We are honored to present the art of Rebekah van Kan for our next issue of Dogs Outside The Rings historical Irish Breeds.

When I was little – I was always somewhat confused by the’What are you going to be when you grow up?’

I always had a pencil on my person, I was always drawing, sculpting, painting and I just couldn’t understand why or how I could be expected to do anything else, I couldn’t think of anything that I’d rather be doing. I felt that I already was what I wanted to be. Of course when you’re 7 you have no idea what life is going to require of you, and so I have had various forays into a more conventional life, but never for too long. I grew up on top of a mountain in Wicklow, surrounded by vast forests, mountain streams and birdsong. There were very few other children around and so my first friends were Snipe, the Irish Water Spaniel and Con and Harry, the Connemara ponies. My father would pack up some potato farls slathered in butter and jam and off the three of us would go, exploring the nooks and crannies of the Wicklow Mountains. Our little gang grew to include one of the neighbours Shetland ponies, Tiny and another Connemara, Moo Mare (who I met in the forest after she had escaped from her new home and I just assumed she was mine now). So my first friends were native Irish breeds (apart from Tiny) and I suppose that it was only natural that my two great loves, art and the breeds of Ireland, would become intertwined.
There are many things that strike me about our native Irish breeds. Their unadulterated ability to still perform the tasks that they were originally bred for hundreds of years ago, how true to type each still is, their incredible natures. It is said of the Irish Wolfhound that there are dogs, and then there are Irish Wolfhounds, and having shared a large portion of my adult life with one…it’s kinda true! It’s not unheard of for the Irish Red Setter you see in the ring to also be an exceptional trial dog. Likewise, I’ve yet to meet an Irish Red and White in the ring that isn’t also a field trial champion. The fact that each of our 9 native breeds are still true to type and still capable of a strong working life is something that has been achieved through zealous preservation and conservation. Although some are well known, others are not and remain on the vulnerable list. We have had other native breeds quietly drift away into extinction. The Galway Collie, the Glenwherry collie, both gone. And so, I paint them.
I now live in the foothills of those self same mountains that I grew up in, a little closer to the ocean but still only minutes away from the forests of my childhood. No matter where life has taken me, I’ve always ended up back here. Wicklow, the garden of Ireland…I’ve realised finally that this magical county is just something you have to surrender to, it’s home.
It continues to be my great joy to travel through this blessed island of ours, meeting the people who dedicate their lives to the preservation of these dogs, getting jumped on and sat on and having my biscuits stolen. This is definitely what I’m going to do when I grow up!

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