"My object in writing is two-fold. Firstly to keep my promise of an account of the Irish Blue Terrier Field Trials as carried out in Ireland, and secondly to further stimulate interest throughout the United States in a breed both National and unique in its qualities. My promise was contained in an article which ran through three issues of Dogdom (September, October and November, 1925). This promised sequel was repeatedly asked for my Mr. Bechmann. The default has been entirely due to personal preoccupations which absorbed my time in the interval.
My Position in the doggie world here, that of Honorable Secretary of the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club and Chairman of the General PUrposes Committee of the Irish Kennel Club during the whol period has well fitted me to write of the subject.
At the establishment of the D.I.B.T.C. one of its planks was "field trials," but a couple of years elapsed before it was found to be practicable to hold them. Perhaps the greatest problem was to reconcile the conflicting opinions of Blue Terrier fanciers. While some maintained that the only test of "dead gameness" was an actual dog fight, others held that the badger provided a real test of a dog's worth. All were agreed, however, that at all costs our National Breed must be prevented from becoming a degenerate show dog. I do not intend to cast any reflection upon the Irish Red Terriers and Fox Terriers of today, but it must be admitted that in the majority of the outstanding show specimens of those breeds are of little use for a practical days's hunting.
If you have ever enjoyed the delightful experience of a day hunting rats and rabbits, giving a hare or two and maybe a fox, a run with a pack of Blues, you will forever after crave that pleasure again. Unfortunately owing to the highly strung nature of our Blues they are prone to quarrel unless taught to hunt and mix with other dogs. confinement ruins them. It appeared to be a necessary qualification for any field dog that he should be a useful outdoor dog, and for that reason a junior test was instituted called An Teastas Beag (the little test), at which every Blue had to qualify at hunting rats and rabbits before competing for An Teastas Mor(the big test). This course had two advantages also. It appeared to help towards eliminating any Blues having any Bull Terrier breeding as it was found much more difficult to train such impure strains to the nose work required, and it reduced the numbers going forward for An Teastas Mor at which only a limited number of dogs could be tried on one day.
The first trials were held at Cromwell's Fort, a few miles from Dublin ity. A large crowd was attracted to the event. An Teastas Beag consisted of flinging rats into a large pond and allowing the dogs competing to swim and hunt one at a time. The inexperienced handlers of the rats created much merriment and a large proportion of the rats survived to tell the tale. In the case of the rabbits, each one was released from a marked spot on the fresh ground. As soon as it had taken cover the dog was released at the spot where the rabbit had been set free. He was required to run the trail accurately and to hunt will through briars and undergrowth. The actual catching and killing of the rabbit was immaterial as any untrained dog will often do that. Often to save time, the judges would call up a dog once he had satisfied them as to his capabilities. Subsequently it was announced by the Chief Steward which dogs had qualified and everyone then proceded off to where the badgers were located. On the first and second occasions the badger chute was defined as, (rule A4) "A natural shore at least fifteen feed long, not more than sixteen inches wide with a bed ten fee from the mouth. A well about twelve inches square to contain the badger must be at least eight inches below the level of the shore and at right angles to it." It is obvious that such an exact arrangement could not have been natural. It was artificial, the sides and top being of timber. This rule cause the Committee's undoing at the subsequent State Prosecutions. The Court held that the baiting of a captive animal had been proved which is contrary to the law and the defendant members of the Committee were fined.
Having hard the subject endlessly discussed North and South, I am of opinion that the badger test is not an infallible one. Dogs have been known to refuse to face a badger in his earth and later to fight to the death. The horrible practice of putting dogs to fight one another could not, of course, be tolerated for an instant. The badger test appeared to be the only means of satisfying the desires of some of our members, and my energies have always been directed towards minimizing the inevitable cruelty involved. My actions in that regard have earned for me an unpopularity amongst a certain section of fanciers which causes me no regrets.
