The Story of Mac Datho's Pig

Scéla mucce meic Dá Thó
Rawlinson B. 512

Trans. Kuno Meyer

There was a famous land-holder of Leinster. Mac Datho (Son of the Two Mutes) was his byname. He had a hound that would run round all Leinster in one day. That hound's name was Ailbe, whence the Plain of Ailbe is called. And of him was said:

Mesroida was Mac Datho's name,
Who had the pig-no falsehood!
And Ailbe, his famous cunning splendid hound,
From whom is the renowned plain of Ailbe.

Now Ireland was full of the fame and renown of that hound. Then to Mac Datho came messengers from Medb and Ailill of Connacht to ask him for his hound. But at the same time came messengers of Ulster and Conchobar to ask for the same hound. Welcome was made to them, and they were taken into Mac Datho's stronghold.

This was one of the five chief hostels of Ireland at that time, and there used to be boiling water in it always. There was the hostel of Da Derga among the men of Cualu in Leinster, and the hostel of Forgall Monach beside Lusk, and the hostel of Da Reo in Brefne, and the hostel of Da Choga in Westmeath. Seven doors there were in each hostel, seven roads through it, and seven fire-places therein. Seven cauldrons in the seven fire-places. An ox and a salted pig would go into each of these cauldrons, and the man that came along the road would thrust the fleshfork into the cauldron, and whatever he brought up with the first thrust, that he would eat, and if nothing were brought up with the first thrust, there was nothing for him.

The messengers were taken to Mac Datho, who was in bed, to be asked their pleasure, before their ration was brought to them; and they said their messages. "We come to ask for the hound," said the messengers of Connacht, "from Ailill and from Medb, and in exchange for it there shall be given three score hundred milch cows at once, and a chariot with the two horses that are best in Connacht, and as much again at the end of the year besides all that."

"We too have come to ask for it," said the messengers of Ulster and Conchobar, "and Conchobar is no worse friend than Ailill and Medb, and the same amount shall be given from the north, and be added to, and there will be good friendship from it continually."

Mac Datho fell into great silence, and was three days and nights without sleeping, nor could he eat food for the greatness of his trouble, but was always moving about from one side to another. It was then his wife addressed him and said: "Long is the fast thou art keeping," said she; "there is plenty of food by thee, though thou dost not eat it." And then she said:

Sleeplessness is brought
To Mac Datho into his house,
There was something on which he deliberated,
Though he speaks to none.

He turns away from me to the wall,
The hero of the Fene of fierce valor;
His prudent wife observes
That her mate is without sleep.

The man.

Crimthann Nia Nair said:
"Do not trust thy secret to women;
A woman's secret is not well concealed,
Wealth is not trusted to a slave."

The woman.

Why wouldst thou talk to a woman
If something were not amiss?
A thing that thy mind will not penetrate,
Someone else's mind will penetrate.

The man.

The hound of Mesroida Mac Datho,
Evil was the day when they came for him;
Many fair men will fall for his sake,
More than one can tell will be the fights for him.
If to Conchobar it is not given,
Certainly it will be a churlish deed;
His hosts will not leave
Any more of cattle or of land.
If to Ailill it be refused,
The son of Matach will carry it off.

The woman.

I have advice for thee in this,
The result of which will not be bad:
Give it to them both,
No matter who will fall because of it.

The man.

The advice that thou givest,
It does not make me glad,

After that Mac Datho arose, and gave himself a shake and said, "Now bring us food, and let us and the guests who have come here be merry." They stayed with him for three days and three nights, and he went aside with them: with the messengers of Connacht first, and said to them, "I was in great perplexity and doubt, and this is what has grown of it, that I have given the hound to Ailill and to Medb, and let them come for it splendidly and proudly with as many warriors and nobles as they can get, and they shall have drink and food and many gifts besides, and shall take the hound and be welcome." Those messengers departed and were thankful.

He also went to the messengers of Ulster and said to them, " After much doubting I have given the hound to Conchobar, and let him and the flower of the province come for it proudly, and they shall have many other gifts, and you shall be welcome."

