A History of the Breed in Ireland

by Mrs Mary Crowley

It is important to remember that the Shetland Sheepdog as a recognised Show dog is a comparatively new breed in the history of Show dogs. Founded on the small cottagers dog of the Islands – which was basically a “watch” dog and “guardian of the cabbage patch” warning the sheep off, rather than herding them in – the breed was brought to the mainland and as far south as London in the 1800’s, when it was fashionable to have a new breed of dog; and there it was crossed with various other breeds – the working sheepdog, the King Charles spaniel and small Spitz breeds such as Pomeranians; later the Rough Collie. It is these mixtures that one can blame for having such a variance in size and type still in the breed.


The first club of the breed was founded in 1909, named the “Scottish Shetland collie club” and a few years later, the 1914 the “English Shetland Sheepdog Club” was formed, and from then on this club became recognised world-wide as the parent club for the breed. At the same time the word “Collie” was dropped from the name, reputedly because the historians believe the name should be “The Shetland Dog” i.e. the dog of the Shetland Islands, and not categorized as a sheepdog. The nick-name “Sheltie” was also adopted later in England, and not used by the Islanders.


As this is the History of the Breed in Ireland I will not delve any further into its origins or early history in its own country, but merely refer anyone interested to the following books: “All about the Shetland Sheepdog” (Pelham Books) by Felicity Rogers; “Shetland Sheepdogs Today” (Ring Press) by Maurice Baker and “Shetland Sheepdogs – The Sheltie” (Bredicot Publications) By Jan Moody).


The Early Days


It is known that Shetland Sheepdogs have been in Ireland since the nineteen thirties, some brought as pets by people coming to live here, but mainly by the Earl of Kenmare, who had bred them in that part of the country. Some were certainly shown then and during the war years when most shows went on, though much curtailed. Other early importers and breeders were Mr William Phillips of Belfast (“Orangefield” prefix) and Miss Edna Finch of Urlingford and later of Howth (“Ireland’s Eye” prefix). By 1946 up to 8 or 10 Shelties were appearing regularly in the “A.V. Sporting Not Classified” classes at Championship Shows, and the exhibitors of these, first discussed forming a club of the Breed, one day in 1947 at a Show in Milltown run by the Combined Canine Club, and the outcome of the discussion was a meeting which was held at Mrs Dorothy O’Donnell’s house in Belgrave Square Monkstown. There, a committee was formed consisting of Mrs Dorothy O’Donnell (Honorary Secretary), Mr. P.J. Sinnott (Chairman), Miss Enda Finch, Miss Mary McKeown, Drs Philip and Elizabeth Seaton, Mrs Sheila Beckett (later Scott) and Mrs. Daphne Lalor. The Club was named the “All Ireland Shetland Sheepdog Club”, and it was formally accepted by and affiliated to, the Irish Kennel Club in 1948. Mr P.J. Sinnott, although not a Shetland exhibitor, was elected as Chairman on account of the practical advice he gave on forming the Club, and the fact that he was on the IKC council since the nineteen twenties, representing Rough Collies. He remained as our Chairman until 1973, apart from a short spell in the nineteen sixties.


All the early meetings of the Club were held at Mrs. O’Donnell’s house in Belgrave Square, followed by fabulous teas, a tradition that has been kept up to this day whenever committee meetings are held in various committee members’ houses – perhaps the fare is plainer these days, but the hospitality equally warm. Dorothy O’Donnell must be given much credit for the success of the club in the earliest days; her enthusiasm and interest in Shelties laid a good foundation, and she sought out donors of some lovely trophies, most of which are still on offer by the club. For instance she secured the lovely silver “English Shetland Sheepdog Club cup” (1950) from the parent club for Best of Breed on Boxing day; the “Riverhill” puppy points cup (1956) from the Misses Rogers; the unique “Marimeau Trophy” (1949) for Best of Breed at the IKC Show from Mrs James, (the internationally well known Collie and Sheltie breeders)., also the Glenhill Trophy from the MacIntoshes in England. Many other cups were also presented by the first President Miss Lila Baquell, and by other members of the committee. These old trophies are a heritage to any Club, they are bits of history, alas, so often ill-appreciated and ill-treated by many of today’s exhibitors in some Clubs.


