With March 17th fast approaching it’s hard to know what’s Irish and what’s not…unless, of course, you’re living in Ireland. Green beer, four-leafed shamrocks, corned beef and cabbage, wearing green…these are often touted as being Irish but they’re not. They’re Oirish (pronounced oye-rish). Oirish has nothing to do with Ireland except that it’s a term, coined by not-so-amused Irish people, to describe anything associated with tourists or the tourist trade in Ireland that paints the country as the land of blarney stones and leprechauns. It probably started back in the 70’s when well-intentioned visitors would arrive to the Emerald Isle by the (airplane) load wearing Kelly green trousers and greeting locals with “Top of the morning to ya”.
In all my years of living in Ireland, I’ve never heard an Irish person use that phrase to greet someone. They may say, “Are you well?“, “How’s Kim? ” or even just a simple “Good morning.”, but that’s about it. Strange how the image of the Irish culture outside of Ireland has gone so awry when, quite literally, millions of Irish people have left the country and populated other countries for more than 100 years.
For the record, Saint Patrick’s Day, also known as Paddy’s Day (and not Patty’s Day), is a religious holiday celebrating the life and teachings of St. Patrick. Most people will go to Mass in the morning, attend a parade in their local village in the afternoon, and have their tea (supper) in the evening. They will not be eating corned beef and cabbage. More likely they will eat bacon (Irish ham) with cabbage and potatoes or roast pork or lamb with mashed potatoes and a veg (vegetable). My good friend Linda will be serving her family roast lamb, smothered in garlic and olive oil, with roasted veg and mashed potatoes. In our home it would be (and will be) ham.Truth is, there really isn’t a “traditional” meal for St. Patrick’s Day that gets served by every home throughout the country.
As for the other two popular Oirish traditions, here are the facts:
Drink: No self-respecting Irish person drinks green alcoholic beverages on Paddy’s Day. Instead, if they do head to the pubs, they will be drinking Guinness, Murphy’s, Harp, Smithwicks, Carlsburg, Budweiser (yes, Budweiser), Bulmers (an alcoholic beverage made from apples), Jameson and Bushmills (whiskeys). The men will typically drink “pints” and the ladies will have a “glass”. If you’re out with friends, you’ll buy in “rounds” (the practice of taking turns buying a drink for everyone in your group) or else you’ll be seen to be “mean” (cheap).
Shamrocks: A shamrock is not the same thing as a four-leaf clover. If it has four leaves, it is not a shamrock. The shamrock became synonymous with Ireland due to the teachings of St. Patrick. Legend has it that Patrick used the humble shamrock, which grows wild in Ireland and only has three leaves, to describe the Catholic teaching of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Today, Shamrocks are blessed and given out after Mass on St. Patrick’s Day and they are often worn on a shirt or jacket lapel for the day. Irish people do not typically wear any other “special” green attire on the day and they do not practice the tradition of pinching someone for not wearing green.
If you’re seriously interested in having an authentically Irish St. Patrick’s Day (and you happen to live in America) here are my suggestions:
1. In the morning go to Mass.
2. When you get home, serve a real Irish fry-up for breakfast. That would be eggs, rashers, sausages, black and white pudding, grilled tomato, soda bread with jam and butter and tea (Barry’s Gold Blend is our favourite).
3. Find a local parade to attend.
4. When you get back home, serve a traditional Irish supper (recipe below is from my mother-in-law), toast your true Irish roots and, for dessert, serve a lovely warm rhubarb pie with a dollop of hand-whipped cream.
Irish Bacon & Cabbage with Boiled Potatoes
4-5lb/2-2.5kg shoulder or loin of bacon, with a thin rind of fat still on the meat (this MUST be Irish bacon…see below)
4 tablespoons honey
1 head of cabbage, outer leaves trimmed, cut into quarters
1-1/2 pounds New Potatoes, scrubbed clean
1. Cover the bacon with water.
2. Add the honey and cloves and slowly bring to the boil.
3. If the bacon is salty, a white froth will form on the water. If this happens, change the water and start again. Keep doing this until the froth no longer appears. Allow the water to come to the boil and then simmer gently for 20 minutes to the pound or 45 minutes to the kilogram.
4. About 30 minutes before the bacon is fully cooked, add the quartered cabbage and allow to cook until the cabbage is tender and the bacon is fully cooked.
5. Remove the bacon to a cutting board and cover with aluminium. Remove the cabbage to a serving dish, add a generous dollop of butter and some salt and pepper to taste, and put in a warming drawer until ready to serve. Remove the cloves from the pot.
6. Add waxy New Potatoes or small potatoes to the pot of bacon water, making sure to remove or add water such that the potatoes are nearly but not completely covered, and bring to the boil. Once the water boils, turn the heat down, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain and season with salt, pepper and butter to taste.
7. To serve, slice the bacon and bring to the table with the cabbage and boiled potatoes.
- 5 St. Patrick’s Day Symbols and What They Mean (greetingcarduniverse.com)
- Authentically Irish Paddy’s Day…Anywhere
This recipe only works with Irish bacon…please don’t try this recipe with something that’s not been cured in Ireland. If you live outside the country, try to buy the bacon from an Irish shop in your area or buy it online from an Irish supplier. In North America, I have bought this cut of pork from a website called FoodIreland.com.