Traditional Irish Food ( Day 14 )

Mussels on Achill Island, a traditional Irish food. Photograph by Bernie Delaney

The Challenge for Day 14

Today’s challenge is to “Write about Food”, so I thought it might be nice to combine this prompt with my Ireland theme and write about traditional Irish food.


History of Traditional Irish Food

As I said in Ireland Calling, we Irish love our food just as much as the Guinness. Real traditional Irish dishes are made from cheap, locally sourced food and tend to be quite simple. That’s linked to our history, most people lived on small land holdings and were dependant on these to survive. They supplemented their diet by foraging for things like berries, mushrooms and shellfish.

Under British control and with the arrival of landlords, life became harsher. People began to rely heavily on potatoes, which was a mixed blessing. Soon, the naturally damp climate caused the onset of blight and all the potato crops rotted in the fields. This led to the Famine in the mid 19th century. Millions died or were forced to emigrate, often to America.

I think this awful episode In Irish history has helped us recognize what’s important in life. Like a hearty stew, with all the family digging in. Sharing, chatting, laughing. It’s the little things, isn’t it?


You might think that, after the Famine, Irish people would never want to look at another potato again. But the reverse seems to be the case, just go into any Irish supermarket and you will see at least five varieties of potato on sale.

We love them every which way you choose: Boiled, fried, chipped or mashed. We have traditional dishes like colcannon, a mixture of potato and cabbage, best comfort food I’ve ever tasted. Or potato and leek soup, a soul buzzer in the midst of winter.

But we also embrace the best of what other cultures have to offer, like potato gratin for sheer luxury. Or curried chips on the way home from the local.


In the past, Irish people would have foraged among the rocks on the shore for cockles, mussels, clams and more. The song, Molly Malone, describes the life of someone selling these shellfish on the streets of Dublin, it must have been a tough life. It’s kind of bittersweet, but you can see her statue on Suffolk Street.

The most delicious seafood is to be found in the coastal areas, like Dingle. Freshly caught that day and brimming with flavour, you are spoiled for choice. Try traditional Irish chowder, you won’t be disappointed.

Or maybe visit the Galway Oster Festival…A celebration of food, music and fun. A far cry from foraging, but still rooted in tradition. And yes, it involves Guinness.


Pigmeat was an important element of the Irish diet in the past. That’s because once salted, it could be preserved for a long time. Combined with potatoes and cabbage, it was a lifesaver for the poor because it provided a lot of basic nutrients. You’ll still see it featured on many Irish menus, though nowadays it’s eaten more for pleasure.

Irish stew is a traditional dish that most people are aware of, even if they haven’t tried it. In the past, it was centered around mutton, onions and potatoes. Any other vegetables, like carrots or turnips, were an added bonus. Nowadays, it will usually be made with lamb and several vegetables, but it still holds pretty true to the original. Often it is served with soda bread, a traditional Irish bread made from flour, bread soda and buttermilk.

Beef and Guinness stew is entirely different, it’s actually one of my favourite dishes to cook. A can of Guinness and a bay leaf. Sauteed celery, onions and carrots. Slowly cooked melt in the mouth beef…



Okay, I’m off to channel my inner Master Chef 🙂 Hope you enjoyed the read.



Day 14 of my 500 Words 31 Day Challenge, organized by Jeff Goins, Traditional Irish Food.

The photograph is my own, shot on Achill Island. On Flickr.

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