STORY OF MAC DATHÓ'S PIG
There was a famous king of
Leinster. Mac Dathó was his name. He had a
hound; the hound defended the whole of Leinster.
The hound's name was Ailbe, and Ireland was full
of its fame. Messengers came from Ailill and Medb asking for the hound. Moreover at
the same time there came also messengers from
Conchobar Mac Nessa to ask for the same hound.
They were all made welcome and brought to him in
the hall. That is one of the six halls that were
in Ireland at that time, the others being the
hall of Da Derga in the territory of Cualu, and
the hall of Forgall Manach, and the hall of Mac
Dareo in Brefne, and the hall of Da Choca in the
west of Meath, and the hall of Blai the landowner
in Ulster. There were seven doors in that hall,
and seven passages through it, and seven hearths
in it, and seven cauldrons, and an ox and a
salted pig in each cauldron. Every man who came
along the passage used to thrust the flesh-fork
into a cauldron, and whatever he brought out at
the first catch was his portion. If he did not
obtain anything at the first attempt he did not
the messengers were brought to him in his place
that he might learn their requests before the
feast. They delivered their message: "We
have come from Ailill and from Medb to beg the
hound," said the messengers of Connaught;
"and there shall be given three score
hundred milch cows at once, and a chariot and two
horses, the best in Connaught, and their
equivalent gifts at the end of a year in addition
also have come from Conchobar to ask for
it," said the messengers from Ulster;
"and Conchobar's value as a friend is no
less-and to give you treasure and cattle; and the
same amount shall be given you at the end of a
year, and close friendship will be the
our Mac Dathó lapsed into total silence and in
this way he was a whole day without drink,
without food, without sleep, tossing from side to
side. Then his wife said to him: "You are
making a long fast. There is food beside you but
you don't eat it. What ails you?"
gave the woman no answer, so the woman said:
fell upon Mac Dathó at his home. There was
something upon which he was brooding without
speaking to anyone.
turns away from me and turns to the wall, the
warrior of the Fían of fierce valour; it causes
concern to his prudent wife that her husband is
Man: "Crimthann Nia Nair said: 'Do not tell
your secret to women.' The secret of a woman is
not well kept. A treasure is not entrusted to a
Woman: "Even to a woman you should speak if
nothing should be lost thereby. A thing which
your own mind cannot penetrate the mind of
another will penetrate."
Man: "The hound of Mesroeda Mac Dathó, evil
was the day when they sent for it. Many tall and
fair-haired men will fall on account of it. The
strife about it will be more than we can reckon.
it is given to Conchobar it will certainly be a
churl's act. His hosts will not leave behind them
anything more of cattle than of land.
it be refused to Ailill, he will hew down a heap
of corpses across the country. Mac Matach will
carry us off, he will crush us into bare
Woman: "I have advice for you about it. I am
not bad at directing an affair. Give it to them
both. It is all the same whoever perishes for
Man: "The counsel you offer is helpful to
me. Ailbe.... It is not known by whom it was
that he arose and made a flourish. "Let us
then," said he, "and the guests who
have come to us be well entertained." They
remain with him three days and three nights, and
the messengers of Connaught were summoned to him
in private: " Now I have been in great
perplexity and doubt," said he, "until
it became clear to me that I should give the
hound to Ailill and Medb; and let them come for
the hound formally, and they shall have drink and
food, and shall take the hound and welcome."
The messengers of Connaught were pleased with the
then went to the messengers from Ulster: "I
have ceased to have any hesitation," said
he, "in giving the hound to Conchobar, and
let him and the host of Ulster nobles come for it
proudly. They shall receive presents and they
will be welcome." The messengers from Ulster
the people from East and West made their tryst
for the same day. Moreover they did not neglect
it. On the same day the two provinces of Ireland
made their journey until they reached the door of
Mac Dathó's hall. He went out himself and
welcomed them: "O heroes, we did not expect
you. However you are welcome. Come into the
enclosure." Then they all went into the
hall, and half the house was occupied by the
Connaughtmen, and the other half by the
Ulstermen. Now the house was not a small one.
There were seven doors in it, and fifty places
between each pair of doors. They were not however
the faces of friends at a feast which were in
that house. One party was at feud with the other.
There had been warfare between them for three
hundred years before the birth of Christ. Now Mac
Dathó's pig was slaughtered for them. For seven
years sixty milch cows supplied its food. On
poison however it had been nourished and the
massacre of the men of Erin took place through
the pig was brought to them, and forty oxen as a
relish, and other food as well. Mac Dathó
himself was acting as steward. "Welcome to
you," said he; "the equal to this
cannot be found. Bullocks and pigs are not
lacking in Leinster. Whatever is lacking now will
be slaughtered for you tomorrow." "The
pig is good," said Conchobar. "It is
indeed good," said Ailill. "How shall
the pig be divided, Conchobar?"
"How," said Bricriu mac Carbaid...from
above, "in the place wherein are the brave
heroes of the men of Ireland, except by dividing
according to brave deeds and trophies? And each
of you has hit another over the nose before
now." "Let it be done," said
Ailill. "Very proper," said Conchobar.
