Setting dogs of both the solid red and the red-white spotted coats have existed in Ireland since the 1700s, when hawking was the fad. Development of a dog for wing shooting was accomplished from existing hawking dogs and other hunting types. The fact that the Celts, who settled Ireland, also populated Brittany is interesting with the existence of red or orange spaniels from the latter area. The Irish state their Setter is pure spaniel, the only setter with no crossing to pointer. Bede Maxwell, author of The Truth About Sporting Dogs says, "Irishophiles may prefer to believe their Setter sprung full-formed from among the shamrocks, but history yields no proof of it." Yet the Irish Setter is physically the most pointerlike (i.e., houndlike) of ah1 the setters. The Celts were famous for their scenthounds as well as their spaniels, so perhaps the crossing was among pure Celtic hounds, instead of the pointer breeds that sprang from them. Throughout the 18th—and for most of the 19th—century, the Setters bred in Ireland were still of both color types. In the late 1800s, several top winners, such as Ch. Palmerston, flaunted the solid red coat, and their popularity increased. When a club was formed for the breed in 1882, it took on the name of The Irish Red Setter Club and, from that time on, the red variety prospered while the red/white declined.
Irish Setters were brought to America in the late 1800s, mainly as gun dogs. They proved most useful, and many early ones were hunted as well as shown. Head types varied greatly, from the "dish" face, mimicking the English Pointer, to the stopless downface, like those found on the best German hounds. But the flashy red-jacketed bodies had great consistency and, as the show fraternity embraced the dashing redhead, they quickly succeeded in fixing head type.
The Red Setter became and has remained popular among both the show fancy and the pet-owning general public, due to his personality as well as his looks. Big, elegant and athletic, with his flowing red coat, and the happy, head-up, tail-wagging attitude, the Irish catches the eye of any judge. And that rollicking devil-may-care personality has captured the hearts of many owners. Like most all sporting dogs, however, he needs plenty of exercise, discipline, and a purpose to prevent his brain from finding other unwelcome activities to relieve his energy and boredom. More and more modern Irish owners and show fanciers are reemphasizing the hunting qualities that sometimes were forgotten in the race to fill the demand for puppies. There are dual champions, with more to come, and other owners are testing their dogs' abilities in non-competitive events like the new AKC hunting tests. The Irish Setter people have likewise used his trainability and verve to advantage in the competitive obedience ring. The breed is a sensitive one, and does not react well to harsh training methods.