BYGONE DAYS: Swine fever outbreak across the province halts sales

The sale of live pigs in Northern Ireland was prohibited during this week in September 1956 by an order made by the Ministry of Agriculture as a result of an outbreak of swine fever on a farm near Hillsborough.

Pictured in October 2008 are two very different modes of transport at the Killead Ploughing Match. Picture: Steven McAuley/Kevin McAuley Photography
Pictured in October 2008 are two very different modes of transport at the Killead Ploughing Match. Picture: Steven McAuley/Kevin McAuley Photography

The order prohibited all sales of live pigs in the province until further notice.

The News Letter reported: “Producers are faced with the possibility of heavy financial losses if the ban is prolonged. Forty-two animals affected by the outbreak at Hillsborough were slaughtered immediately the presence of the disease was confirmed . . . Officials of the Ministry visited the farm as soon as they were notified.”


Pictured in May 2007 are Clive and Jade Hunter, Moneymore, Co Londonderry, with their second placed pair at the recent show and sale of spring lambs at Gortin Livestock mart, with Drew Heron, Broughshane, event judge

Mr W F McCoy, QC, MP, who represented the large pig producing constituency of South Tyrone, said that the outbreak was “very serious” for Northern Ireland farmers. He said that the outbreak would reduce the output of pork, “and there would be heavy financial losses if the disease spread to any degree”.

He noted that there had been a serious outbreak of swine fever in Eire, “and the monetary loss there had been heavy”.

Mr McCoy added that, while the authorities had been active to prevent the importation of pigs from Eire, it was difficult to achieve 100 per cent success.

A spokesman of R A Allam Ltd, livestock salesmen, Belfast, stated that their three sales rings which would have normally been occupied with pigs on Fridays would be idle and that other auction marts would be affected similarly.

Alana McCullagh displays the winner’s rosettes while Patrick McCullagh, Mountfield, and Drew Heron, judge, display the first prizewinning pair at the show and sale of spring lambs at Gortin Livestock Mart at the end of May 2007

A spokesperson for the mart said: “The loss of revenue would be considerable.”

Meanwhile, a leading bacon curer said that the restriction of the movement of pigs would have serious consequences for the trade, “if it continued for any length of time”.


Mr T L Orr, chairman of the pigs committee of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, issued a statement that said: “It becomes the duty of every pig owner to co-operate fully with the authorities to prevent the disease spreading.

An advertisement issued by the Ulster Farmers’ Union concerning the swine fever outbreak which appeared in the News Letter in September 1956

“The essentials to this end were: Only to purchase suckers or stores direct from the breeders known to the buyer; to report to the nearest veterinary surgeon without delay any case of pig illness that might be a suspect, to disallow forthwith any visits to piggeries by outsiders.”

He added: “I cannot emphasise too strongly the very effective steps that producers themselves can take in enabling the disease to be stamped out promptly.”


The Ministry of Agriculture stated that the order, entitled the Swine Fever (Northern Ireland) Order, 1956, had been made in the interests of pig producers to prevent the spread of the disease.

The order prohibited the sale, or exposure for sale, of any store swine, fat sow, sow and litter or boar at any public sale.

Under the order, “store swine” meant any pig suitable for further feeding.

“Public sale” included market or fair and any sale either by auction or otherwise which was open to the public, “whether held in a public place or not and whether or not swine owned by different people are exposed there”.

Any contravention of the order would render the owners and purchasers, as well as those responsible for holding the sale, including the seller, liable to prosecution.

The ministry said that it was “most anxious” to avoid any spread of swine fever such as had been experienced in Eire.

It reminded pig producers that the feeding of swill which had not been boiled for at least an hour was an offence.

The News Letter noted that there had been little swine fever in Northern Ireland since the Second World War, during which several areas were severely affected, one of the worst being in the Larne district.


Meanwhile, the News Letter published on Saturday, September 15, 1956, reported the troubling news that the swine fever outbreak had spread to Ballymena.

The News Letter reported: “The outbreak of swine fever in Northern Ireland has spread to farms in the Ballymena area. Hundreds of pigs are involved. Mr H L McConnell, chief veterinary officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, said last night that the pigs will be slaughtered today.” At a farm which was affected in the Lurgan area the previous day 14 pigs had been slaughtered.

A member of a leading firm of livestock salesmen told the News Letter that the standstill affecting public sales, markets and fairs had been “a heavy blow to the pig industry”.

He believed the ministry ban would have to be enforced for some weeks.

He spoke of the outbreak of swine fever in the Dublin area, and said he believed that the cause of the outbreak in Ulster was the smuggling of pigs from Eire.

The Pigs Marketing Board had issued a statement pointing out that the ministry order had not prohibited the sale of live pigs by producers to the board for immediate slaughter. They added that producers who had pigs of bacon weight should continue to “make arrangements for sale in the usual way”.

But it was also noted that the marketing of pigs from any farm where an outbreak of the disease had occurred or was suspected would “be subject to control”.