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 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 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?"

He gave the woman no answer, so the woman said:

"Sleeplessness fell upon Mac Dathó 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 Fían 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 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. "

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 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 it.

Now 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 borderland."

"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 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?!"

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 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.

"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 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.

"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 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.

"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 sat down.

"Further 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.

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 answered:

"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:
"Welcome, Cet,
Cet mac Matach! great hero,
Heart of ice.... Strong chariot-hero of battle, battling sea,
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 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.

"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 of it.

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 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.

Their 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.


The 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.

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 and the Index to Proper Names are from N. Kershaw Chadwick, An Early Irish Reader, Cambridge University Press.

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