Saturday, June 25, 2011
The Pig. Muc. Part Two.
The importance of the pig to the tenant class in rural Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was extremely important. They were fattened up using waste products and on the land and when mature they were sold on to help pay the bills. Oats were used to fatten the pig but from the eighteenth century onwards potato was used. However, during the hard times the pig had to compete with the humans for what little food was available
The landlords realising the value of the pig began to introduce improved breeds into Ireland, particularly from Britain, and this ensured that the rent was paid. Some of the more enlightened landlords gave pigs to their poorer tenants and when the pig was sold the tenant had to pay back both the price of the pig and the rent. The importance of the pig gave us the expression “on the pig’s back”, this meant that you were doing well financially.
In prehistoric times the pig that roamed the Irish forests was a descendent of the European wild pig. It was domesticated in the Neolithic period and by the Middle Ages there was very little difference between the wild and the domesticated. They both ate the same food and were lean, long headed, narrow-backed and had bristly hair and were usually dark in colour. No one knows when the wild pig began to die out in Ireland but it has been suggested that it began with the arrival of the Normans when deforestation became an ongoing process as this would contribute to a loss of their natural habitat.
The name ‘Greyhound Pig’ was said to be attributed to a travelling Englishmen, Sir Francis Heads in the 1830s. He gave the following description “As I followed them this morning, they really appeared to have no hams at all; their bodies were as flat as if they had been squeezed in a vice; and when they turned sideways their long sharp noses and tucked-up bellies gave to their profile the appearance of starved Greyhounds.’’ He was referring to a breed of German pig that he had seen. The Irish Greyhound pig was said to have the same attributes as this German pig. It was also known as the ‘Old Irish pig’, becoming known as the Irish Greyhound pig in the eighteenth century when it became a curiosity to British travellers in Ireland as the old native breeds of pig had by this time been completely eradicated in Britain.
This strange looking creature (above) is the Irish Greyhound Pig; In shape it is very different to the pig we are used to seeing today. It was common right across Ireland but by the middle of the nineteenth century agricultural statistics were reporting that the Irish Greyhound pig was almost entirely confined to County Galway. White in colour, it had floppy almond-shaped ears, long legs, a long curly tail, hedgehog-like bristles and an arched back. The Irish Greyhound pig, like all descendants of the European wild pig before the eighteenth century, was a large animal. It was this feature that was to ensure that it became an ancestor of the oldest surviving breed of domestic pig, the Tamworth (an Irish Greyhound pig was reputedly brought to England by Sir Robert Peel in 1809 and bred on his Tamworth estate),
The Irish Pig
'Twas an evening in November,
As I very well remember,
I was strolling down the street in drunken pride,
But my knees were all aflutter,
So I landed in the gutter,
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
Yes I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I could not utter,
When a colleen passing by did softly say,
"Ye can tell a man that boozes
By the company he chooses" -
At that the pig got up and walked away