Breed History True to its name, the Irish Setter originated in Ireland. It is theorized, that the Irish Setter was produced from Spaniels and Pointers brought to the isle via France. The breed was used by Irish hunters in the field who needed a dog with speed, hence the Irish Setter, which combined with several Spaniel and Pointer type dogs including the Water Spaniel, was spawned. It is also theorized that other breeds such as the Bloodhound were used to produce not only the Irish Red Setter, but also the Irish Red and White Setters.
It was by the 19th century that the true Irish Setters became commonplace and were bred in large kennels. However, the establishment of the breed wasn’t without controversy.
Many believed that in the field the coat color would blend into the brush and therefore lead to many accidental shootings. The addition of white to the coat color was precisely the reasoning behind this choice, however there were purists who remained loyal to the Red Irish Setter and used items such as white cloths tied around the dog to spot them in the field.
By 1860 the first exhibited Irish Setter, Bob, was shown by Major Hutchinson at the Birmingham, England dog show. Bob went on to sire many other Irish Setters. Ch. Palmerson was another notable dog. With a narrow head and white stripe, Ch. Palmerson was also a great sire and was exhibited.
In America, substantial interest in the breed was gaining by 1870. Breeders began establishing their bloodlines in America, but were considered inferior to those from Ireland and England. Therefore imports were still commonplace.
Some of those imported during this time included Elcho. Elcho was imported by Charles H. Turner circa 1870. He was a good specimen and in fact went on to become the first Irish Setter to win a championship in America in 1876. Ch. Elcho went on to sire 197 puppies, an impressive feat. Another milestone in the breed’s development in the United States was the registration of the first Irish Setter, Admiral #534 with the American Kennel Club in 1878. Yet there were others who made their mark on Irish Setter history in America.
Plunket was an English field and bench champion whose offspring included Bob. And it is reported that Plunket was used to improve the American bred Irish Setters. With the breed clearly established in America by the 1880s, there was an important strain on the horizon – the Law bloodline.
The Law bloodline included Ch. Ben Law who was considered a great help to the American born Irish Setters. Born in 1896 he was a wonderful specimen, so much so that in 1901 he won his class at Westminster. He went on to sire over 60 dogs and several of them went on to acquire their champion status.
Out of the Law strain came a dog named, Ch. Drug Law who was purchased by Otto Pohl a pharmacist from the Midwest. He acquired the dog along with Ch. Pat-A-Belle in 1909 and trained them as shooting dogs. He also acquired Morty Oge from England. He died within one year of his arrival, but Pohl managed to mate him with 15 bitches before his death. Otto Pohl continued to import new dogs into America.
Then came two important bloodlines – the Lismore strain and St. Cloud kennel established by Joseph & Thomas Wall and Louis & S. A. Contoit respectfully. In the broader world of the Irish Setter it was becoming clear that the breed was a viable interest in America for a variety of reasons.
A noted strength of the breed was its ability as a fine hunting and conformation dog. As so it was no surprise that early on the ISCA held it first Combined Specialty and Field Dog Day on 26 Aug. 1927.
By this time the number of AKC registrations began to flourish. According to AKC registration statistics, there were 93 dogs registered in 1920. By 1926 there were 443. In 1930 there were 701 and by 1936 there were 1,458 registered Irish Setters in America. This also meant that in 1936 the breed was ranked 14 out of 102 breeds recognized by the AKC. The breed maintained its popularity through the 1940s. Meanwhile in the breed bench shows some notable dogs were dominating the field.
In 1925 the first Irish Setter Best in Show went to Ch. Modoc Morty Oge. From there on there was a success of kennels and dogs that dominated the Irish Setter world. Too many to list but a few of them are notable for their contributions to the breed.
One of the most important owners/breeders of the 1920s was Mrs. Cheever Porter, who owned Ch. Milson O’Boy. His show career included 11 Best in Show, 46 Group Firsts and 103 Best of Breed awards. Most notably he took Best in Show at the Morris & Essex in 1935 defeating 3,175 dogs. One of his offspring, Ch. Milson O’Boy II became the foundation stock for the Knightscroft Kennel which produced another champion- Ch. Rosecroft Premier, who was eventually acquired by Mrs. Cheever Porter.
