By David Karunanithy
History Ireland, Vol.17:5 (2009)
Introduction: In the Celtic world, as elsewhere, canines were admired for their senses of sight, smell and hearing. Dogs were used on hunting expeditions and to guard homes, as domestic pets and as a source of food. They abound in surviving mythology and folk tradition and are well represented in religion, where they are often associated with divination, omens of death and the Underworld. In addition, dogs were frequently portrayed as the attribute of a particular god or goddess. Hence, likenesses of the Gaulish hammer-god Dispater appear with a small dog totem, as does the horse-goddess Epona. There is literary evidence that confirms, or at least strongly suggests, that the ancient Gauls trained dogs to guard tribal chiefs and even imported ancient British breeds for deployment in battle.
Although by the time of Caesar’s conquest of Gaul (c. 50 BC) the use of war dogs seems to have completely died out amongst the Continental Celts, there may be evidence to show that it continued or lingered, in derivative form, in the most far-flung reaches of Celtic-influenced society, namely in Ireland and Scotland. If so, then this would be entirely in keeping with what is known about the archaic nature of warfare practised in these more remote and isolated regions.