Erin go Bragh! Ireland Forever!
I love Ireland and all things from that beautiful land of verdant green hills studded with fantastic ancient castles and quaint little villages–especially so since my husband and sons are part Irish. So here’s a hodgepodge smattering of history and a few traditional recipes. By the way, the nickname for Patrick is Paddy not Patty, just so ya know. 😉
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.
St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D. At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian.
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice—which he believed to be God’s—spoke to him
in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland. He walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. (Interestingly, this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.)
However, part of the above account may be untrue. I found this while doing research. If you’re interested you can listen to the podcast.
‘Saint Patrick has been a figure of legend for over one and a half thousand years and the legend is so powerful that the real man has become lost….The real Patrick was a figure of controversy in Britain rather than the perfect saint which is depicted in the legend. One reason for this is that Patrick tells us that at the age of 15 he committed a sin and as he says this was a sin that was committed in ‘a single hour in a single day’ – cue a lot of speculation as to the nature of Patrick’s sin. He tells this sin to his best friend and his best friend shatters Patrick’s confidentiality and makes it widely known among the hierarchy of the British church. As a result of this, British churchmen…seem to have rejected his wish to become a missionary in Ireland with their official sanction. Despite the fact that he is rejected by the British hierarchy he does go to Ireland as a bishop…probably a self-proclaimed bishop and he certainly was not made a bishop by the Pope as the later Irish legend tells us…’
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.
The shamrock, which was also called the “seamroy” by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, the shamrock had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism. As the English began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their pride in their heritage and their displeasure with English rule. (Erin go Bragh (pron.: /ˌɛrɪn ɡə ˈbrɑː/), sometimes Erin go Braugh, is the anglicisation of an Irish phrase, Éirinn go Brách, and is used to express allegiance to Ireland. It is most often translated as “Ireland Forever!”)
The Irish harp, though not as well-known internationally as the shamrock for being an Irish symbol, is the official emblem of Ireland. This status dates back several centuries and the instrument’s history tells much about the history of the island.
Music is often associated with St. Patrick‘s Day—and Irish culture in general. From ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture, where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of stories and songs. After being conquered by the English, and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish, like other oppressed peoples, turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. As it often stirred emotion and helped to galvanize people, music was outlawed by the English. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth I even decreed that all artists and pipers were to be arrested and hanged on the spot.
Traditional Irish bands like The Chieftains, the Clancy Brothers, and Tommy Makem gained worldwide popularity in the 60s & 70s. Their music is produced with instruments that have been used for centuries, including the fiddle, the uilleann pipes, the tin whistle (I have one and play it on occasion) and the bodhran drum. Today, groups such as The Bonnymen are keeping the wonderful, traditional sounds alive.
It has long been recounted that, during his mission in Ireland, St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop (which is now called Croagh Patrick), and with only a wooden staff by his side, banished all the snakes from Ireland. Actually, the island nation was never home to any snakes. The “banishing of the snakes” was really a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. Within 200 years of Patrick’s arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.
Each year, thousands of Irish Americans gather with their loved ones to share a “traditional” meal of corned beef and cabbage. Though cabbage has long been an Irish food, corned beef only began to be associated with St. Patrick’s Day at the turn of the century. Irish immigrants living on New York City’s Lower East Side substituted corned beef for their traditional dish of Irish bacon to save money. They learned about the cheaper alternative from their Jewish neighbors.
Some people love horseradish sauce with their corned beef. This is a great little recipe. Add more or less horseradish according to your tastes.
- 1/2 pt heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
- Whip cream until it stands in peaks. Fold in horseradish.
The original Irish name for these figures of folklore is “lobaircin,” meaning “small-bodied fellow.” Belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure.
Leprechauns had nothing to do with St. Patrick or the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. In 1959, Walt Disney released a film called Darby O’Gill & the Little People, which introduced America to a very different sort of leprechaun than the cantankerous little man of Irish folklore. This cheerful, friendly leprechaun is a purely American invention, but has quickly evolved into an easily recognizable symbol of both St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland in general.
Irish Brown Soda Bread
2 cups unbleached flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°F
Combine the flours, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Make a well in the center of mixture. Add buttermilk to flour mixture; stir until blended (dough will be sticky). Turn dough out onto a generously floured surface. Knead lightly 4 to 5 times. Shape dough into an 8-inch round loaf; place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
Healthy tip: To reduce calories simply use low-fat buttermilk instead of full-fat buttermilk
Did you know?
Corned beef and cabbage is a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish. In 2009, roughly 26.1 billion pounds of beef and 2.3 billion pounds of cabbage were produced in the United States.
The first St. Patrick’s Day “parade” took place in the United States on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. The first planned parade in the U.S. wasn’t held until 1947 and the first in Ireland wasn’t until the 1960s.
More than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States. New York City and Boston are home to the largest celebrations.
At the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, participants march up 5th Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street. Each year, between 150,000 and 250,000 marchers take part in the parade, which does not allow automobiles or floats.
There are 34.7 million U.S. residents with Irish ancestry. This number is more than seven times the population of Ireland itself. Irish is the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, ranking behind German. (Population data courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.)
Irish Bacon/Back bacon is a traditional British cut of bacon sliced to include one piece of pork loin and one piece of pork belly combined into the same cut. The name refers to the
cut of meat, which is from the back, and distinguishes it from other bacon made from pork belly or other cuts. Like other bacon, back bacon can be brined, cured, boiled, or smoked. It is much leaner than streaky bacon, and is sometimes sold in the US as Irish bacon or Canadian bacon, owing to the popularity of back bacon in those countries. “Canadian bacon” sold in the US can also mean a round, sliced and usually smoked ham product sold in many parts of the US. In much of Canada, “Canadian Bacon”, often referred to there as “Peameal Bacon”, is not smoked but rather set in a brine. The name reflects the historic practice of rolling the bacon in ground dried yellow peas, although nowadays, it is generally rolled in yellow cornmeal. Pictured is roast peameal bacon with a maple glaze as sold by Witteveen Meats at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photographer comment: “Seasonal honey roasted peameal/back bacon. Yummy! So juicy and moist…” Photo by snowpea&bokchoi on Flickr
Several years ago, I bought Irish Food & Cooking:Traditional Irish Cuisine With Over 150 Delicious Step-by-Step Recipes From The Emerald Isle for my husband for his birthday. The beautiful images, interesting history, and hearty recipes make it a keeper. If you’re interested in doing some serious Irish cooking, you’ll love this one.
Are you Irish, part Irish, or have a strong affinity for all things Irish?
Note: Most of the history/facts were gleaned from History.com and the links contained therein.
Happy eating! 😊