from Africa, where an Irish Terrier accompanying big-game hunters allegedly flushed a lion by hanging onto its tail with its teeth.
The average life expectancy of the Irish Terrier is 12 to 14 years. This is a healthy breed with few if any significant breed-related health conditions. Irish Terriers have been known to have familial footpad hyperkeratosis, melanoma, hypothyroidism and cataracts.