The Place for real traditions.Irish Culture begins in prehistory. First was a paleolithic mindset-based on hunting. The spirits of animals aid in this. Groups had totems- birds, boar,for identity. Next came a Neolithic awareness- crops, agriculture,farm animals. Villages and lineages. Multiple gods became single gods with many powers. Chieftains by birth ruled. Next the Bronze age with rule by heroes. We got cookbooks and recipes left the mind. How do we know what to do? That's our purpose.

Irish Chieftain's feast

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

17th Century Irish Foodways

One can always go back to the 17th Century for inspiration. It was by
and large a Celtic warlord based society impacted by invasion. Of course
this is a view from the other side of the cultural divide....

"Touching the Irish diet, some lords and knights and gentlemen
of the English-Irish, and all the English there abiding, having
competent means, use the English diet, but some
more some less cleanly, few or none curiously; and
no doubt they have as great and for their part greater plenty than
the English of flesh, fowl, fish, and all things for food, if they will
use like art of cookery. Always I except the fruits, venison, and
some dainties proper to England and rare in Ireland. And we
must conceive that venison and fowl seem to be more plentiful in
Ireland, because they neither so generally affect dainty food nor
so diligently search it as the English do. Many of the English-
Irish have by little and little been infected with the Irish filthi-
ness, and that in the very cities, excepting Dublin, and some of
the better sort in Waterford, where, the English continually lodging
in their houses, they more retain the English diet. The English-
Irish, after our manner, serve to the table joints of flesh cut after
our fashion, with geese, pullets, pigs, and like roasted meats; but
their ordinary food for the common sort is of white-meats, and
they eat cakes of oat for bread, and drink not English beer made
of malt and hops, but ale. At Cork I have seen with these eyes
young maids stark naked grinding of corn with certain stones to
make cakes thereof, and striking off into the tub of meal such
reliques thereof as stick upon their belly, thighs, and more unseemly
parts. And for the cheese and butter commonly made
by the English-Irish, an Englishman would not touch it with his
lips though he were half-starved; yet many English inhabitants
make very good of both kinds. In cities they have such bread
as ours, but of a sharp savour, and some mingled with aniseeds
and baked like cakes, and that only in the houses of the
better sort.
At Dublin and in some other cities they have taverns wherein
Spanish and French wines are sold, but more commonly the
merchants sell them by pints and quarts in their own cellars.
The Irish aqua vitce, vulgarly called usquebaugh, is held the best
in the world of that kind; which is made also in England, but
nothing so good as that which is brought out of Ireland. And
the usquebaugh is preferred before our aqua vitc e because the
mingling of raisins, fennel-seed, and other things, mitigating the
heat and making the taste pleasant, makes it less inflame, and yet
refresh the weak stomach with moderate heat and a good relish.
These drinks the English-Irish drink largely, and in many families —
especially at feasts—both men and women use excess therein.
And since I have in part seen, and often heard from others'
experience, that some gentlewomen were so free in this excess
as they would, kneeling upon the knee and otherwise, carouse
health after health with men; not to speak of the wives of Irish
lords or to refer it to the due place, who often drink till they be
drunken, or at least till they void urine in full assemblies of men.
I cannot, though unwilling, but note the Irish women more specially
with this fault, which I have observed in no other part to be a woman's
vice, but only in Bohemia. Yet, so accusing them, I
mean not to excuse the men, and will also confess that I have
seen virgins, as well gentlewomen as citizens, commanded by their
mothers to retire after they had in courtesy pledged one or two
In cities passengers may have feather beds, soft and good,
but most commonly lousy, especially in the highways, whether
that came by their being forced to lodge common soldiers or from
the nasty filthiness of the nation in general. For even in the best
city, as at Cork, I have observed that my own and other Englishmen's
chambers, hired of the citizens, were scarce swept once in
the week, and the dust then laid in a corner, was perhaps cast
out once in a month or two. I did never see any public inns with
signs hanged out, among the English or English-Irish; but the
officers of cities and villages appoint lodgings to the passengers,
and perhaps in each city they shall find one or two houses where
they will dress meat, and these be commonly houses of Englishmen,
seldom of the Irish, so as these houses having no signs hung
out, a passenger cannot challenge right to be entertained in them,
but must have it of courtesy and by entreaty.
The wild and (as I may say) mere Irish, inhabiting many and
large provinces, are barbarous and most filthy in their diet. They
scum the seething pot with an handful of straw, and strain their
milk taken from the cow through a like handful of straw, none of
the cleanest, and so cleanse, or rather more defile, the pot and milk.
They devour great morsels of beef unsalted, and they eat commonly
swine's flesh, seldom mutton, and all these pieces of flesh,
as also the entrails of beasts unwashed, they seethe in a hollow
tree, lapped in a raw cow's hide, and so set over the fire, and
therewith swallow whole lumps of filthy butter. Yea (which is
more contrary to nature) they will feed on horses dying of themselves,
not only upon small want of flesh, but even for pleasure;
for I remember an accident in the army, when the Lord Mountjoy,

