"There is a glen, Imaal, in the Wicklow mountains that has always been, and still is, celebrated for its terriers." This early 19th century reference is to the beguiling breed we now know as the Glen of Imaal Terrier. The breed is named for a valley in the Wicklow Mountains which dominate the northern part of County Wicklow, Ireland. It is one of Ireland's lesser populated counties and the Wicklow Mountains are Ireland's most remote region. Smack dab in the center of this hard-to-reach place is a lovely valley, the Glen of Imaal.
This bit of geography speaks to a great extent about why our breed is and has been so little known, and why it developed along different lines from its three Irish cousins--the Kerry Blue, Soft Coated Wheaten, and Irish Terriers. Geographic isolation is very much a factor in the development of the Glen and virtually defines its history and evolution.
We are fortunate in our breed, largely because of the specificity of its place of origin, to know quite a bit about how this unique creature is likely to have come about. The road originates in the late 16th century, around 1570, when England's Queen Elizabeth I faced what most every British monarch has faced--'trouble' in Ireland. In this instance, it was a bonafide rebellion. She had several problems in addressing it; she had no standing army and she had no funds to pay mercenary soldiers. Ever clever, she "hired" Flemish and Lowland soldiers to do her bidding and, for payment, she offered them tracts of Irish land in the largely barren Wicklow mountains. There was, however, one jewel in this otherwise thorny crown, and it was the Glen of Imaal. The soldiers did Elizabeth's bidding effectively, happily accepted their payment, and proceeded to settle the Glen of Imaal and its environs. We know from several sources that they brought with them their dogs, and among them was a low slung, harsh-coated hound that looks not unlike today's PBGV or the rare Basset Fauve de Bretagne. These dogs in turn mingled with native Irish canines--hounds and the emerging terrier types--and over time these settlers began to develop a race of terrier that would not only perform the traditional terrier tasks of ridding the house and larder of vermin and hunting fox and badger, but also to perform a most unique task. These proto-Glens were meant to be turnspit dogs.
The turnspit was a large wheel, which either hung from the ceiling, or balanced on a trestle-like device on the floor, and to it was connected a pulley that was in turn connected to a rotisserie-like device over the hearth. The dog was put into the wheel, and when the dog began to paddle away, voila, dinner was cooked over the fire. Some controversy exists about the veracity of the turnspit portion of Glen-history and this is largely due to a fanciful artist's rendering of a Glen in such a device published by the Irish Kennel Club in a book of the 1970's. Indeed, the device depicted there could never have fit in the average Irish cottage of the day, but further research reveals that smaller devices were in common use throughout Ireland and deployed largely to churn butter. So for several centuries, these hardy dogs performed their unique tasks in this quiet and distant corner of Ireland largely unknown in the rest of Ireland, let alone the rest of the world.
Then in the mid-1800's something happened that changed all of our lives--the first dog show in England. Within a decade, Ireland held its first dog shows and for the first time ever there was a class for Irish terriers. Now the dogs entered that day were not the smart red-coated breed we know today by that name, but rather any terrier bred in Ireland. In that motley class were early forms of all the four terrier breeds of Ireland we now know plus several others that either dead-ended or merged into other types. We are fortunate to have several documents that report on this event--it was held at Lisburn in 1870--and the dog that won the day was described as "not high on leg, longer than tall, not straight in front, turned-out feet, and a slatey-brindle color. The long and useful type of Irish terrier one associates with County Wicklow." His name was Stinger. However, Stinger and his like were not the first breed to organize and gain the coveted name of Irish Terrier.
That turned out differently as you know. By 1922 a second Irish breed was recognized--the Kerry Blue, then known as the Irish Blue. In 1933 a band of folks organized, created the Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of Ireland, sought Irish Kennel Club recognition and were granted it a year later, 1934--the Glen becoming the third of the four Irish terrier breeds to be recognized. Our Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier cousins achieved the same goal three years later in 1937. Several Glen champions were quickly made up and the future looked bright. But soon came the war years and development of the breed virtually halted. By war's end, the number of Glens in Ireland had once again dwindled to a precious few. It would be some forty years before another Irish champion would be made up.
It was in the United Kingdom that the first glimmers of hope began to shine and interest in the breed began to bubble-up.
Hardy and resilient to the point of stoicism, the Glen is very much a big dog on short legs, which speaks both to its conformation and its approach to life.
By the 1970's there was a full-blown revival in the making which in turn re-seeded the dwindling stock in the breed's native country. The breed received full-breed status in England in 1980 and has been competing in the Terrier Group there ever since. In the United States we know of several Glens arriving in the 1930's when families emigrated from Ireland with their dogs, however there is no record of a litter being whelped in this country for the next thirty years. The breed did not gain a true foothold here until the early 1980's when several breed pioneers imported foundation stock from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Finland, and shortly thereafter founded the Glen of Imaal Terrier Club of America.
A superb earthdog and loyal companion, the Glen of Imaal Terrier has been unaltered by fashion; the Glens of today are true descendants, in form and spirit, of the "celebrated" ancestors in County Wicklow.