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In Ireland pigs are back in fashion

Unemployment has led to a surge in tasty backyard porkers.

Michael Kelly, author and founder of Grow it Yourself Ireland, with one of his pigs, which live in his garden in Co. Waterford, Ireland. (Courtesy of Michael Kelly)

DUBLIN, Ireland ― Irish people no longer keep a pig in the parlor, but rearing pigs in the backyard is making a comeback as a way to beat the recession and improve the quality of the morning rasher.

“It’s great fun and not expensive, and it’s certainly on the rise,” said Michael Kelly, author and founder of Grow it Yourself Ireland, which promotes self-sufficiency. Last year he fattened two little pigs, which he called Charlotte and Mildred, at the bottom of his one-acre garden in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford.

The number of Irish people applying to keep pigs has risen from just 190 two years ago, when the economy began to crash, to 687 in 2009. Today the Department of Agriculture defines one in five of Ireland’s 2,500 registered pig keepers as hobbyists.

Denis Shannon, who keeps a couple of sows on his 20-acre small holding outside Wexford and produces about 40 weanlings a year, says many more people today are looking to buy piglets for their own use.

“A few years ago nobody wanted weanlings, now I have a list of people who buy them before they are born,” Shannon said.

The “pig in the parlor” stereotype of Ireland came from the system landlords imposed more than three centuries ago of charging peasants extra rent for pig houses. The poor country people found that as a pig is a clean and intelligent animal, it could share a clay cabin without soiling it if allowed to come and go. Until recent times there was a tradition in rural Ireland of keeping one pig in the yard to eat the scraps and provide an extra source of food. They could even be found in Dublin where a quarter of the land is garden.

The practice came to be associated with poverty and died out with the coming of supermarkets. In the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, hot tubs and decks became more desirable. Now that Ireland is listed as one of the unofficial "PIIGS" of the eurozone, along with Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, because of debt problems, the creatures themselves have returned to some Irish gardens.