The Wild Boar is the ancestor of the Domestic Pig. Wild Boar are native to much of Europe and North Africa. Several subspecies occur and can be found from Europe across Russia, Asia and even in Japan. Hybrids with domestic pigs have been introduced to Australia and North America where they are considered pests
Wild Boar are a large member of the pig family. They are omnivorous but mainly eat tubers, bulbs and roots. Wild boar use their strong snouts to unearth food buried in the ground. They are particularly fond of acorns. They inhabit deciduous woodland in particular but will also venture into farmland in search of cultivated crops.
The Greyhound pig
Wild Boar once abounded in the forests of Ireland. They fed upon acorns and beechmast. Wild Boar were an important source of meat for Irish people. They would have been a common prey item for packs of Irish wolves.
The abundance of Wild Boar in Ireland is mentioned in many historic texts. Giraldus Cambrensis wrote in his text called ‘Topographica Hibernica’ “In no part of the world are such vast herds of boars and wild pigs to be found”.
The Ancient Irish warriors, The Fianna’, held boar hunting in high esteem. The single handed killing of a wild boar may have been a right of passage for a young ‘Gilla’ (a young man in military service).
Wild boar were a ferocious animal to hunt, particularly for a young man on his own. Once attacked, the entire sounder of Wild Boar will turn to defend their family member. Wild Boar have huge tusks and are highly aggressive. A sounder of Wild Boar could have killed a young man. If a young Gila returned with the carcass of a Wild Boar, he would have proved that he was tough enough to join the Fianna.
One of the most romantic tales is that of Grainne and Diarmuid. Grainne was engaged to the great warrior Finn McCool. However, she had fallen in love with one of McCool’s best warriors, Diarmuid. Finn was horrendously jealous so he ordered Diarmuid to hunt and kill the great Wild Boar of Benbulben in Co. Sligo. Diarmuid slayed the Wild Boar. However, a course hair on the back of the Wild Boar, pricked his heel. Like the Greek Achilles, Diarmuid had one weak spot, his heel. Despite McCool having the power to cure him, he ignored the desperate cries of Grainne to save him. Diarmuid died on the Mountain in Grainne’s arms.
Their extinction was probably caused by a combination of over-hunting and the destruction of oak-woodlands on which they largely depended on acorns for food. Wild Ireland is situate on the edge of County Derry, in Irish ‘Doire’ meaning Oak grove. It is fair to assume that the Wild Boar would have been very common in this area, gorging on the acorn crop in the Autumn.
Wild Boar are an important keystone species in a woodland, They turn over the ground which prevents impaction and allows new growth. They are nature’s plough. They are very important in woodland regeneration.
Many places in Ireland are named after the Wild Boar. Sliabh-Na-Muice in Tipperary, Gleann-Na-Muice-Duibhe near Newry, Ceann-Turic in Co. Cork, Muckross and Torcin in Killarney the word Muckalagh enters into Irish topographical names which signifies a place where pigs feed, probably on acorns.
There was an Irish breed of Domestic pig called the Greyhound Pig which has now gone extinct. They resembled a Wild Boar. However, they had long legs and were of a lighter build. It was said that they could run like a greyhound. Perhaps these were the misshapen boar referred to in the ancient texts.
There have been several unofficial attempts to reintroduce boar into Ireland for hunting. There is a small population now of Wild Boar x Domestic Pig hybrids living wild in the countryside. These have no natural predators and they can be very harmful to the environment.