" We have heroes present who have raided the
will have need of your young men tonight, O
Conchobar," said Senlaech Arad from Conalad
Luachra in the West. "You have often left a
fat bullock of your number lying dead on his back
on the Luachra Dedad roads." "It was a
fatter bullock that you left behind with us,
namely your own brother, Cruachniu mac Rúadluim
from Cruachan Conalad." "He was no
better," said Lugaid mac Cúrói, "than
the great Loth the son of Fergus mac Léti, who
was left dead by Echbél mac Dedad in Tara
Luachra." "What do you think of
this," said Celtchair mac Uthechair,
"my having killed Conganchness mac Dedad and
cut off his head?!"
it so fell out among them in the end that a
single champion, Cet mac Matach, got supremacy
over the men of Ireland. Moreover he flaunted his
valour on high above the valour of the host, and
took a knife in his hand and sat down beside the
pig. "Let someone be found now among the men
of Ireland," said he, "to endure battle
with me, or leave the pig to me to divide!"
fell upon the men of Ulster. "You see that,
Loegaire!" said Conchobar. "It is
intolerable," said Loegaire, "for Cet
to divide up the pig before our faces."
"Stop a bit, Loegaire, that I may speak to
you," said Cet. "You have a custom
among you in Ulster," said Cet, " that
every youth among you on receiving arms makes us
his objective. Now you came into the borderland,
and we encountered there. You left behind the
wheel and the chariot and the horses. You
yourself made off with a spear through you. You
will not get the pig in that way." Thereupon
the other sat down.
is intolerable," said a tall fair hero who
had risen from his place, "that Cet should
divide the pig before our faces." "Whom
have we here?" asked Cet. "He is a
better hero than you are," said everyone;
"he is Oengus mac Láma Gábuid of
Ulster." "Why is your father called Lam
Gábuid?" asked Cet. "Well why?"
"I know," said Cet. "I once went
eastward. The alarm was raised around me.
Everyone came on and Lam came too. He threw a
cast of his great spear at me. I sent the same
spear back to him, and it struck off his hand, so
that it lay on the ground. What could bring his
son to give me combat?" Oengus sat down.
up the contest further," said Cet, "or
else let me divide the pig." "It is
intolerable that you should take precedence in
dividing the pig," said a tall fair hero of
Ulster. "Whom have we here?" asked Cet.
"That is Eogan mac Durthacht," said
everyone. [He is king of Fernmag.] "I have
seen him before," said Cet. "Where have
you seen me?" asked Eogan. "At the door
of your house, when I deprived you of a drove of
cattle. The alarm was raised around me in the
country-side. You came at that cry. You cast a
spear at me so that it stuck out of my shield. I
cast the spear back at you so that it pierced
your head and put out your eye. It is patent to
the men of Ireland that you are one-eyed. It was
I who struck out the other eye from your
head." Thereupon the other sat down.
now, men of Ulster, for further contest,"
said Cet. "You will not divide it yet,"
said Munremor mac Gergind. "Is not that
Munremor?" asked Cet. "I am the man who
last cleaned my spears in Munremor," said
Cet. "It is not yet a whole day since I took
three heads of heroes from you out of your land,
and among them the head of your eldest son."
Thereupon the other sat down.
contest!" said Cet. "That you shall
have," said Mend mac Sálcholcán. "Who
is this?" asked Cet. "Mend," said
everyone. "What next!" said Cet,
"sons of rustics with nick-names to contest
with me! --for it was from me your father got
that name. It was I who struck off his heel with
my sword, so that he took away only one foot when
he left me. What could encourage the son of the
one-footed man to fight with me?" Thereupon
the other sat down.
contest!" said Cet. "That you shall
have," said a grey, tall, very terrible hero
of Ulster. "Who is this?" asked Cet.
"That is Celtchair mac Uthechair," said
everyone. "Stop a bit, Celtchair!" said
Cet, "unless we are to come to blows at
once. I came, Celtchair, to the door of your
house. The alarm was raised around me. Everyone
came up. You came too. You went into the doorway
in front of me. You cast a spear at me. I cast
another spear at you so that it pierced your
thigh and the upper part of the fork of your
legs. You have had a ... disease ever since.
Since then neither son nor daughter has been
begotten by you. What could encourage you to
fight with me?" Thereupon the other sat
contest!" said Cet. "That you shall
have," said Cúscraid Mend Macha, the son of
Conchobar. "Who is this?" asked Cet.
"Cúscraid," said the others. "He
has the makings of a king to judge from his
appearance." "No thanks to you,"
said the boy. "Well," said Cet,
"it was to us you came in the first place,
boy, for your first trial of arms. There was an
encounter between us in that borderland. You left
a third of your people behind; and it is thus you
went, with a spear through your throat, so that
you have not an articulate word in your head; for
the spear has injured the tendons of your throat,
and that is why you have been nick-named
Cúscraid the Stammerer ever since." And in
this manner he flouted the whole province.
while he was making flourishes about the pig with
a knife in his hand they saw Conall Cernach
entering. He bounded into the centre of the
house. The men of Ulster gave a great welcome to
Conall. Then Conchobar whipped the hood from his
head and made a flourish. "I am glad that my
portion is in readiness," said Conall.