Tyronne Farm kennels also made their mark on the Irish Setter world. Owned by Jack A. Spear of Tipton, Iowa in 1934 he purchased Ch. Tyronne Farm and Ch. Tyronne Farm Jerry. “Tyronne Farm dogs had their own particular style and were prominent in the show ring for 30 years, winning 50 or more championship titles and at least 50 Best in Show awards.” One of their most important dogs was Ch. Tyronne Farm Clancy who took Best in Show at Morris & Essex in 1950.
As indicated previously, by the 1940s the breed numbers began to flourish, which may be in part to the release of the film Big Red. The movie follows an Irish Setter who is adopted by an orphan and whose sole intent to run free and avoid the show ring. The premiere, which was attended by regional Irish Setter members, was highlighted with an obedience demonstration led by Emily Schweitzer with Ch. Verbu Misty Oogh CDX and others.
Ch. Kleiglight of Aragon was a prolific winner and sire. He won his championship at the young age of 13 months. He garnered 21 Best in Shows, 55 Best in Sporting Groups, and 104 Best of Breed. He also took his breed at Westminster three years in a row. During his lifetime he managed to sire 595 offspring.
Heading into the 1960s a few kennels stood out including Tuxedo Kennels, Muckamoor Kennels, and Wedline Kennels.
The Tirvelda bloodline was another significant kennel. Established in the 1930s by Ted Eldrege, it produced 100 champions including one of the top producing dams Ch. Tirvela Nutbrown Sherry.
The 1970s saw a huge increase in the number of dogs registered with the AKC and those in the show ring. By 1974 the Irish Setter was ranked number three out of 121 breeds recognized by the AKC. Ten years later the breed dropped to number 40 and finally in 2000 the breed was ranked number 62 out of 148 breeds.
Club History As one of the oldest parent clubs, the Irish Setter Club of America has had a steadfast devotion to this magnificent breed. Formed in 1891 by 21 members, some prominent members included William H. Child, the AKC’s third President and Dr. N. Rowe, editor of the American Field. The first group of executive officers were William H. Child, president, Dr. N. Rowe, vice-president; Dr. Gwilym G. Davis, secretary-treasurer.
As setters were originally bred as a hunting dog, it was appropriate that the ISCA conduct a field trial as their first event. Held in High Point, North Carolina on November 23, 1891, the club offered a $350 cash prize to the winner- a substantial amount in those days. A cash prize by the club was an indication of their desire to promote interest in the breed as well as a way to entice breeds to produce sound and pure bloodlines. This strategy worked – by the 1920s the Irish Setter bench shows saw a total number of entries increase to the 400 to 600 range. conformation and field show on 26 August 1927. Their second one was held the following year.
The club began producing their newsletter, News, starting in 1945 which eventually became the award-winning periodical Memo to Members. The primary aim of the News was informative—it contained club activities, owner brags and articles on various topics. Since then the periodical has grown in scope and has garnered awards from the Dog Writers of America organization.
A milestone in the club’s history occurred with their publication of The Irish Setter Champions & Obedience Title Holder. It was a significant step for the international community of the Irish Setter since it was the first publication of its kind.
A testament to the club’s commitment to the breed, the club founded the Irish Setter Club of America Foundation – a non-profit organization dedicated to provide education and research support for the breed. Today the foundation provides extensive and lucrative amount of money to organizations interested in grant funded studies of health related issues. Additionally, the club made strides in providing information to its members with the establishment of the library in 1974.
With such a long and prolific history, the ISCA is a pillar of parent clubs. Commendable acts and devotion to the purity of the breed make the ISCA a “poster child” for parent clubs.
Source: The Official Book of the Irish Setter, Connie Vanacore, T.F. H. Publications, (Nepture, NJ: n/d).