'The sound of a dying pig didn't put children off their dinner'

Tue, Oct 2, 2012, 01:00

JOE BRADY was having an open day on his organic farm near Lough Owel last week, and when I got to the farm gate his mother said: “They’re in the shed.”

It was a huge galvanised shed, busy with things men do well; timber logs were stacked 10ft high, and a mountain of turf was heaped in the corner.

Two musicians played fiddle and guitar underneath an oil drum and a chef was stir-frying beef on a gigantic pan.

An elderly man was serving organic potatoes. The remnants of a roasted pig lay on a stainless-steel tray and Joe was making pork sandwiches.

The place was humming with an elegant masculinity and the pleasures of farming life.

The women seemed happy, too; posh ladies in mohair jumpers and leather boots trying to suck the juice out of their burgers without wetting their fingers.

But it was the pig that I was interested in; the pig that sleeps in the human psyche. Even Churchill recognised that a cat looks down at you, a dog looks up at you, but only the pig looks you in the eye.

I asked one woman who breeds pigs if her children were bothered when a pig died.

“It’s difficult coming up to the day,” she admitted. “But once it’s over you get on with life. When we’re bringing the carcass home from the abattoir, I’m usually in the back seat of the car keeping the blood stirred in the bucket.”

“So you make your own black pudding,” I remarked.

Another woman with long black hair and sunglasses on her head was balancing a sliver of pork on her plastic fork. “There’s a beautiful pig out the back,” she said.

So out I went, and saw a fat sow in a sty, lying on her flank while her little piglets suckled and slept. It was a comforting sight.

But I wasn’t fooled. There’s nothing comforting about the life of a pig. All that mollycoddling on an organic farm is nothing more than preparation for the abattoir.

I grew up beside a pig factory. I heard them squeal every evening when I was coming from school, as the conveyer belt dragged each animal by the hooves to the boiling vats, and gullies below collected the blood, and men walked about the factory yard with long knives, their white rubber aprons smeared with glistening guts.

In Kinnegad last year, I spoke to an old man for whom pig killing was an annual ritual.

“We hung him from an oak beam in the old days,” he told me, “and we finished him off with sledgehammers. We tied a rope around his legs. And we pulled him up, suspended him in mid air, and mother would come with a pan and a pot stick to catch the blood when it flowed. We’d hit the pig with the hammer to stun him, and maybe sometimes take his eye out by accident.

“But me father was ready, when the pig was stunned, and he had a type of a rod – it was a long knife – and he’d stick it right between the ribs and then me mother would put the pan underneath and, as me father let the knife down through the pig, the blood followed the blade all the way to the basin and we’d be there stirring it to make sure it didn’t thicken.

“Then we’d make a fire in an old barrel, and we’d get boiling water going, and scald the pig and scrape his skin with knives. And some people made pickles out of the jowl. And if a man came to do the killing, then he took the bones away with him as well as his five shillings.

“And the next morning we’d wash out the kidneys and fry them on a pan. And we’d be fighting for the kidneys.”

In those days, the sound of a dying pig didn’t put children off their dinner. I suppose the ritual of slaughter allowed them to acknowledge the warrior-hunter within themselves. Whereas nowadays some young people grow up thinking that rashers grow on trees and foxes knit jumpers to pass the winter.

Much more alarming is the fact that a mythic black pig is still ploughing furrows through the interior landscape of some Irish males. A wild boar runs amok in their unconscious minds as they vomit in taxis and urinate on homeless people in the streets, in a pathetic attempt to release the “warrior” from their deeply constipated psyches.

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