beautiful photo of a irish setter dog

The Irish Setter is a beloved breed of dog that has captured the hearts of dog enthusiasts all over the world. With their stunning red coats and friendly, outgoing personalities, Irish Setters have become popular family pets, show dogs, and hunting companions.

However, the breed’s history stretches back centuries, and its origins and development are fascinating and complex. In this article, we will explore the historical context of the Irish Setter breed, including its genetic makeup, migration patterns, and interactions with human populations. We will also discuss the breed’s development over time, highlighting important figures and events that influenced its evolution.

Origins of the Irish Setter Breed

The Irish Setter’s exact origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery, but there are several theories about where the breed came from. Some experts believe that Irish Setters are descended from setting dogs that were brought to Ireland by the Celts in the 5th century BCE. Others suggest that they are related to the Old Spanish Pointer, which was brought to Ireland by Spanish soldiers in the 16th century. Still, others believe that the breed is a cross between various breeds of hunting dogs that were common in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Regardless of their exact origins, it is clear that Irish Setters were originally bred as hunting dogs. They were used to “set” game birds by crouching down and remaining still, allowing hunters to approach and capture the birds. This behaviour is why they were initially known as “setting dogs” or “setter breeds.”

Early Development of the Irish Setter

In the early days of the breed, Irish Setters varied widely in their appearance and behaviour. Some were heavier and more muscular, while others were leaner and more athletic. They also had a range of coat colours, including red, black and tan, and white with red markings.

Over time, breeders began to selectively breed Irish Setters for specific traits, such as speed, agility, and a particular coat colour. One influential breeder was Richard Purcell, who began breeding Irish Setters in the 1800s. Purcell was known for his red-coated dogs, which became popular with hunters and sportsmen.

Another key figure in the development of the breed was George Augustus Graham, who began breeding Irish Setters in the mid-19th century. Graham’s dogs were known for their beauty and elegance, as well as their hunting prowess. He also helped to standardize the breed by developing a set of characteristics that were considered desirable in Irish Setters, such as a long, lean body, a distinctive head shape, and a silky, feathered coat.

Victorian Era and Beyond

The Victorian era was a period of great change for the Irish Setter breed. With the rise of the middle class, more people began to keep dogs as pets, and Irish Setters became popular with families. At the same time, the breed continued to be used for hunting and field trials.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Irish Setters began to appear in dog shows, and breeders began to focus more on the breed’s appearance than its hunting abilities. The Irish Kennel Club was founded in 1922, and the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1878. As the breed became more popular and standardized, breeders worked to eliminate unwanted traits and produce dogs that met the breed standard.

In the modern era, Irish Setters remain a popular breed, known for their beauty, athleticism, and friendly personalities. They are used in a variety of roles, from family pets to show dogs to hunting companions. However, the breed also faces some health concerns, including hip dysplasia and bloat, which can be addressed through careful breeding practices and health screenings.


The history of the Irish Setter breed is a fascinating and complex story, filled with centuries of breeding, development, and adaptation. From their origins as hunting dogs in Ireland to their popularity as beloved family pets and show dogs, Irish Setters have captured the hearts of dog lovers all over the world. By understanding the breed’s history and unique characteristics, we can appreciate the depth and complexity of this wonderful breed. Whether you are a hunter, a show dog enthusiast, or simply someone who loves dogs, the Irish Setter is a breed that is sure to capture your heart.

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Author: Jane