The remains of dogs nearly identical to the Irish Water Spaniel, dating back to the 7th or 8th century A.D., are documented in reports from archaeological expeditions to Ireland conducted in the 1930s. The modern version of this ancient breed is thought to have developed in southern Ireland sometime in the late 1100s, before the time of King McCarthy II. Sir Robert Cecil reportedly sent an Irish Water Spaniel to the King of France in 1598. In 1607, in his book, History of the Foure-Footed Beastes, Topsell refers to the “Water Spagnel with his long, rough, curled hair and a tail somewhat bare and naked.” In the mid-1700s, Captain Thomas Brown is said to have remarked on the long ears of the Irish Water Spaniel and its curly-textured coat. The first painting of an Irish Water Spaniel was made in 1841. These and other historical references suggest that the Irish Water Spaniel existed for centuries before the mid-1800s. Many have speculated that the breed descended from crosses among some or all of the following: the Portuguese Water Dog, Poodle, native Irish Spaniel, French Barbet, English Water Spaniel, Irish Setter and/or Curly-Coated Retriever, although this is largely conjecture.
A dog named Boatswain, who lived from the early 1830s to 1852, is widely credited as being the foundation of the modern Irish Water Spaniel. He sired many outstanding field and show champions, and after his successes the breed retained a consistent, recognizable type. In 1849, Boatswain sired Jack, who is prolific in the pedigrees of today’s Irish Water Spaniels. The first specials class for the breed was held in 1859. A great-grandson of Boatswain named Doctor won the first Best of Breed at the Birmingham show in 1866.
The Irish Water Spaniel Club was formed in 1890. Many fine breed specimens were exported to North America, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. By 1875, the Irish Water Spaniel was the third most popular sporting dog in America. Four Irish Water Spaniels were entered in the very first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1877. The Irish Water Spaniel Club of America was organized in 1937. This breed continues to be popular with bird hunters, show fanciers and families, alike.
The average life span of the Irish Water Spaniel is between 10 and 13 years. Breed health concerns may include ear infections, elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, follicular dysplasia, epilepsy, cataracts, entropion, distichiasis, megaesophagus and hypothyroidism. Irish Water Spaniels can have adverse, life-threatening reactions to Ivermectin and Sulfa drugs.