An oak barrel, full of butter, estimated to be roughly 3,000 years old has been found in Gilltown bog, between Timahoe and Staplestown.You can read the rest of the very interesting story at either of the links, but what also interested me was this comment:
The amazing discovery of the barrel, which is being described by archaeology experts in the National Museum as a "really fine example" was found by two Bord na Mona workers.
The pair, John Fitzharris and Martin Lane, were harrowing the bog one day in late May when they noticed a distinctive white streak in the peat.
"We got down to have a look. We knelt down and felt something hard and started to dig it out with out bare hands," John explained.
"We could smell it. And it was attracting crows," he added. What they found was an oak barrel, cut out of a trunk, full of butter.
It is thought that the butter was put in the bog for practical reasons, rather than ritual.That was a new word for me. All I have been able to find is a brief note at Webster's online: "piseog = Irish, superstition." There's nothing in Random House - or the OED!
"There are accounts dating back to the 1850's with people used to wash their cattle once a year in the bog and then put some butter back into the bog. It was piseogary," Mr. Clancy explained, adding that the butter was usually "stolen by the following week!
Presumably neolithic peoples used to store butter in bogs to keep it cool just as my grandparents kept potatoes and carrots buried in sawdust in the cellar. Then in the 18th-19th century locals began finding lost butter stores when they harvested peat, and they developed the superstition that butter should be placed in the bog. But re the etymology of the word I can surmise nothing. The "closest" I can find is "pise" meaning "rammed earth," but it's likely totally irrelevant to "piseog." Perhaps someone at Language Log or The Centered Librarian will come up with more information if they happen to notice the story.
Addendum: Swift Loris found an alternate spelling - "pishogue(s)" - which led to some much more productive search results:
"The sheeogue is the true fairy; thivishes or thoushas (shadowy apparitions) are literally ghosts; and pisherogues, or pishogues, a term used both in the Irish manuscripts and in the vernacular, means properly witchcraft or enchantment.The third citation, from a book called Yesterday's Ireland, really seems to tie the term tightly to butter production. Very interesting.
"(pish-ogue) An Irish fairy spell, by which a man's senses are bemused, so that he sees things entirely different from what they are in actuality. The Fir Darrig is a master at pishogues, and the tale of the Fir Darrig in Donegal is a good example, but pishogues are thickly scattered through the Fenian legends. In English it is called Glamour, and examples of it are to be found in Malory and in many English folk-tales."
"What pishogues (an anglicized version of the Irish 'piseoga') were or are is vague; even as a part of speech the word is hard to define. Certain actions were deemed to be pishogues, but beliefs also were....If you said it was bad luck to come in and out of a house using the same door, someone would accuse you of believing in 'ol pishogues.'... A lot of pishogues surrounded cows and milk. If the cow wasn't inclined to give milk they believed someone had done pishogues. If the cream didn't turn into butter after you dashed it in the churn, that was pishogues, too; and if a woman was seen skimming the top of water from a pond on your land she was said to be doing pishogues, andit would have a bad effect on your cows..."