But for one and the same day he had made his tryst with them all; nor was it neglected by them. So then two provinces of Ireland came and stopped in front of Mac Datho's hostel. He himself went to meet them and bade them welcome. "It is welcome you are, O warriors," said he. "Come within into the close." Then they went beyond into the hostel. One half of the house for the Connachtmen, and the other half for the men of Ulster. That house was not a small one. Seven doors in it, and fifty beds between each two doors. Those were not faces of friends at a feast, the people who were in that house, for many of them had injured another; for three hundred years before the birth of Christ there had been war between them. "Let the pig be killed for them!" said Mac Datho. Three score milch cows had been feeding it for seven years. But on venom that pig had been reared, since on its account a slaughter of the men of Ireland was made.

Then the pig was brought to them, and there were sixty oxen drawing that one pig, besides their other food. Mac Datho himself was attending on them. "A welcome to you," said he, "and there is not to be found the like of such a quantity of food. We have many pigs and beeves in Leinster, and what is wanting to your provision to-night, will be killed for you to-morrow."

"The provision is good," said Conchobar.

There were nine men under the hurdle on which was the tail of the pig, and they had their load therein.

"The pig is good," said Conchobar.

"It is good," said Ailill; "how shall the pig be divided, O Conchobar?"

"How would you divide it indeed," said Bricriu mac Carbaid from his couch, "where the valorous warriors of the men of Ireland are, but by contest of arms, and let each of you therefore give a blow on the other's nose."

"Let it be done so!" said Ailill.

"We are agreed," said Conchobar, "for we have lads in the house that have many a time gone round the border."

"There will be need of thy lads to-night, O Conchobar," said Senlaech Arad from Cruachan Conalath in the west; "they have often turned their backs on the road of Luachar Dedad. Many a fat beef too have they left with me."

"It was a fat beef thou leftest with me," said Munremur mac Gerrcind, "even thy own brother, Cruithne mac Ruaidlinde from Cruachan Conalath of Connacht."

"He was no better," said Lugaid son of Curoi, "than Irloth son of Fergus mac Leite, who was left dead by Echbel mac Dedad at Tara Luachra."

"What sort of man was Congancnes mac Dedad, do you think," said Celtchar mac Uthecair, "whom I slew myself and cut off his head?"

Each of them brought up his exploits in the face of the other, till at last it came to one man who beat everyone, even Cet mac Matach of Connacht. He raised his weapon above the host, and took his knife in his hand and sat down by the pig. "Now let there be found among the men of Ireland," said he, "one man able to oppose me, or let me divide the pig."

There was not at that time found a warrior among the men of Ulster to stand up to him, and a great silence fell upon them then. "Stop this for me, O Loegaire," said Conchobar.

"It shall be stopped," said Loegaire; "Cet must not carve the pig before the face of us all."

"Wait a little, O Loegaire," said Cet, "that I may speak to thee. It is a custom with you Ulstermen that every youth among you who takes arms makes us his first goal. Thou too didst come to the border, and we met at the border, and thou didst leave charioteer and chariot and horses with me; and thou didst then escape with a lance through thee. Thou wilt not get at the pig in that manner!" Loegaire sat down on his couch.

"It shall not be," said a tall, fair warrior of Ulster, stepping forth from his couch, "that Cet carve the pig."

"Who is this?" said Cet.

"A better warrior than thou," said all, "even Angus son of Lam-Gabaid ('Hand-wail ') of Ulster."

"Why is his father called Hand-wail?" said Cet.

"We know not indeed," said all.

"But I know," said Cet. "Once I went eastward. An alarm was raised around me, and Hand-wail came up with me like every one else. He made a cast with a large lance at me. I cast back the same lance at him which struck off his hand, so that it lay on the field before him. What brings the son of that man to stand up to me?" said Cet. Then Angus sat down on his couch.

"Still keep up the contest," said Cet, "or let me carve the pig."

"It is not right that thou carve it, O Cet," said another tall, fair warrior of Ulster.

"Who is this?" said Cet.

"Eogan Mor mac Durthacht," said all, "king of Fernmag."