A season passed before further trials were organized and in the meantime a useful discovery had been made. It was found that by fitting up a long timber pipe, eight or ten feet long on adjustable tripod legs, and arranging it so that one end was at the water's edge and the other out in the pond on a level with the water, rats placed at the mouth could either run down or be pushed with a pole to the water end. There they would be allowed to stay for a moment to get their bearings and off with a plop! they would go, making for the water rushes on the other side. The dog would be allowed to sight his quarry but would only be released when the rate would have had time to reach cover. The great advantage of all this lay in the fact that a rat rarely loses his bearings, and if you fling one into a river or pond he will immeditely swim back to you. I remember seeing rats in this way clamber up a bank crowded with straining terriers held back by their owners.
Natural badger work still appeared unwieldy to the Committee and the Teastas Mor on that occasion consisted of an artifial earth constructed of stones and covered over with sods some time previously. The growth of grass made it, in the absence of direct evidence, almost impossible to prove the construction artificial. The badger was put in early that morning before the possible arrival of any police inspectors. It was one captured by a small Blue Bitch of mine, "Emer," the previous week.
These preparations defeated their own object, for the earth was too long and too narrow and too twisty for the dogs, and none of them succeeded in drawing the badger while some were severely mauled in the attempt. I never saw that particular earth, but it was feelingly pointe out that the members who constructed it had not entered any of their own dogs! After that it was a case of "back to nature" - a decision both welcome and sound.
The Teastas Beag from that time on was held regularly, and the Teastas Mor took place on the lands of Senator Counihan and Mr. Rooney in the North County Dublin, both of whom very kindly did eveything possible to facilitate the trials.
The lead of Dublin had also given an impetus to the Kerry Club and others so that trials on similar lines have been held through the country. The Kennel Club did its part in providing that any badger once drawn should be released and not again molested. Dogs were also not allowed to display their prowess against a badger once they had qualified. The test became essentially a qualifying one rather than one of a competitive character. Classes were scheduled at the principal shows for dogs holding a Field Trials Certificate.
Apart from the considerable difficulty attached to the timely procurement of live rats and rabbits and the energy required to dig deep trenches, the future of Field Trials appeared assured.
The ominous attendance of Civic Guards in November, 1926, heralded fresh complications. They caming owing to pressure from a certain section of the public which declared that unnecessary cruelty was involved in such encounters between dog and badger. The subsequent case was strenously contested before District Justice Reddin for over four hours. The club argued that the badger was vermin and that the natural hunting of him in a wild state was permissable and that there was in fact no baiting of a captive animal which had been the ground of the previous conviction. The State on the other hand claimed that as the badger had no bolt hole the affair constituted an offense. The justice held that the trials were essentially a fight between animals and therefore illegal. In view of the differences of legal opinion, an appeal was suggested but such a course did not receive support. Thus the matter stands.
The Irish Blue Terrier of today is one of the gamest terriers alive. He is unequalled as an all round sporting dog. His size in convenient (about 40 pounds). His strength is adequate for most calls. His intelligence is great and as yet unimpaired by show bench breeding. At the same time he makes an ideal hue dog and a faithful companion for children. For hundreds of years he must have been bred and kept in the home of people. Being so wonderfully domesticated, he never "snaps" under any provacative teasing. This is one of the extraordinarily consistent traits of the breed.
What is to be the influence of undiluted show bench work? I fear harmful unless the judges are more enlightened. We must stir ourselves to educational effort, to teach those all-round judges and terrier judges that a Blue Terrier must not be judged on ordinary terrier lines. The feelings of our fanciers over here would be hurt at such qualities being lookef for as complete absence of forehead or a narrow chest and undue importance being attached to other points. It is up to the Blue Terrier men of America to see that correct lines are followed. Their reward will be a terrier, handsome, useful, and quite distinctive. As for us in Ireland, we will guard our National Terrier jealously, and do our best to Preserve his inherent characteristics."