By N. Kershaw Chadwick



Cambridge University Press

The story of Mac Dathó's Pig is found in six Manuscripts.

(1) The earliest is the Book of Leinster (LL., fo.111b), which was written c. 1160 and of which a transcript was edited by Robert Atkinson and published in Dublin in 1880. This MS. is now in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin (H.2.18).

(2) A vellum codex (Rawl. B. 512, fo.105), written by various hands in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and preserved now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

(3) A vellum quarto (Harl. 5280, fo. 50), written in the first half of the sixteenth century, and now preserved in the British Museum.

(4) A MS., chiefly vellum (H.3.18), dating from the fifteenth or sixteenth century, now in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. Our text is included in the paper portion of the MS. (p. 743 ff.).

(5) A paper MS. (no. XXXVI, p. 86a), written in 1690-1691, preserved in the National Library of Scotland (formerly the Advocates' Library).

(6) A paper MS. (H.6.8, p. 37), preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

The text in LL. was published by Windisch in Irische Texte mit Wörterbuch at Leipzig in 1880, with variant readings from Harl. 5280 and H.3.18 in footnotes. The text in Harl. 5280 has never been published in full. An account of the Manuscript will be found in O'Grady and Flower, Catalogue of Irish Manuscripts in the British Museum, Vol. II (London, 1926), p.298 ff. The text of H. 3. 18 was published by A. M. Scarre in Anecdota from Irish MSS. (Halle, 1913). The version in Rawlinson B.512 was published with a translation by K. Meyer in Hibernica Minora (Anecdota Oxoniensia, Oxford, 1894). The texts Edin. XXXVI and H.6 8 have never been published so far as I am aware, nor do they appear to have been collated or even examined by editors. Mackinnon in his Descriptive Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1912, p. 144) describes the former as an abridged version with many modernisms and corruptions. H.6.8 is also a much modernised version which does not contain the poetry.

Besides Meyer's translation of Rawl. B.512, several translations have been made of Windisch's text from LL. Of these the earliest known to me is a French one by Duvau in the Revue Archéologique, Vol. VIII, 1886, p. 336 ff., reprinted by D'Arbois de Jubainville in L'épopée celtique en Irlande, p. 66. The translation is very free, and in places approximates rather to a paraphrase, not always in close relation to the text. A German translation which keeps much closer to the text, and which is regarded by Irish scholars as leaving little to be desired, was published by Thurneysen in Sagen aus dem alten Irland (Berlin, 1901), p. 1 ff. Thurneysen translates Windisch's text from LL., occasionally however adopting the readings of Harl. 5280 and E.3.18 in preference to those of LL. An English translation was published by Leahy in Heroic Rornances of Ireland (London, 1905), p. 37 ff. Leahy's translation is so close in the main to that of Thurneysen that it appears for the most part to be rather a translation of the German than of the Irish text. Occasionally however he gives an independent rendering, and he was evidently familiar with the original. A scholarly French translation was published by G. Dottin in L'Epopée Irlandaise (Paris, 1926), p.67 ff. The fullest account of the saga, together with a summary of the story and full references to the literature, will be found in Thurneysen, Die irische Helden- und Königsage (Halle, 1921), p. 494 ff. The story as told in the ancient MSS. is paraphrased in the Modern Irish Mac Dathó by T. O'Máille (Dublin, 1924).

No attempt has as yet been made at a comparative study of the MSS. or a critical study of the text, both of which are much needed. H.3.18 and Harl. 5280 are closer to one another than to LL., while Rawl. B.512 and Edin. XXXVI appear to be more closely related to one another than to the former group. Moreover, Rawl. B.512 stands somewhat apart from the others in character. Its variants appear to me to be in the nature of changes which have been introduced deliberately by the scribe, and are chiefly of an explanatory character. In accordance with a manifest desire to make his text intelligible to his audience he, or perhaps his authority, whether written or oral, frequently eliminates infixed pronouns and abandons archaic words for more modern forms, e.g. the substitution of lebaid for imdai in ch.2. Sometimes he resorts to the method dear to scribes of putting the modern equivalent beside the old word. A particularly striking example of his method is his attempt (erroneous, as I believe) to elucidate the cloendiburgun, etc., of LL. in ch. 17 into the passage indicating the stoning of Conall, which I have quoted from Rawl. in my note on the passage.

