Some history of the breed 




Introduction :

As well as books and texts about the Irish Setter (Reds and Red & Whites), our several study-trips to Ireland also served as guidance for this historical part of information about the Irish Red and White Setter.

Indeed, during our trips to Ireland, Country of Origin, we had the privilege to speak with those people who know and/or bred the Irish Setter in all it’s aspects during 50 years or even more. We would like to mention particularly Mrs. Cuddy, whose Irish Red & White Setters, with the help and canine inheritance of Reverend Noble Huston, had direct liaison with the world famous Red & Whites of the Rossmore Family, who owned Red & Whites during almost 300 years ! The authenticity and genuineness of Mrs. Cuddy’s Red & Whites were above all suspicion. We have been allowed to record the conversations and all information from these persons on tape. They serve as a supplementary guide for this little history. On request, more detailed history can be provided for real interested persons. The conversations we had with Mrs. Cuddy, Mr. John Nash, Reverend Canon Patrick Doherty, Mr. Dermot Mooney and Mr. Vincent Brennan are very valuable and will help to place the Red & White in the right context. Also the Irish Red & White Setter Field & Show Society gave valuable information and advice. Many thanks to all of them.


Pheasant shooting


From now, we leave our "Modern Times" for earlier Centuries; we go to an Island where the wind from the west and the rain from the Ocean created a magnificent nature; where people work  dogs seeking for game in the mountains or on inaccessible places on the rocky hills, or on the heavy soil of the Country’s plains. We go to Ireland where our breed originates. It’s the Island called by many  people " The Green Island" or "The Emerald Isle". We go in search of that parti-coloured Irish Setter, and will bring it back to our 21st Century: a 300 year  "expedition" from the year 1700 to our contemporary  hunting grounds, exhibitions and our homes.

It’s known the ancestors of the Setter varieties were very often hunting dogs with white base colour. Poems and manuscripts since the 11th century mention the word "Spaniels" of different colour: light red, reddish and white. The "Laws of Howell" (the year 940, so even before the Crusades) illustrates the existence of such Spaniels, which came by the traffic of the Celts. Ireland had a considerable influence by the Celtic invasion. The Irish language is of Celtic origin.

Like the "Irish Red & White Setter Field & Show Society" (the Irish breed club) writes, it seems through the whole evolution of the Irish Setter, these original Setters have always been bred either to a more red or a more white colour. In the years 1600 whole Red Setters existed already. The painting " The fourth Earl of Pembroke and Family" by Van Dyck (1634) illustrates it. In the years 1700, there were also fanciers of the whole Red Setter. So, it’s not very well known outside Ireland there have always been 2 breeds of



Grouse shooting

                                                                                            Colonel Millner writes in his book (1924):

"The Red Setters of the present day are descended from the Red & White and occasional crosses of other colours. The Red & Whites are descended from the Red & White Spaniel"

Mr. Leighton Boyce writes in his book "A Survey of Early Setters":

"There is an interesting anticipation of modern genetic knowledge in the reference to occasional introduction of other colours, because to obtain self-coloured reds from red & white stock with white occupying most of the coat area, a cross with a self black animal would nowadays be the recommended route, if there were any blacks available with otherwise similar characteristics; and of course there were."

We can conclude with a "most probable certitude" the parti-coloured Irish Setter, direct descendent from the Spaniel, is at the origin of the well known Irish Red Setter.

Bred from "that kind of Spaniel" from the 16th Century and even earlier, the Irish Red & White Setter has slowly been developed to a hunting dog for the Landlords. The dogs were exclusively kept for the work and in harder times not one dog, unable to accomplish the job, was maintained.

Under these circumstances the Irish Setter – red and red & white – developed into an indefatigable and hard working hunting dog. In these times, people had the right on work, the Landlords the right on reaping the fruits. So such dogs were reserved for the Lords rather than for the people. Some of them maintained only parti-coloured, others preferred whole reds, or still some others maintained both and mixed them, with the only object in mind to improve the hunting qualities, according the specific requirements each one of them expected from the dogs.


Among the many well-known breeders – owners in these earlier times, 

we mention some of them:

Reverend H. Mahon had only Red & Whites. He lived from 1750 to 1838. He pretended there was in that time a fair number of Reds, but the Red & Whites were in the majority. After some time, his dogs were also called "The Ahascragh Strain".

Mr. Jason Hazzard of Timaskea, Co. Fermanagh ( region of Enniskillen ) had only Red Setters since 1812. The Earl of Enniskillen had another strain of exclusively Red Setters.

The famous ROSSMORE FAMILY maintained only Red & Whites during almost

300 years, and will be crucial  during the years 1940 in the continuation and revival of the Irish Red & White Setter. The Rossmore Family had grounds on the Island Arran on the English coast. Therefore the Rossmore Setters were also called Arran Setters.

And there also was a certain Miss Lidwell. She lived in Beggars Bush, near Dublin. In the years 1790 she had two dogs, OLD YORK and YOUNG YORK. She also had a bitch, called STELLA. ( See the ‘Big Pedigree’ )

Mr. Edward Laverack, who is the major Founder of the English Setter  praised the high quality of her dogs. Miss Lidwell said she owned the line since 50 years, and received it from Reverend Stubber who received it earlier from Mr. O’Connor, Mount Pleasant.

