By James Reddiough
The pig was a very important figure in the rural economy at one time. They helped to raise money to pay the rent when the landlords held sway and then in post-independence days they were used to offset costs involved in running the farms as well as being a form of domestic food for the household.
They were kept in styes and they were fed on potatoes, bran and milk to fatten them for the fair and market. There were pig markets and pig fairs in many towns and villages and the sow would have her farrow of bonhams or banbhs in Irish and then they would be brought to the weekly market when they were deemed sufficiently weighty for the sale.
In north Mayo there were pig markets in places like Bonniconlon Village and this would date back to 1914 when Cook and McNeily from Sligo would attend to buy pigs from the local farmers and then they would slaughter them in Martin Bernard Durcan’s Slaughterhouse and there would be sales of haslet around the village after the pigs had been butchered and then the market would be over for another week. The markets in Bonniconlon would be held on a weekly basis each Tuesday and there would be sellers there and buyers from Foxford and Ballina and Attymass also.
There was a pig market in Crossmolina also and a lot of buyers would attend. The pig market in Bonniconlon was held from 1914 to 1942 and then after that, village butcher John Lawrence took over the buying of the pigs and sent them onto the bacon factory in Castlebar where they were cured and made ready for sale to the shops.
Sometimes a farmer would take the pigs and have them slaughtered and prepared for home use during the year at a time when the farm houses of the countryside were self-sufficient and produced most of their own food with little reliance on the shops for provisions, other than the sugar or paraffin, they would buy these in the country shops or else in the village shops. They always had their own food.
There were pig markets in Balla and Castlebar also and they were close to the major bacon factories in Castlebar and Claremorris that were major employers at the time. The pigs were bought by local agents for the factory and then they were slaughtered and salted and made into various food products, for example there was Barcastle Black pudding and sausages, not forgetting the tasty rashers that were sold widely throughout the country.
These were for sale in the childhood of this writer and they were delicious for breakfast or for a snack during the day. There was a large pig market in the square in Ballina, North Mayo, and also there was a fair held in the major towns every couple of months. The local farmers would bring the pigs to the markets in their donkeys and carts and they would get the best price they could before leaving the market.
Once the agents stopped going around to the farms buying the pigs then the markets declined and this was the end of an era which had dated from the latter decades of the 1800s when pig markets were a common feature of rural life and in the market towns also.