the Lord Deputy, riding to take the air out of the camp, found
the buttocks of dead horses cut off, and suspecting that some
soldiers had eaten that flesh out of necessity, being defrauded of
the victuals allowed them, commanded the men to be searched
out, among whom a common soldier, and that of the English-
Irish, not of the mere Irish, being brought to the Lord Deputy,
and asked why he had eaten the flesh of dead horses, thus freely
answered, "Your Lordship may please to eat pheasant and partridge,
and much good do it you that best likes your taste; and I
hope it is lawful for me without offence to eat this flesh, that likes
me better than beef." Whereupon the Lord Deputy, perceiving
himself to be deceived, and further understanding that he had
received his ordinary victuals (the detaining whereof he suspected,
and purposed to punish for example), gave the soldier a piece of gold
to drink in usquebaugh for better digestion, and so dismissed him.
The foresaid wild Irish do not thresh their oats, but burn them
from the straw, and so make cakes thereof; yet they seldom eat
this bread, much less any better kind, especially in the time of
war. Whereof a Bohemian baron complained who, having seen
the Courts of England and Scotland, would needs, out of his
curiosity, return through Ireland in the heat of the rebellion;
and having letters from the King of Scots to the Irish lords then
in rebellion, first landed among them in the furthest north, where
for eight days' space he had found no bread, not so much as a
cake of oats, till he came to eat with the Earl of Tyrone; and
after obtaining the Lord Deputy's pass to come into our army,
related this their want of bread to us as a miracle, who nothing
wondered thereat. Yea, the wild Irish in time of greatest peace
impute covetousness and base birth to him that hath any corn
after Christmas, as if it were a point of nobility to consume all
within those festival days. They willingly eat the herb Shamrock,
being of a sharp taste, which, as they run and are chased to and
fro, they snatch like beasts out of the ditches.
Neither have they any beer made of malt or hops, nor yet any
ale, no, nor the chief lords, except it be very rarely. But they
drink milk like nectar, warmed with a stone first cast into the
fire, or else beef broth mingled with milk. But when they come
to any market town to sell a cow or horse, they never return
home till they have drunk the price in Spanish wine (which they
call the King of Spain's daughter) or in Irish usquebaugh, and
till they have outslept two or three days' drunkenness. And not
only the common sort, but even the lords and their wives, the
more they want this drink at home the more they swallow it
when they come to it, till they be as drunk as beggars.
Many of these wild Irish eat no flesh but that which dies of
disease or otherwise of itself, neither can it scape them for stinking.
They desire no broth, nor have any use of a spoon. They
can neither seethe artichokes nor eat them when they are sodden.
It is strange and ridiculous, but most true, that some of our carriage
horsesl falling into their hands, when they found soap and
starch carried for the use of our laundresses, they, thinking them to
be some dainty meats, did eat them greedily, and when they stuck
in their teeth cursed bitterly the gluttony of us English churls, for
so they term us. They feed most on white-meats, and esteem for
a great dainty sour curds, vulgarly called by them Bonaclabbe.
And for this cause they watchfully keep their cows, and fight for
them as for religion and life ; and when they are almost starved,
yet they will not kill a cow except it be old and yield no milk.
Yet will they upon hunger, in time of war, open a vein of the
cow and drink the blood, but in no case kill or much weaken it.
A man would think these men to be Scythians, who let their horses
blood under their ears and for nourishment drink their blood;
and indeed, as I have formerly said, some of the Irish are of the
race of Scythians, coming into Spain and from thence into Ireland.