" Who is he who is making the division for
you?" "It has been granted to the man
who is dividing it," said Conchobar,
"namely Cet mac Matach." "Is it
right, Cet," asked Conall, "that you
should divide the pig?" Then Cet answered:
Conall! Heart of stone,
Fierce glowing mass of fire, brightness of ice,
Red strength of wrath! Under the breast of the
Who deals wounds, and is victorious in battle
I see the son of Findchoem before me."
Cet mac Matach! great hero,
Heart of ice.... Strong chariot-hero of battle,
Beautiful fierce bull, Cet mac Magach!
"It will be clear in our encounter,"
"and it will be clear in our separation.
There will be a fine saga in Fer m-brot
There will be ill tidings in Fer manath
The heroes will see a lion fierce in battle,
There will be a rough onset
in this house to-night."
up from the pig now," said Conall. "But
what should bring you to it?" asked Cet.
"It is quite proper," said Conall,
"that you should challenge me! I accept your
challenge to single combat, Cet," said
Conall. "I swear what my tribe swears, that
since I took a spear in my hand I have not often
slept without the head of a Connaughtman under my
head, and without having wounded a man every
single day and every single night." "It
is true," said Cet. "You are a better
hero than I am. If Anlúan were in the house he
would offer you yet another contest. It is a pity
for us that he is not in the house."
"He is though," said Conall, taking the
head of Anlúan from his belt, and throwing it at
Cet's breast with such force that a gush of blood
burst over his lips. Cet then left the pig, and
Conall sat down beside it.
them come to the contest now!" said Conall.
There was not found among the men of Connaught a
hero to keep it up. They made however a wall of
shields in a circle around him, for the bad
practice had begun among those bad men there of
evil casting. Conall then went to divide the pig,
and takes the tail-end in his mouth and so
attained to a division of the pig. He devoured
the hind-quarters -- a load for nine men -- until
he had left nothing of it.
he did not give to the men of Connaught anything
except the two fore-quarters of the pig. Now the
men of Connaught thought their portion was small.
They sprang up, and the men of Ulster sprang up,
and then they came to close quarters. Then it
came to blows over the ears there until the heap
on the floor of the house was as high as the wall
of the house, and there were streams of blood
running through the doors. Then the hosts broke
through the doors so that a great uproar arose,
until the blood on the ground of the liss would
have turned a millshaft, everyone striking his
fellow. Then Fergus seized by the roots a great
oak which was growing in the midst of the liss
and wielded it against them. Thereupon they break
forth out of the liss. A combat takes place at
the entrance of the liss.
Mac Dathó went forth leading the hound, and the
hound was let loose among them to find out which
of them its instinct would choose. The hound
chose the men of Ulster and he set it to
slaughtering the men of Connaught-- for the men
of Connaught had been routed. They say it is in
the plains of Ailbe that the hound seized the
pole of the chariot in which Ailill and Medb
were. There Ferloga, the charioteer of Ailill and
Medb, ran it down, striking its body aside, while
its head remained on the pole of the chariot.
They say moreover that Mag Ailbe is so named from
this incident, for Ailbe was the hound's name.
flight turned southwards, over Bellaghmoon, past
Reerin, over Áth Midbine in Mastiu, past Drum
Criach which to-day is called Kildare, past
Rathangan into Feighcullen to the Ford of Mac
Lugna, past the hill of the two plains over
Cairpre's Bridge. At the Ford of the Dog's Head
in Farbill the dog's head fell from the chariot.
Coming westwards over the heath of Meath,
Ferloga, Ailill's charioteer, lay down in the
heather and sprang into the chariot behind the
back of Conchobar, and in this way seized his
head from behind. "Buy your freedom,
Conchobar," said he. "Make your own
terms," said Conchobar. "It will not be
much," replied Ferloga, "namely, you to
take me with you to Emain Macha, and the women of
Ulster and their young daughters to sing a
panegyric to me every evening saying: 'Ferloga is
my darling.'" There was no help for it, for
they did not dare do otherwise for fear of
Conchobar; and that day a year hence Ferloga was
sent across Athlone westwards, and a pair of
Conchobar's horses with him, with golden bridles.
Scél Mucci Mic Dathó, or "Story of Mac
Dathó's Pig," is regarded as one of the
best of the Irish sagas. It belongs to the heroic
cycle of Ulster, depicting some of the events
which lead to the Táin Bó Cúalnge, the Cattle
Raid of Cooley. Many, in fact, consider it to be
a parody of earlier heroic tales.
earliest known manuscript version of the tale is
from the 12th century, but the time period in
which the story takes place seems to be around
the beginning of the Christian era. This text and
the Index to Proper Names are from N. Kershaw
Chadwick, An Early Irish Reader, Cambridge