I am including a famous legendary story from early Irish sources. It is
called the "Story of Mac Datho/,s Pig". This is the English version
translated from an early 12th century Gaeilge text. For a much richer
source of information please the other post I made today; subject:
"Celtic Research Bibliography". Look in the section headed "Celtic
Religion and Mythology."
THE STORY OF MAC DATHO/'S PIG
The "Sce/l Mucci Mic Datho/, or "Story of Mac Datho/'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 Ta/in Bo/ Cu/alnge, the "Cattle Raid of Cooley". Many, in
fact, consider it to be a parody of earlier heroic tales.
The 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
is from N. Kershaw Chadwick, An Early Irish Reader, Cambridge
There was a famous king of Leinster. MacDatho/ 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 have another.
Now 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 to this."
"We 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 result."
Thereupon our Mac Datho/ 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?"
He gave the woman no answer, so the woman said:
"Sleeplessness fell upon Mac Datho/ at his home. There was
something upon which he was brooding without speaking to anyone.
"He turns away from me and turns to the wall, the warrior of the
Fi/an (?) of fierce valour; it causes concern to his prudent wife
that her husband is sleepless."
The 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 slave."
The 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."
The Man: "The hound of Mesroeda Mac Datho/, 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
Unless 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.
"If 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 ashes."
The 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 it."
The Man: "The counsel you offer is helpful to me. Ailbe.... It is
not known by whom it was brought."
After 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 intimation.
He 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 were pleased.
Now 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 Datho/'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 Datho/'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 it.
Now the pig was brought to them, and forty oxen as a relish, and
other food as well. Mac Datho/ 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
"You 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 Ru/adluim
from Cruachan Conalad." "He was no better," said Lugaid mac
Cu/ro/i, "than the great Loth the son of Fergus mac Le/ti, who
was left dead by Echbe/l 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?!"
However 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!"
Silence 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.
"It 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 La/ma Ga/buid of Ulster." "Why
is your father called Lam Ga/bid?" 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.
"Keep 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 Aegean mac Durthacht," said everyone.
[He is king of Fernmag.] "I have seen him before," said Cet.
"Where have you seen me?" asked Aegean. "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.
"Prepare 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.
"Further contest!" said Cet. "That you shall have," said Mend mac
Sa/lcholca/n. "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
"Further 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
"Further contest!" said Cet. "That you shall have," said
Cu/scraid Mend Macha, the son of Conchobar. "Who is this?" asked
Cet. "Cu/scraid," 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 Cu/scraid the Stammerer ever since." And in this
manner he flouted the whole province.
Now 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
"Welcome, Conall! Heart of stone,
Fierce glowing mass of fire, brightness of ice,
Red strength of wrath! Under the breast of the hero
Who deals wounds, and is victorious in battle
I see the son of Findchoem before me."
Whereupon Conall replied:
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," said Conall,
"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."
"Get 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 Anlu/an
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 Anlu/an 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.
"Let 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
Moreover 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.
Then Mac Datho/ 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.
Their flight turned southwards, over Bellaghmoon, past Reerin,
over A/th 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.
Bruce L. Jones
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Mojave Desert - The Geographic Center of Nowhere