Occasionally the saga teller or the scribe, whichever was responsible, added interesting details not found in the other texts, e.g. the defaulting of the Ultonians with regard to Ferloga's cepóc (ch. 20) and the part played by Cúrói Mac Dári, cf. note on Is . . . fremaib in ch. 18 below. The latter instance is of especial interest as it suggests that the scribe was familiar with another tradition in which Cúrói played a part in the story and perhaps obtained the champion's portion (cf p. 51 below). The phrase used-- "Others say"-- may mean no more than "Other sources indicate"; but the more natural interpretation is to suppose that another tradition in oral form persisted alongside the written one. It is not unlikely that such oral tradition persisted in ancient, as it does in modern, Ireland. In general however the variations in the MSS. are clearly variations of text. The story is virtually the same in all, and there can be little doubt that all go back to a common original.

The question of the relationship of the poems to the prose text of our saga is one of considerable interest owing to the wide differences shown by the various texts in this respect. In chs. 1 and 17, Rawl. B.512 and Ed. XXXVI insert poems not found in the other versions. These MSS. omit the dialogue poem in ch.3 which is included in LL., H.3.18, and Harl.5280, quoting however the first line to indicate its existence. The rhetorics in ch. 15 are included in all texts except Ed. (cf p. 55); but a poem which is attached to the saga after ch. 20 in LL. and H.3.18, and which occurs also in Harl.5280, is not found in Rawl. B.512 or Ed. Thurneysen notes that it is by a different author from the saga and does not really belong to it. It consists of a catalogue of the heroes who took part in the fight, including the names of some heroes who have not been mentioned in the saga, and differing from the latter in some details. Harl. 5280 adds after this a poem which appears independently of the saga in at least two other MSS., viz. Y.B.L. fo. 259, 2b (after the Dindsenchas of Mag Lena; cf p. 8 below), and Laud 610, fo. 58v, a. The Laud text was published by Meyer in the Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, Vol. III, p. 36; the text in Harl. 5280 by Windisch in Irische Texte, I, p. 108, immediately after our saga. This poem is quite short, consisting of only twelve lines. It tells in summary form the outline of the story, stressing the early life and remarkable diet of the pig, naming Mesgegra and Mesroeda as the two Mac Dathó, and representing all the five provinces of Ireland as taking part in the chase for the hound Ailbe. The prose note which follows the poem in Laud 610 states that 300 of the men of Connaught were slain in the hostel of Mac Dathó, and fifty of the Ulstermen, and that Ailbe was killed by Ailill's charioteer.

There is evidence that the Scél Mucci Mic Dathó was known earlier than LL. It is probably the "Destruction of Mac Dathó" (Argain mic Dathó,) referred to elsewhere in LL. (fo. 151a) in the list of "primary stories" (primscéla) which it was the custom for the file or "poet" of ancient Ireland to relate to kings and chiefs. A further reference to Mac Dathó and the pig occurs in 11.6, 7 of a poem in the Yellow Book of Lecan (fo. 125a), which is attributed in the title in the MS. to Flannacán mac Cellaigh, who is said to have been slain by the Norsemen in 896.

A mnemonic poem enumerating the "halls" (bruidne) occurs in MS, H.1.17 ff. 7b, 8a and is published with an English translation by Stokes in the Revue Celtique, Vol. XXI, p. 396 f. A better copy of this poem is found in Harl. 5280 on fo. 49 b, i.e. immediately before our saga. Flower, op. cit. p. 315, believes the poem to be a versification of the prose note on the bruidne in the Scél Mucci Mic Dathó. The story is clearly referred to in ll. 6, 7:

The hostel of Mac dá thó-- strong noise, whither came the men of Erin: Together they consumed the swine and carried off the hound Ailbe.

The list however differs in several details from the passage in our saga, and I think it more likely that the latter is based on some poetical original similar to, or possibly a variant of, the poem referred to above (cf. note in ch. 1, s.v. secht n-).

Two further references occur in the Rennes Dindsenchas. In the Dindsenchas of Mag Lena we are told how Lena, the son of Mesroeda, found Mac Dathó's pig in the oakwood and reared it for seven years, till just before Mac Dathó's Feast the pig buried him alive in the earth which it grubbed up over him as he lay asleep. Thereupon Follscaide, Mac Dathó's swineherd, bore it off to his master. In the Dindsenchas of Carman this same Lena, "son of Mesroeda," is represented as carrying off seven cows from Eochaid Bélbuide. His mother is said to have been "Ucha, wife of Mesgegra son of Dath, King of Leinster." The date of these Dindsenchas stories is unknown. There are however indications that they are older than the version of the Dindsenchas in which they occur and which is itself believed to date from about 1200.

As regards the age of the saga Thurneysen holds that it belongs to the same group as Bricriu's Feast and the earlier version of the Sickbed of Cuchulainn. These latter he believes to be earlier than the eleventh century. We have seen that the story was known to Flannacán mac Cellaigh who died in 896, but it is not clear whether he knew it in written form or not. Like many other Irish sagas it may of course have been in circulation for centuries before it was committed to writing.

