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Collins's beloved Kerry Blue breed at risk in the UK

If Michael Collins hadn't been shot at Beal Na Blath, the Kerry Blue Terrier would be Ireland's national dog.

But now in Britain the Kerry Blue, or Irish Blue Terrier as it was known in Collins's time, is near extinction according to latest statistics by the UK Kennel Club.

It's one of 25 vulnerable breeds cross-channel, including the English Setter, which have fallen out of favour because of the fad for smaller dogs like Chihuahuas, made popular by Paris Hilton, and bigger exotic breeds like the Siberian Husky.

A breed is deemed to be at risk of extinction when it numbers less than 300 puppy registrations in a year.

The Big Fella met his end before he could enact legislation giving the Kerry Blue official recognition in the new Irish State.

And his love for the breed, meant that he risked his freedom during the War of Independence to show his favourite dog 'Convict 224' during curfew and in the presence of the auld enemy.

An Irish Blue Terrier Show took place in late 1920 with exhibitors from all sides of the political divide putting differences aside for the love of their terriers.

Collins was competing at Longrishe House in Summerhill, Co Dublin, for the Wyndham Quinn trophy, which was presented by a British army captain of that name who was attached to the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, now Aras an Uachtarain.

Convict 224 won the overall prize and his name, and that of Collins is still etched on the Irish Kennel Club trophy.

Despite the political turmoil there was an eclectic gathering of factions evident by the names given to some of the competing Kerry Blues which included 'Munster Fusilier', 'Trotsky', 'Markievicz' and 'Dawn of Freedom'.

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Sean Delmar of the Irish Kennel Club, and whose wife Cathy is an acknowledged expert on Irish breeds including the Kerry Blue, told the Sunday Independent that the Dublin Irish Blue Terrier Club, as it was known, counted Oliver St John Gogarty among its members as well as Collins.

The Irish Kennel Club still has Michael Collins's registration of his dog signed by Collins himself who gave his address as 6 West Terrace, Inchicore.

Collins was also in the habit of giving Kerry Blues to friends as gifts. He gave two to Harry Boland to serve as companions on Boland's long sea journey to America and he presented another to Hazel Lavery in 1922 which she named 'Mick,' as author Chrissy Osborne points out in her book Michael Collins: Himself.

Somewhat mischievously, given the rumours of the close friendship between Lady Lavery and the Big Fella, it was said that 'Mick' would bite anyone accept for the society queen Lavery and Collins himself.

Mr Delmar is not too worried about rumours of the demise of the Kerry Blue in Britain.

"There are three strong clubs in Belfast, Cork and Dublin and numbers are fairly strong with the quality of dog that is being produced very good. Better, I think, that breeds do not become 'fashionable' because that leads to problems like puppy farms," he says.

The Irish Kennel Club would like the native breeds of Ireland to have heritage status.

"They are unique to this island and are an integral part of our history and development," Mr Delmar said.

The breeds include the Kerry Blue Terrier, the Irish Terrier, Glen Of Imaal Terrier, the Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, the Irish Red Setter, the Irish Red and White Setter, the Irish Water Spaniel, the Irish Wolfhound and the Kerry Beagle.

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