"I have seen him before," said Cet.

"Where hast thou seen me?" said Eogan.

"In front of thy own house, when I took a drove of cattle from thee. The alarm was raised in the land around me. Thou metst me and castest a spear at me so that it stood out of my shield. I cast the same spear at thee, which passed through thy head and struck thy eye out of thy head. And the men of Ireland see thee with one eye ever since." Eogan sat down in his seat after that.

"Still keep up the contest, men of Ulster," said Cet, "or allow me to carve the pig."

"Thou shalt not carve it yet," said Munremur mac Gerrcind.

"Is that Munremur?" said Cet.

"It is he," said the men of Ireland.

"It was I that last cleaned my hands in thee, O Munremur," said Cet. "It is not three days yet since out of thy own land I carried off three warriors' heads from thee together with the head of thy first-born son." Munremur sat down in his seat.

"Continue the contest," said Cet, "or I shall carve the pig."

"Indeed, thou shalt have it," said a tall, gray, very terrible warrior of the men of Ulster.

"Who is this?" said Cet.

"That is Celtchar mac Uthecair," said all.

"Wait a little, Celtchar," said Cet, "unless thou wishest to come to blows at once. I came, O Celtchar, to the front of thy house. The alarm was raised around me. Everyone went after me. Thou camest like everyone else, and going into a gap before me didst throw a spear at me. I threw another spear at thee which went through thy loins and through the upper part of thy testicles, so that thou hast had a sickness of urine ever since, nor have either son or daughter been born to thee since." After that Celtchar sat down in his seat.

"Continue the contest," said Cet, "or I shall carve the pig."

"Thou shalt have it," said Menn son of Sword-heel.

"Who is this?" said Cet.

"Menn," said all.

"What means it," said Cet, "that the sons of churls with nicknames should come to contend with me? For it was I who christened thy father by that name, since it is I that cut off his heel, so that he carried but one heel away with him. What should bring the son of such a man to contend with me?" Menn sat down in his seat.

"Continue the contest," said Cet, "or I shall carve the pig."

"Thou shalt have it," said Cuscraid the Stammerer of Macha son of Conchobar.

"Who is this?"

"This is Cuscraid," said all.

"He has the making of a king with respect to his figure, but he earns no thanks from me," said Cet. "Thou madest thy first raid upon us. We met on the border. Thou didst leave a third of thy people with me, and thus camest away, with a spear through thy throat, so that no word comes rightly over thy lips, since the sinews of thy throat were wounded, so that Cuscraid the Stammerer is thy byname ever since."

In that way he laid disgrace on the whole province.

While he made ready with the pig and had his knife in his hand, they saw Conall the Victorious coming towards them into the house. And he sprang on to the floor of the house. The men of Ulster gave great welcome to Conall the Victorious at that time. It was then Conchobar threw his helmet from his head and shook himself in his own place. "We are pleased," said Conall, "that our portion is in readiness for us. Who carves for you?" said Conall.

"One man of the men of Ireland has obtained by contest the carving of it, Cet mac Matach."

"Is that true, O Cet?" said Conall. "Art thou carving the pig?"

"It is true indeed," said Cet.

Then said Cet to Conall:

Welcome Conall, heart of stone,
Fierce glow of fire, glitter of ice,
Red strength of anger under a hero's breast,
Wound-inflicter, triumphant in battle, I see the son of Finnchoem!

Then said Conall to Cet:

Welcome Cet,
Cet mac Matach,***
Heart of ice, strong chariot-chief of battle,
Battling sea, fair shapely bull,
Cet mac Matach!

"The decision will be clear in our meeting and in our parting," said Conall. "It shall be a famous tale even with the slave who drives oxen, our meeting to-night."

"Get up from the pig, O Cet!" said Conall.

"What brings thee to it?" said Cet.

"It is true," said Conall, "I will be the challenger. I will give you competition," said Conall, "for I swear what my people swear, since I first took spear and weapons, I have never been a day without having slain a Connachtman, or a night without plundering, nor have I ever slept without the head of a Connachtman under my knee."