The first aim of the newly affiliated All Ireland Shetland Sheepdog was to obtain Green Stars for the breed, and this was quickly achieved, through the good offices of Mr Sinnott on the IKC Committee; because at that time Green Stars were not automatically given to every breed that appeared; and Show Committees would also withdraw Green Stars from breeds that did not secure a good entry, so that a Breed Club had to work at getting entries. Next, the aim was to obtain Specialist judges from across the water, because at first our breed was mainly judged by Terrier or Gundog judges or given to the Collie judges, none of which had a great knowledge of what a Sheltie should really look like. The club therefore went about securing to cross-channel specialists by guaranteeing the prize money (which was paid on a sweepstake method at all Ch. Shows) and also by paying all, or part of the expense of judges coming over; and to their credit these judges would travel on a shoe string budget to assist us. Thus we had Mr. Gaham Guest of the Oscott Shelties at Bray Ch Show, held on the esplanade in Bray, 1956; Miss Olivyn Quiynue Jones at Bray in 1960 miss Patience Rogers, Monkstown 1961, Mr Fred Allsop of the Merrion Shelties in 1956 at the CCC Show held in BurtonHall Lepordstown (Mr Allsop’s best known sheltie was the heavily coated sable & white, Ch Francis of Merrion, multiple C.C. winner). Other well known judges we brought over in the fifties and early sixties were Mr. Smale of Cornwall, Miss Felicity Rogers, Mrs Aileen Speding (who was the breeder and owner of the record winning Sheltie dog Ch. Antoc) & Miss Margaret Bagot of “Francehill” Sheltie’s, also Maurice baker of the “Ellendale” Shelties.


On 25th May 1957, the All Ireland Shetland Sheepdog Club held its first Members Show at the Boy Scout Hall, Phibsborough, with Mr. William Phillips as judge.

There were 52 dogs shown by 23 exhibitors giving an entry of 114. Guarantors to the IKC were: Miss E. Finch, Miss. M. Crowley, PJ Sinnott Esq. and P. Carey Esq. Prize money was 7/6, 5/0 & 2/6, with many other specials given by the Committee and friends – and the IKC gave a Silver Spoon to Best Veteran. The Best Dog was Mr. Casey’s “Ireland’s Eye Timeen” and the Best Bitch was Mr. Brennan’s “Ch. Dackel Slogan”. The following year, 1958 we saw our 2nd members show with Graham Guest of Birmingham the judge; this was held in the Northumberland Rd Hall in Dublin.


In 1962 we ran an interesting show in the Men’s Institute in Dun Laoghaire, with 7 classes for dogs, 7 for bitches and a Breeders class and a non-Breeders class, an Any Other Colour then S/W, Veteran, Brace; so it is remarkable to note that 30 years ago we set the pattern for all shows as held today; these Breed classes were judges by Mrs Margaret Bagot of “Franceshill” and more remarkably we held 2 extra classes for All Breeds – A.V. Novice D or B, A.V. Open D or B. these were judged by Mrs Helen Fottrell, and were very well filled with many different breeds. After this Show we held a Club Dinner at the Salthill Hotel, which was probably responsible for the heavy loss we made at this event – of £19 14 shillings and 8 pence!


In 1964 we decided to up step our efforts, and applied for Championship status for our show. This was granted, making the Club Show one of the first one-breed Ch. Shows in the country. This event was held in Beaufort House, Glasthule. The judge was Mrs. Cynthia Charlesworth of the Dilhorne Shelties. 61 Shelties were entered, giving 105 entries. Mrs Vanoordt’s shaded sable “Foula Sea Mist” won Green Star Dog and Best of Breed, and Mr. W. Phillips “Orangefield Willow of Wytchfield” won Green Star Bitch.


At this show we had benching for all the dogs as was compulsory at all Ch. Shows, and it so moved Mr. Harry Fottrell, Chairman of the Irish Kennel Club to see such a small show having to pay so heavily for a row of benches, that he influenced the Irish Kennel club to abolish the compulsory benching for one breed Ch. Shows (for All Breed Ch. Shows it was compulsory for many years after that).


In 1965 we held our Club show at Monkstown All Breed Ch. Show, with Miss Clare Moloney as judge – we having paid Miss Moloney’s fare from England , likewise in 1966 when we held our show at Dundalk Ch. Show with Mrs. Aileen Speding as judge. For a few years after this we ran our own Show every 2nd year, and each alternate year we held it at an All Breed Ch. Show event, mainly at Monkstown, Bray or Combined Canine Club. Our visit as far afield as Dundalk in 1966 was for the purpose of encouraging more North of Ireland exhibitors to come down, but unfortunately this did not happen, and we have always found that the Dublin area produces the biggest entries. We are delighted to say that exhibitors travel to our show from all parts of Ireland as well as from Scotland, Wales and England.


I should also mention that all the while, when sponsoring judges for many shows down here we were also guaranteeing classes at Belfast Ch. Show – without C.Cs for our breed. We usually guaranteed perhaps 50%, with Mr Philips, Mrs Stevens, or the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club guaranteeing the balance. We would secure up to 70 dogs in this way, mostly from both parts of Ireland, as well as some from Scotland – a result which, I venture to suggest, would not happen today (at a show not offering Certificates).