The Tale of Mac Do Thó’s Pig

source: John Derrick’s Image of Irelande, 1581.

You can read it for yourself.

In the assessment of medievalist Nora Chadwick, “the tale is told with brilliant narrative power”: its terseness, humour and laconic brevity is reminiscent of the best of the Icelandic sagas.[62] The dialogue is particularly masterly in its “understatement and crisp repartee”, with “the utmost condensation and economy” in its choice of words. “[I]n the few remarks made by Mac Da Thó to his visitors, all his previous train of thought, all his cunning and address, are suggested in a few brief words intended by him to hide his true designs from his guests, while suggesting to ourselves his hidden intention.”

Maybe. In my reading it’s sorta like a Three Stooges episode but more violent? “a prankster amuses himself by screwing with guests at a barbecue,” might be the logline.

In “an imitable passage of compressed humour”, Mac Da Thó promises the dog to both parties, then feigns ignorance when both arrive on the same day. During the bragging contest, the heroes of the Ulaid are not merely shamed, but are made to look ridiculous. Hyperbole is used to humorous effect when Conall flings the head of Ánluan at his opponent Cet. Thurneysen notes that in the Harley 5280 manuscript “the mutual slaying of the guests” is referred to as “‘performing a good drinking round'” (so-imól) – a “somewhat coarse joke” that was revised or omitted in the other manuscripts because apparently the copyists did not understand it.

Nora Chadwick:

What I like about the story is the cauldrons:

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.

Kind of a claw game/stew. There should be a restaurant that does this. After the pandemic, maybe.



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