"It is true," said Cet, "thou art even a better warrior than I: but if Anluan mac Matach (my brother) were in the house, he would match thee contest for contest, and it. is a shame that he is not in the house to-night."

"But he is," said Conall, taking Anluan's head out of his belt and throwing it at Cet's chest, so that a gush of blood broke over his lips. After that Conall sat down by the pig, and Cet went from it.

"Now let them come to the contest," said Conall. Truly, there was not then found among the men of Connacht a warrior to stand up to him in contest, for they were loath to be slain on the spot. The men of Ulster made a cover around him with their shields, for there was an evil custom in the house, the people of one side throwing stones at the people of the other side. Then Conall went to carve the pig and took the end of its tail in his mouth until he had finished dividing it. He sucked up the whole tail, and a load for nine was in it, so that he did not leave a bit of it, and he cast its skin and membrane from him, as the poet said:

*** A load for nine its heavy tail.
While he was at the brave prosperous carving,
Conall the Victorious consumed it

However, to the men of Connacht he gave no more but a quarter of the pig, or the two fore-legs of the pig. Their share of the pig seemed small to the men of Connacht. They rose up. Then from the other side arose the men of Ulster until each of them reached the other. Then there were blows over ear and head, so that the heap of the warriors' bodies on the floor was as high as the side of the house. For there were slain one thousand and four hundred armed men both of Ulster and Connacht, so that seven streams of blood and gore burst through the seven doors. Then the hosts burst through those doors and raised a great shout in the middle of the close, and each one was striking and slaying the other. Then Fergus took the great oak that was in the middle of the close to the men of Connacht, after having torn it from its roots. Others say that it was Curoi mac Dairi who took the oak to them, and that it was then that he came to them, for there was no man of Munster there before, except Lugaid son of Curoi, and Cetin Pauci, and that when Curoi came to them, he carried off alone one half of the pig with its back from Leth Cuinn. Then they broke forth from the close into the field. They continued to fight in front of the close.

Then Mac Datho came out with the hound in his hand, and let him in amongst them to see which side he would choose; and the hound chose Ulster and set to tearing the men of Connacht greatly. Ailill and Medb went into their chariot, and their charioteer with them, and Mac Datho let the hound after them, and they say it was in the Plain of Ailbe that the hound seized the pole of the chariot that was under Ailill and Medb. Then the charioteer of Ailill and Medb dealt the hound a blow so that he sent its body aside and that the head of the hound remained on the pole of the chariot at Ibar Cinn Chon (the Yew-tree of the Hound's Head), whence Connacht takes its name. And they also say that from that hound Mag Ailbe (the Plain of Ailbe) is called, for Ailbe was the name of the hound.

This now is the road which the men of Connacht went southward, to wit, over Belach Mugna, past Roiriu, past Ath Midbine in Maistiu, past Kildare, past Raith Imgan into Feeguile, to Ath Mic Lugna, past Druim Da Maige over Drochat Cairpri. There, at Ath Cinn Chon (Hound's Head Ford) in Fir Bili the head of the hound fell from the chariot. As they were going along Froechmag of Meath eastward, Fer Loga, the charioteer of Ailill, lying in wait in the heather, jumped on to the chariot behind Conchobar and seized his head from behind. "Methinks," said he, "O Conchobar, thou wilt not get hence."

"Thou shalt have thy wish," said Conchobar.

Truly, I do not want much from thee," said Fer Loga, "for I want to be taken by thee to Emain Macha, and the women of Ulster and their maiden daughters shall sing their chorus around me every evening and shall all say: 'Fer Loga is my darling,' etc."

"Thou shalt have that," said Conchobar. That the maidens of Emain Macha had to do, for they did not dare to do otherwise for fear of Conchobar. And on that day a year gone Conchobar let him go back to the west at Athlone, and he had two horses of Conchobar's with him, with their golden bridles. But he did not get the women's song though he got the horses. And this is how Ulster and Connacht fell out about the hound of Mac Datho and about his pig.

création : 30/08/2011

Sources : Kuno Meyer, Hibernica Minora