The Irish have the distinction of being the only all-red terrier, and originated, as the name suggests, in Ireland. But how the breed was created is another matter. Dog historians are very unsure in this regard. Its ancestry seems to be linked to that of the Welsh Terrier for it is suggested that both descend from a type of wire-haired black and tan terrier which had been known in Britain since the 17th century. To confirm this is the fact that some black and tan puppies frequently occurred in early litters of Irish Terriers.
When the breed was first introduced fanciers claimed all manner of virtues for the Irishman. And while some exaggeration may have existed in these claims, it is true that the breed is a superb ratter and guard dog which, despite its vermin killing instinct, is also a soft-mouthed retriever of game. In truth it is a breed deserving of its earlier name, the "Irish Sporting Terrier."
Most dog historians begin their accounts of the breed with its introduction to the public at a dog show held in Dublin in 1875. Classes were offered for dogs over and under nine pounds and it is written that the event drew an entry of fifty terriers of all colours and sizes, with and without cropped ears. This heterogeneous gathering caused such a stir among breed fanciers they formed a specialty club and draughted the first breed standard, which remains virtually unchanged today.
The public was quick to take a liking to the Irish Terrier, and within a very few years the breed ranked among the three most popular terrier breeds in Britain. But this was not to last. Commencing in the 1920s, the demand for Irish Terriers moved steadily downward. One breed enthusiast, Gordon Selfridge, owner of one of London's largest department stores, tried to revive interest in the breed by staging an Irish Terrier exhibition in one of his store's departments. Another Irish Terrier supporter, the Duke of Atholl, opened the exhibition; attendants were dressed in Irish national costume and souvenir programmes were given to all visitors. While this gesture did little to restore the Irish Terrier's popularity, it remains a colourful part of the breed's history.
The Irish Terrier was first registered in Canada in the years 1888-1889.