Do Kerry Beagles and American Foxhounds have a Common Origin?

Posted on Friday, September 22, 2023
In: Articles
Written by: Peter Brook

In this article, written in the early 20th century ‘Borderer’ asks whether ‘Black and Tan’ hounds from two different continents, and two disticint types the Kerry Beagle and the Black and Tan Amerian Hound, could have shared ancestry- that of the Bloodhound.

Kerry Beagle

There can be little doubt that the Kerry beagle and the bloodhound had the same origin. The colour and type of the two is still the same, and, in Mr. Rawdon Lee’s book on the dog he produces evidence to show that once the Kerry beagle had the same size as, or was even bigger than the present bloodhound.
In his book two volume ‘History of Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland (Sporting Division)’ Mr Rawdon mentions that many of these hounds are as 26 inches high at the shoulder, which is very much bigger than the present race of foxhounds, and larger than the majority of bloodhounds. Besides this, their voices are indicative of bloodhound descent, unless we assume that they are the older breed, and that they and the bloodhounds descended from a common ancestor. However, it is probable that the present race of bloodhounds would not make good hare hunters, or good crosses for Kerry beagles, although if Xenophon was correct the most approved harriers of his time had wrinkles on the lower portions of their fore­heads, so that the bloodhound men may fairly affirm that they have perpetuated a quality that is more than 2,000 years old, and was, moreover, approved by the greatest man who ever wrote about hunting.
The Kerry beagle bas no wrinkles. and in this respect he is precisely like another black and tan race of hounds that the writer has seen hunting. These are the American foxhounds, that are found free from English blood in the black and tan colour, and it is the latter also that are the most liked, except by those who have sought to improve, or alter, the American black and tan through the use of English foxhound genes.
But the similarity of colour is only a very small portion of the extreme likeness between Kerry beagles and the pure-bred black and tan foxhounds of America. They, too, are without wrinkles; they are of the present. height of Kerry beagles, that is, about 22in. at the shoulder, but they are of rather lighter build, with beautiful long necks, sloping shoulders, and very long ears. But the greatest similarity of all seems to be in the voices of the hounds. The English foxhounds differ little in this respect from pack to pack, but the sexes differ in tongue a great deal, as superior animals are also believed to i there are always the squeaking bitches. There are absolutely none of the latter amongst the pure-bred foxhounds of America; their voices differ, truly, but they- are all deep, or hollow, and musical. Some of the hounds are rather light made in body, and, as a deep chest is often associated with a deep voice, it was interesting to note that their voices were characteristic of the breed, and not of the chest measure­ment, American foxhounds were tried as a cross by Mr. Merthyr Guest some years ago, but these were not the black and tans, and, besides, America is a very big place, and the varieties of hounds in it is quite surprising. But whatever the late Mr. Guest’s importations were, they were not good crosses for English foxhounds for a variety of reasons. First of all, there is no earth stopping in the south, the true home of the American foxhound, as dis­tinct from the English crossed sort, and although the American rabbit, or cotton-tail, does not go to ground, the American fox does. Therefore, there is not that “drive” in the American that there is in the Eng­lish hound; he is much more a. harrier in character. The Rev. Jack Russell declared, in spite of contradiction, that there was harrier blood in the Craven Hounds of that time. All the evidence he had was that the hounds would not break up their fox, it turned out that the hounds in question had some remote crosses of harrier blood in them. Possibly he would have found the same fault with American foxhounds. From their manner and constantly running foxes to ground, it seems likely that they would have this character trait, but they have one characteristic that will appeal to all harrier men-they are the most wonderful cold-line hunters. They do not go out before 10 or 11 o’clock, and the only way they have of finding a fox is the same that Xenophon employed for finding a hare trail hunting. Hounds that can hunt the night trail of a fox at 11 o’clock in the forenoon must have superb powers of cold hunting, and these hounds do it.

Whether they are of the same blood as Kerry beagles seems to depend upon whether both are descended from the bloodhound at some remote period. That bloodhounds are the originators of the black and tan American foxhound seems to be certain.

Coakham Bloodhounds

That there were bloodhounds of pure race in the care of the southern planters at one time seems obvious from the fact that the cur dog of the county is mostly black and tan, and distinctly of ‘hound type’, and that the American foxhound is of the same character, but with this difference: he is dis­tinctly not a cur-dog but every inch a pure bred hound. It ought to have been said that comparing the American hounds with the Kerry beagles the difference is very little, and the latter appear to be of slightly heavier build.  The Kerry Beagle is said to have existed in Southern Ireland for hundreds of years, and the Ryan family of Scarteen claims to have owned them since 1735.  Records indicate that they were not seen in England until the early twentieth century.

One point in the American hounds that cannot fail to strike an observer is the beautiful low setting of their ears. It is a curious fact that all hounds that hunt mostly by scent have long pendulous ears, whereas those that hunt by sight have pricked ears. This is the more curious because all the wild dogs and wolves have pricked ears, and they all hunt by scent, and mostly in packs. ‘The difference of type between the sight and scent hunting hounds was marked throughout the middle ages. But Xenophon is not quite clear on that point, for he speaks of some of his harriers working, or moving about, their ears; but although his harriers may have had pricked up ears there is no evidence that the sight running dogs of that or any time had theirs hanging.

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