Why does the Royal Irish Regiment have a dog as a mascot?

The history between the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Wolfhound goes back decades and remains an important part of the regiment today.

In 1971, Major Alistair Hayes marked his retirement with a gift to the Royal Irish Rangers – a mascot that the now-Royal Irish Regiment keeps to this day.

His present? An Irish wolfhound, the tallest breed of dog in the world, named Brian Boru – named after Brian Bóramha, the King of Munster and High King of Ireland who was killed in the Battle of Clontarf.

As the first mascot, Brian was given military ceremonial training as the regiment was deployed to Bahrain. 

Watch: First-ever training camp for military animals in 2018.

And, when they returned, Brian was there to make a good impression – with one elderly woman reportedly appearing at the guardroom door with sugar lumps for 'the wee donkey'.

Brian remained with the battalion and was moved to West Germany in 1974 until he later retired and lived the rest of his life on a farm in County Wexford, Ireland.

Brian Boru II, however, had a less successful time with the battalion.

He was purchased from a breeder in Whitehead, Co Antrim, and, although a beautiful animal and a littermate of a Crufts winner, he never took to life with the military.

The animal went AWOL from the depot and was never seen again. A nationwide search, reported on TV and in the local press, failed to find him.

Watch: What role do animals play in the modern military?

Nevertheless, the presence of a mascot continues to this day – with each new mascot traditionally named Brian Boru numerically, but with its own official name.

When on parade, the mascot has an official uniform made up of a piper green coat with silver lace and the regimental badge on each side.

He also has a silver lead, which goes over his neck, shoulders and hangs over the dog's chest.

Designed and made in 2016 to regimental specification, he also has a sterling silver breastplate brooch worn on the neck of the coat.

Finally, to complete his ceremonial dress, the dog has two brown leather collars – one with his name engraved on a silver plate, the other displaying a regimental cap badge.