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The first truly international conference
for Irish Red & White Setters

Held on the terrains and club house of the Irish Setter Club vzw Belgium and the historical buildings of Fort II, Antwerp, Belgium on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd May 2004; this could justly be described as the first truly international conference for Irish Red & White Setters with 113 delegates from 16 countries in attendance.

That it took place at all is down to the persistence of one man – Dirk Vervenne (Exclusives) – and the foresight of another, Mr Ronny Blomme (President ISC vzw Belgium). Conference manager Mr Jean Struyf, assisted by hardworking members of the committee, paid great attention to detail with delegates following an emerald green carpet into a beautifully decorated room to the lilting sound of Irish music.

The opening speech by Mr Terry O’Leary (Chairman IRWS Club of Ireland) expressed concern over the development of the breed in Great Britain over the last 20 years and set the scene for some very probing questions; not all of which were answered to the satisfaction of the questioners! But onto the presentations.

Health, Development & Diversity of the breed

The first presentation was given by Mrs Ann Millington (Genetics Secretary IRWSC of GB), a very meaty tome on the Health, Development & Diversity of the breed, taking almost 45 minutes to deliver! Luckily for the delegates the transcript was available for study later as it was a most informative piece covering primarily Posterior Polar Cataract, Canine Leucocyte Adhesion Deficiency (CLAD) and von Willebrands Disease but also delving into other areas of concern including genetic diversity – a good or bad thing?

The thrust of the paper was to reassure owners and breeders that the IRWS is a healthy breed and to maintain this happy state needs constant vigilance and co-operation between clubs and countries. The Health Monitoring System, in place for 20 years with the IRWSC of GB, is open to the whole breed worldwide.

Having thoroughly educated us there were no questions and after a brief coffee break we were then treated to a superbly illustrated presentation by Mr Dirk Vervenne (IRWS breeder, Belgium): The role of the Irish Red Setter within Red & Whites in the past & in the future. To be able to deliver such an absorbing tour around the history of the IRWS in what is a foreign language for Mr Vervenne, speaks volumes for his enduring passion for the breed over the last 20 years. We are indebted to our own Anne Bailey and Margaret Sierakowski for making available prints, photos, postcards etc from their vast personal collections.

Having been fed and watered over a two hour lunch break (with Gaye O’Connor and Jane Valentine opening up the GB Club’s ‘shop’ and virtually selling out of stock!) the first of the afternoon’s three planned presentations commenced.

Documented and illustrated presentation of the breed,
according to the FCI breed standard

Delivered by Mrs Patricia Brigden (International Championship Judge GB), she was ably assisted by Mrs Pauline Perriam and Mrs Ann Millington and two extremely co-operative canine models kindly loaned by Belgian exhibitors – at last real Red & Whites to look at! The FCI standard was reproduced in bold type with, interspersed in italics, the "Blueprint of the Breed" produced by the IRWSC of GB. Despite the booklet clearly stating that this was not intended to be a replacement for the official FCI breed standard but should be read alongside and used as an enhancement, its inclusion caused grave disquiet to the Irish Club’s delegation.

Unfortunately Mr Tom Creamer (former President of the IKC) was not able to be present but much of his presentation – "The role of the IKC within the FCI for the promotion and safeguarding of the country of origin’s breed standard" – was incorporated into the final presentation of the first day:

The Irish Red & White Setter Club of Ireland – Vision for the future

Chairman Terry O’Leary’s presentation included the history of the breed, the breed standard and the breed club. Formally known as the IRWS Field & Show Society and claiming to be the most influential force behind the revival of the IRWS, the club changed its name to the IRWS Club in 2001. Their objectives remain "to encourage the working qualities of the breed in every possible way, to promote the breeding of them upon sound working principles, to ensure that when classified at shows they be judged from a working standpoint". Curious then that they recently introduced an eliminating fault of a purely cosmetic nature, flecking on the body, which taken to its logical conclusion will remove many valuable dogs from the breeding pool in mainland Europe. They also intend introducing a clause in the breed standard on the presentation of dogs at shows to prevent shaving and stripping of the neck like Irish Red Setters! To quote Mr O’Leary "This should not be about ego or pride, this is about admitting a mistake and doing right by the breed" – wise words indeed.

The first day completed the delegates were treated to a "democratic banquet with familiarising-socialising". Rumours abounded that it was to be an Irish stew dinner but in reality it was an extremely delicious and colourful buffet, with something to tempt all palates. During the evenings socialising all speakers were presented with a suitably inscribed vase as a memento of the occasion. In addition Gaye O’Connor (Chairman IRWSC of GB) took the opportunity to make a presentation to an unsuspecting Fiorella Mathis (Italy) in recognition of her making up her dog "United Spots Irish Pride" as the first dual champion in Europe. The model was of an Irish Red &White Setter painted with "Irish Pride’s" markings on a wooden plinth complete with brass plaque inscribed with the dog’s name.

Field Trials & Working Dogs

Opening up the second day - Terry O’Leary showed a video recording of R&Ws trialling in Ireland to illustrate the type of terrain over which the dogs were expected to work. This was followed by photographs of Field Trial dogs past and present and a very detailed description of The Search and The Find written by Sean Fleming and B Stakelum and originally presented at a judging seminar in 1990. Mr O’Leary also reported that the working side is very strong in Ireland and that new handlers are already making an impact with some satisfying wins. This was also an opportunity to introduce the newly approved Working Style of the Irish Red & White Setter – a working standard.

The Irish Setter Club vzw Belgium is fortunate to own its own grounds and club house and it was here that Trudy Walsh (International Championship Judge, Ireland) was able to conduct a hands on session, assisted by Mr Ronny Blomme, with a live commentary. That Trudy was able to do this "off the cuff" was an indication of her level of knowledge of the breed. Once again the dogs were very patient despite one of the bitches, as Trudy put it, looking for a man! This was an opportunity for many present to ask those questions that had been "niggling" them for so long, not surprisingly many of the questions related to colour and the distribution thereof!

As the Conference drew to a close there was an opportunity for delegates from around the world to present an overview of the R&W situation in their own country and to raise areas of concern. A move to have a show of hands to demonstrate the strength of feeling against the introduction of the eliminating fault of flecking on the body and a request for its inclusion to be reconsidered was robustly rejected by the Irish Club’s delegates.

Overall the conference was an ideal opportunity for devotees of this lovely native Irish breed to come together, to swap thoughts and ideas and to raise areas of concern to mutual benefit. No one present would wish for a population explosion but having faced near extinction in the recent past it is important that steps are taken to preserve our beloved Irish Red & White Setters for future generations to enjoy and we look forward to the next conference in Ireland in 2006 which coincides with the Irish Breed Club’s 25th birthday celebrations.

Jane Valentine