Random Musings on Dogs, Photography, and the Vagaries of Life

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When Canine Eyes are Smiling: Encounters with Dogs of the Emerald Isle

Last week I returned from my first trip to Ireland, a two-week journey filled with rolling hills, rugged cliffs, charming villages, fascinating historic sites, warm and friendly people, and...dogs.

As a lifelong dog lover, I am unable to travel anywhere—near or far—without visiting with local residents of the canine persuasion. And Ireland was no different. In between soaking up the verdant beauty of the countryside, touring the odd castle or abbey, and negotiating miles of winding rural roads—on the "wrong" side—I made time to make friends with and photograph a dog or two.

In a country known for woolen goods and the sheep that make them possible, I had expected to see my fair share of border collies. And I did. At Kissane Sheep Farm near Killarney, for example, I met several of these intelligent, hard-working herding dogs, along with four adorable roly-poly six-week-old pups. I witnessed firsthand the amazing bond between human and canine as the farmers demonstrated the teamwork required to herd a flock of sheep—a bond so strong that each dog works its best with only one human. It was obvious that these dogs are more than just four-legged farm employees...they are truly members of the family.

But these quintessential working dogs were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. My travels were also blessed with encounters with a variety of other purebreds and mixes of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages.

Some, like English cocker spaniel Honey, golden retriever Jake, and a one-eyed little terrier mix, took the hour-long ferry ride from Doolin to the Aran Island of Inisheer for holidays with their people. Others, like a lovely collie/GSD mix and her “pugalier” companion frolicked on the beach at Derrynane. And still others, including an elderly beagle mix, strolled the pedestrianized shopping district of Galway.

At my last stop, the Castle Lodge B&B at Malahide, I received friendly greetings not only from my human hosts but also from Jackster, the resident 21(!)-year-old JRT, and visiting Clancy, a Shih-tzu who, despite the indignity of a post-neutering megaphone collar, made it his mission to shower me with pre-departure kisses.

Basically, we met dogs everywhere we went. But the seaside village of Kinsale proved to be the canine mother lode. Known for its excellent dining establishments, this County Cork vacation spot also provided a wealth of dog-watching opportunities: Rex, a JRT, reclined regally on the front wall of his home observing passersby; Scampi, the resident canine of the Old Presbytery Guesthouse, greeted guests between breaks in her soft little dog house; a solitary Golden retriever relaxed in the middle of the street; and a pair of lurchers—a breed familiar to me only from the works of James Herriott—relaxed in the sunshine at an outdoor eating area.

All found their way into my digital record, and when I reflect on my Irish journey in years to come, they will be front and center in my mind.