In Praise of the Purposeful Irish Dog

Some say Irish dogs are different from other dogs: more soulful, wiser, friendlier even. Hmmm, maybe… maybe not… However, let me tell you about one fabulous Irish dog!

Years ago, I was traveling around Ireland with several American friends, one of whom had lived in Dublin as a child for several years. She observed that Irish dogs were quite different to dogs in other countries, they were “purposeful.” Rather than wandering or straying, Irish dogs appeared to do things deliberately, purposefully, with their tails high and a definite goal in mind.

official neighborhood greeterAs we explored small towns and villages, we began to see the local dogs through her eyes. They did indeed seem very busy, and appeared to have goals and direction. They’d trot down the street, stopping to greet people and other dogs, tails wagging, a glint in their eyes, and after a moments’ connection, would resume their course with every appearance of purpose.

Every year, I’m reminded of purposeful dogs because, as my family prepares to spend the summer in Ireland, one of our children will comment, “I wonder if Prince is still there?

Prince is a dog belonging to one of our neighbors in Co. Meath, and ever since we took our firstborn home to meet her grandparents, Prince — the very embodiment of a purposeful dog — has been a constant playmate.

Unlike many Irish dogs, Prince is neither chained up nor kept in a kennel, he has the freedom to roam the neighborhood own his own schedule. All of the children in his family having flown the coop long ago, Prince has developed the habit of visiting each and every house in the village on a regular basis in search of company.

He has a sixth sense for when grandchildren are visiting, as within minutes of my children getting out of the car, there he is. Of course, it may simply be that though the rest of him is slowing down and age is taking its toll, his hearing remains as acute as ever! If my mother leaves the back door open to catch a fresh summer breeze, Prince will come trotting in to say hello. My young nephews, growing up in London and not at all used to dogs, think this is the greatest thing ever!

He's here one moment...

He’s here one moment…

I’ve long considered the Irish approach to pets to be a “timeshare” model — at least in rural areas. When we were children, we had several cats. Some of these cats were “ours” because we’d brought them home from whichever friend had kittens available, but some were “ours” only in the sense that we fed them most days and they chose to stay and accept our affection from time to time. I know ours grazed at other homes in the neighborhood as well. As a life-long cat person who doesn’t have a lifestyle conducive to taking care of a dog full-time (nor to be honest, the patience), Prince seems the perfect timeshare pet.

In an age where some stores hire greeters to welcome each person and manage customers’ first impressions, the value of the purposeful Irish dog is more apparent than ever. Prince has been resolutely filling the role of neighborhood welcoming committee and general spirit-raiser for more than 14 years, rain or shine.

...and gone the next.

…and then he’s on his way somewhere else.

Animals like Prince are the exception — and coming from an area with fields of sheep and horses as far as the eye can see, I fully understand the dangers of allowing dogs to stray — but an animal like Prince is a throwback, a reminder of a more-communal way of life, a form of social glue that holds a community together: spreading companionship and bringing a little color into everyone’s day. Some have called him an old soul, a being who’s been around the block a time or three, and knows more than his current form can convey. Who can say? I’m just glad that my children get to enjoy Prince’s purposeful company during their summers in Ireland, and wish we could all be as lucky.



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