The persons with whom it is concerned figure in many other heroic sagas. It is still held by many scholars that these persons had their origin in myth-- a view which used to be held in regard to the heroic stories of Greece and many other lands but which is now generally discredited. All that can be said with certainty is that if these persons had historical existence they must have lived long before the days of contemporary history. The genealogies and lists of kings indicate a period four or five centuries before the time of St Patrick-- i.e. about the beginning of the Christian era-- and this is the date to which Early Irish antiquarians assigned the reign of Conchobar.

The subject of the champion's portion is not confined to our saga. It forms the subject also, in a more expanded and elaborate form, of Bricriu's Feast. In the latter saga, however, several versions or stories appear to have been welded together, and the original theme to have been sophisticated by the introduction of the champion's wives. What is the relationship of our story to the stories which lie behind Bricriu's Feast? It would be interesting to know if oral tradition could transform a single story into versions so widely divergent as these. We mayobservethat in the Scél Mucci, where so many Ulster heroes are introduced, Cuchulainn's name is never mentioned, whereas in Bricriu's Feast it is he who carries off the champion's portion. This would seem to suggest that our saga has come down to us in an early form. Moreover, the hint in ch. 17 of Rawl. B.512 suggests that a version of the story was current in which Cúrói mac Dári played a part. In Bricriu's Feast the Cúrói legend is introduced in much fuller form. Indeed, I am inclined to suspect that his (or Fergus') feat with the oak in the Scél Mucci, contains an obscure and compressed hint of the decapitation test of valour in Bricriu's Feast. It is not easy otherwise to see why the incident is introduced.

There can be no doubt that the stories which form the subject of Bricriu's Feast and the Scél Mucci, owe their origin to the same customs. Henderson, in his introduction to Bricriu's Feast, has collected instances from classical writers showing that the "championship in arms" was much coveted and the special "champion's portion" was an honoured custom among the ancient Gauls, as well as among other heroic peoples. Indeed, the picture of the feast in the Irish sagas corresponds closely to the picture presented by classical writers.

Thus we learn from Polybius that large numbers of pigs were raised for food by the Gauls, and from Posidonius that they ate much meat roasted, boiled or grilled, and little bread.

He further tells us: "Of old the flesh of the thighs which was set before them was taken by the strongest man. But if anyone else laid claim to it they came to blows and fought it out between themselves to the death."

According to Diodorus, "when they dine they all sit on the ground, not on chairs, and use the skins of wolves and dogs as mats.... And beside them they have hearths with big fires and cauldrons and spits loaded with big joints of meat. They honour distinguished men with the best portions of the meat. They invite strangers to their feasts, and after dinner ask them who they are and what they desire. And when they are dining, some of the company often fall into an altercation and challenge one another and fight-- they make nothing of death." In the next chapter Diodorus tells us that when in the presence of their enemies "whenever anyone will listen to their challenges they begin to glorify the valour of their forefathers and boast of their own prowess; and at the same time they deride and belittle their opponent and try by their speeches to rob him of all the courage he has in his heart."

It is probable that the series of ordeals by which the hero's right to the championship is vindicated in the Scél Mucci also had its origin in actual custom. The first ordeal, which occurs in ch. 7, consists of indiscriminate boasting, in which Munster families are well represented, though the Connaught champion, Cet mac Matach, outboasts them all. In the second ordeal (ch. 9 ff.) the Ulster champions in turn challenge Cet. He is able to vindicate his claim till the third ordeal-- a duel of wit and words with Conall Cernach in which he is defeated. Finally in what I believe to be a fourth ordeal-- that of missiles-- Conall makes good his claim and divides the pig. And here it may not be out of place to call attention to Conall's remarkable prowess in eating-- a prowess which is attributed to braves all over the world, and which reminds one of Thor's performance in the Norse poem Thrymskvida.

It may be added that the story of Mac Dathó's Pig is one incident in the long rivalry between Ulster and Connaught which culminated in the Táin Bó Cúalnge. It is one of the most finished specimens of the art of the ancient Irish story teller. The short account of Ailbe's travels at the end-- a kind of Dindsenchas-- which recalls the account of Twrch Trwyth in the story of Kilhwch and Olwen (cf. ch. 20 and notes below) is perhaps a later addition to the original saga. Apart from this there is practically no antiquarian speculation in the saga, and supernatural and romantic elements are wholly absent. Women play hardly any part, and the humour is essentially such as would appeal to a male audience, as are also the details of the wounds inflicted by Cet on the seven Ulster heroes (ch.9 ff.). It is a story about men for men, such as Dunnbó might have told to the heroes round the camp fire at the Battle of Allen.

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