The wild Irish, as I said, seldom kill a cow to eat, and if perhaps
1 Sampter horses.
they kill one for that purpose, they distribute it all to be devoured
at one time; for they approve not the orderly eating at meals, but
so they may eat enough when they are hungry, they care not to
fast long. And I have known some of these Irish footmen serving
in England (where they are nothing less than sparing in the
food of their families) to lay meat aside for many meals, to devour
it all at one time.
These wild Irish, as soon as their cows have calved, take the
calves from them and thereof feed some with milk, to rear for
breed, some of the rest they flay, and seethe them in a filthy poke,
and so eat them, being nothing but froth, and send them for a
present one to another. But the greatest part of these calves they
cast out to be eaten by crows and wolves, that themselves may
have more abundance of milk. And the calves being taken
away, the cows are so mad among them as they will give no
milk till the skin of the calf be stuffed and set before them, that
they may smell the odour. Yea, when these cows thus madly
deny their milk, the women wash their hands in cows' dung, and
so gently stroke their dugs; yea, put their hands into the cow's
tail and with their mouths blow into their tails, that with this
manner, as it were, of enchantment, they may draw milk from
them. Yea, these cows seem as rebellious to their owners as
the people are to their Kings, for many times they will not be
milked but of some one old woman only, and of no other. These
wild Irish never set any candles upon tables—what do I speak
of tables ? since indeed they have no tables, but set their meat
upon a bundle of grass, and use the same grass as napkins to
wipe their hands. But I mean that they do not set candles
upon any high place to give light to the house, but place a great
candle made of reeds and butter upon the floor in the midst of a
great room. And in like sort the chief men in their houses make
fires in the midst of the room, the smoke whereof goeth out at
a hole in the top thereof. An Italian friar coming of old into
reland and seeing at Armagh this their diet and the nakedness
of the women, is said to have cried out— "
Civilas Armachana, civitas vana,
Carnes crudce, mulieres nudtz." "
Vain Armagh city, I did thee pity,
Thy meat's rawness and women's nakedness.
I trust no man expects among these gallants any beds, much
less feather beds and sheets, who, like the Nomades removing
their dwellings according to the commodity of pastures for their
cows, sleep under the canopy of heaven, or in a poor house of
clay, or in a cabin made of the boughs of trees and covered with
turf, for such are the dwellings of the very lords among them.
And in such places they make a fire in the midst of the room,
and round about it they sleep upon the ground, without straw or
other thing under them, lying all in a circle about the fire, with
their feet towards it. And their bodies being naked, they cover
their heads and upper parts with their mantles, which they first
make very wet, steeping them in water of purpose; for they find
that when their bodies have once warmed the wet mantles, the
smoke of them keeps their bodies in temperate heat all the night
following. And this manner of lodging not only the mere Irish
lords and their followers use, but even some of the English-Irish
lords and their followers when, after the old but tyrannical and
prohibited manner vulgarly called coshering, they go, as it were,
on progress, to live upon their tenants till they have consumed
all the victuals that the poor men have or can get. To conclude,
not only in lodging passengers not at all or most rudely, but even
in their inhospitality towards them, these wild Irish are not much
unlike to wild beasts, in whose caves a beast passing that way
might perhaps find meat, but not without danger to be ill entertained,
perhaps devoured, of his insatiable host."

-From: "Fynes Moryson's Description of Ireland" In:Ireland under
Elizabeth and James I., 1599 -1603
By Edmund Spenser, John\Davies, Henry Morley Fynes Moryson 1891