There were many Red & Whites in these times. They were excellent hunting dogs and by many hunters preferred on the red setter for it’s colour which was better seen, and also for it’s determination without any signs of nervousity.


But in the middle of the 19th Century, many Americans went to Ireland as tourists, in many cases the reason being the search of their roots. Americans felt in love with the whole Red Setters, and gave many dollars. In Ireland, where population was rather poor, dollars came like a Bless of God, and the numbers of Red Setters increased on a spectacular way. Things turned, and where that parti-coloured Irish Setter always had been in the majority, suddenly the Red Setter became immensely popular. So far, that in 1882 the "Red Setter Club" was founded, and a Breed Standard for the Irish Setter was accepted in 1886, mentioning the colour of the Irish Setter should be Red….


Painted by Currier, representing 2 American hunters on the bank of the Delaware River.

Left: Irish Red Setter (with white). Right: English Setter


A catastrophe for the Red & White Setter: being at the origin of the Irish Setter, he suddenly was no longer officially considered as a "real Irish Setter"!!!! Even worse: more and more people considered the Red & Whites just as common mongrels…..

Some few real Red & White fanciers continued breeding Red & Whites and produced excellent dogs, such as for example Mr. Stone’s Dash and Mr. Cooper’s Wrestler. Also Colonel Fiddes from Glenamully had success with his bitch Nora II, being best Irish Setter in the exhibition of Strabane in 1896. He had also 4 dogs that he all called Beck ( Beck I, II, III and IV ). Mr. Gilespie bred 7 generations of Red & Whites. But certainly the most successful Red & White must have been Bobs of Derryboy, owned by Mr. Early: he won 3 first prizes at the All Ireland Perpetual Challenge Cup ( Field Trial ) in Haslemere. One of these was in 1926. Later on, he also won the Any Variety class at Cruft’s exhibition. Bobs of Derryboy was a direct descendent of the famous Rossmore Setters, which were only reserved for the Landlords and not for the people: he was a son of The Brigadier who was a son of Glen of Rossmore.


But in spite of all their interest, the Red & White was not able to maintain any comfortable position beside the Red Setter, for he hadn’t any official statute like his red brother. But nevertheless, the Red & White refused to disappear and continued the battles for survive.

It was by the interest and devotion of Reverend Noble Huston the breed could be kept pure and offers chances for the future. This minister of the Presbyterian Church in Bally Na Hinch ( Northern Ireland and only about 50 km from Rossmore Castle in Monaghan ) exhibited Red & Whites already in 1896. . He was Chaplain in the army during the first World War, and coming back at home after the war, he only could notice almost all good Red & Whites were gone: the war had it’s price. Supported by Dr. Elliot, they both started again breeding Red & Whites. Reverend Noble Huston had connections with the Rossmore Family and brought the Rossmore Setters in his breeding. It became a famous breeding of the most pure and authentic Red & Whites.

Rev. N. Huston understood that something should be done for the uncomfortable position of the Irish Red & White Setter, and although the breed "officially did not exist", they registered their dogs with the Irish Kennel Club and bred under the affix 


Many Red & Whites in the years 1920 – 1940 were bred by Rev. N. Huston and ensured the continuation of the breed in that period. Very well known Red & Whites were Unagh, Blanco, Cohan, Bobs of Derryboy, Lord Decider, etc. … They all were bred under his guidance and were great champions of the purest quality. 


Painted by H.A. Galvert 1835



But although so many people in Ireland took advantage of these wonderful dogs, nobody seemed to take over the work and continue it. Numbers of Red & Whites did certainly not increase anymore and the danger of disappearance was not so imaginary.

But a certain Miss Maureen Clarke from Donegal ( North West of Ireland), student at the Dublin University discovered a completely neglected young Red & White bitch. Miss Clarke took it and called it Judith. We are in the year 1940.

Miss Clarke studied Genetics at the University, which is certainly not without importance in understanding breeding. After her studies she married Mr. Cuddy.

So Mrs. Cuddy had contacts with Rev. Noble Huston, who found the ideal dog for her bitch: .Jack of Glenmaquin, who was the result of many generations of Rev. N. Huston’s breeding.

Mrs. Cuddy continued breeding with the inheritance of Rev. N. Huston under her affix KNOCKALLA. The Irish Red & White Setter was saved once again and in 1944 the

Irish Red & White Setter Club was founded. The first Breed Standard for that parti-coloured Irish Setter was made

and registered with the Irish Kennel Club.

                                                                                                        Painted on wood      


But after the second war, nobody had the money and/or time for working on the future of the breed: all energy and financial possibilities were used to remake all other established breeds. Again the consequences of a war!

After some time, nobody spoke about the Irish Red & White Setter and the whole world was convinced that beautiful authentic, old-fashioned Irish Setter was extinct.

It was indeed almost extinct: in 1965 only 16 or 18 specimens were left in Ireland. Outside Ireland, nobody had any knowledge about it.

It was Mrs. Cuddy again who took some very important initiatives to bring the breed back again. She succeeded and with an extensive breeding programme, supported by the Irish Kennel Club and using carefully chosen Irish Red Setters carrying the Red & White blood.

Lord Rossmore, who had no dogs anymore after the second war, gave his advice and support and very clear instructions about the breed.






one of the first Irish Champions after the official revival and recognition of the breed.