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20th Century

Cleek used in Slaughter of Pigs

Metal hook for moving pigs from sty to slaughter.

By Noel Campbell


This smith-made cleek of wrought iron is made from a single piece of metal, is round in section, 1cm in diameter, with a handle on one end and a hook on the other. Its total length is 36.5cm. The hook is 5.5cm wide at the mouth, 4.5cm deep and is made by the metal being turned back. The handle is a loop of the metal being turned back upon itself and is oval, 8.5cm deep and 11cm wide. The donor noted this object resembles a docker’s hook.

What was this cleek used for?

The cleek was used to hook under the pig’s jaw to haul the animal from sty or “pig-craw” for slaughter in the village of Dromintee, Co. Down.

The killing of a pig was a big ordeal and was not as simple as ending the animal’s life. There was a superstition around the killing of pigs in rural Ulster. It was thought unlucky not to have at least one neighbour present at the slaughter. There was a practical purpose for the extra pair of hands which came in useful when moving the carcass around and up on to the gantry. There was a precise ceremony to the whole process. As the adults and older children of the house were busy preparing for the kill, a child would be sent with an invitation to a neighbour to attend which was even accompanied by a jingle: “Me Da told me Ma to tell Mick to tell me to tell you to come to see would you give a hand to kill a dead pig”. The killing had a commercial purpose as its sale would often pay any rent due.

Superstition surrounding the killing of a pig

Before the pig was killed, there was an inspection, but not everyone was invited for this. A respected neighbour and male relatives were asked to view the animal. For hours they would hang over the pigsty walls gauging the weight of the pig. Those not invited to be part of the privileged inspection team were suspected of having the power to “blink” or overlook things. Pigs were particularly susceptible to evil genius and bad luck, apparently. If someone with the power to “blink” got an eye on the pig and it ceased to thrive afterwards, “the cure” had to be administered.

If that unwanted person were a woman, a tassel had to be clipped secretively off her shawl; if a man, a bit of his apparel, and either would be burned under the pig’s nose. There is also reported a serious practice in which two or three men would sit around a pig on its hunkers, drenching it with an old boot or a wooden pipe.

How did the NMI acquire this object?

This object, F:1966.42, was donated to the NMI in 1966 through Michael J. Murphy. Mr. Murphy was a writer and folklorist from Dromintee.


Murphy, Michael J., “Pigs, Pork And Pastime.” Irish Independent, 20 August 1948

Mac Con Iomaire, Mairtín: The Pig in Irish Cuisine past and present. Walker, H. (ed) The Fat of the Land: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2002: Bristol: Footwork, pp. 207-215

NMI-Country Life Memory Book


Cleek used in Slaughter of Pigs is located at:
In Storage

Previous artefact:

Cannibal’s Fork from Fiji

Next artefact:

Corinthian Helmet

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