The Old Hog of Ulster

Article excerpt

NO man should be allowed to be President, who does not understand hogs,' stated Harry Truman (1884-1972). He was the 33rd President of the United States of America and, although it is highly-questionable what, if anything, his successors have known about pigs, Harry Truman would have been conversant in matters porcine.

Before the Great War (1914-1918), he was a farmer and would, probably, have been able to identify America's top swine breeds, such as Duroc-Jersey, Poland China, Chester White and the Hampshire.

At the same time as Harry Truman was working the land of Missouri - the early 1900s - some members of Northern Ireland's pig fraternity were embarking on an exciting project. These people were all enthusiastic breeders of the Large White Ulster.

This breed, sadly now extinct, is believed to have evolved from the old 'Greyhound' pig of Ireland. An illustration of this ungainly beast, depicted by H D Richardson (Domestic Pigs - 1846), shows it to be bristly, coarsely fleshed, long-legged, raggedly tailed and altogether lacking in refinement. However, crossing with English breeds, and better feeding and housing brought about progress. By the 1870s, these improved pigs were becoming more widespread in Ulster.

In February 1905, the council of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society gathered at 7 Donegal Square West, Belfast. At the meeting, Edward Coey moved the following resolution "that the society publish a herd book to be called the 'Ulster Pig Herd Book' for the registration of the best sows and boars of the White breed". After discussion, it was agreed that the matter be referred to the 'Swine Committee'.

What unfolded over the next three years led to the announcement, in January 1908, that the society, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, had agreed to a request from pig breeders and bacon curers to establish a herd book for the native breed; the designated name was to be the 'Large White Ulster' and the breed secretary would be Royal Ulster Agricultural Society manager (between 1897-1930), Kenneth MacRae.

At that year's spring show at Balmoral, two classes were held for Large White Ulster pigs and those entered were reported as being 'excellent specimens of the breed'. Among the prizewinners at this historic event in the boar section were J Cunningham, Belmont, Antrim (Right Stamp of Belmont); Mrs E Giffen, Springhill, Crumlin (Young Revenge); Thomas Lindsay, Derryboye House (Ulster Jack); and Mrs Townley, Magherascouse, Ballygowan (Pride of Erin). Winning exhibitors in the female classes included William R Smyth, Ballyalgin; and Robert Suffern, Ballyclan House, Crumlin (Ballyclan Polly).

The latter aspects, regarding the breed's fine and soft skin, meant that it was well-suited for use in the 'Ham and Roll' bacon which Ulster curers were shipping to the North of England and some industrial areas in Scotland. Because the Ulster White pigs bruised easily when transported live, they were often killed on-farm and the carcases, when cool, taken by cart to the markets and bacon factories.

Once here, the carcases would be cut in half and the hams (and sometimes the shoulders) split for separate curing. The skin was left on and, post- curing, the side would be rolled and tied with strings in rings about one-inch apart. …