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

O'Curry Reveals Foodways of the Ancient Celts

In the case of Irish Foodways we have the unique opportunity of going
back to the earliest literature of Europe. But what is it....good
question. It is a mixed bag of written works derived from a large
variety of sources both domestic and foreign. Some could have been
fiction others mystical.....O'Curry does an heroic job of pulling things
all together. Elsewhere in this Blog you will find a link direct to the
book. Below is text without footnotes which are significant so nothing
relpaces the book itself but, this may be useful for those in search of
their Celtic dimension....


The food of a people is so intimately connected with their
agriculture, that in order to give a satisfactory account of the
former, it would be necessary to enter into some detail as to
the state of the latter. This, however, I cannot do here, and I
must content myself with referring to the subject as occasion
may arise in the following brief account of the food of the
ancient Irish.
The ancient Irish were more a pastoral than an agricultural
people ; every occupier of a homestead, however, ploughed
annually a certain amount of land, and sowed corn, the
general name for which was Arba, plural Orbainn. Under
this term mention is made of eight kinds of corn or seed,
Cruittiecht, Eorna, Corca, Seoul, Ruadan, Seruan. Maetan, and
Fidbach. Cruitnecht, one of the names of wheat, Triticum
Sativum, appears to contain the same root as the Greek K....,
barley. Tarai, sometimes written Tuirnd or Tuirnn, was
another name for wheat, which M. A. Pictet compares with
Sanskrit Trna, herb in its general sense ; he also mentions the
curious fact that the Mongolian name of wheat is Taràn. Eorna
and Corca are still the names of barley and oats respectively.
It is very difficult to determine now to what plants the remaining
names were applied. Secul is probably a loan-word from
the Latin Secale, rye ; but was it applied to the same plant in
Ireland as in Italy ? If so, what was Ruadan ? This is certainly
an older word than Secul, and if we could venture to compare
it with the Lettish Rudzi, rye, may have been the true ancient
name for that kind of corn, which in Ireland as elsewhere
seems to have been gradually displaced by wheat. If the
spelt wheat (Triticum spelta was) cultivated in Ireland, it may
have been known by either of the names in question, perhaps
by that of Secul. Seruan may not have been a variety of corn
at all. Pliny has the term Saurian for mustard, which is
very close to the Sanskrit Suri, Sinapis nigra, and may be
Celtic rather than Greek. It is, no doubt, very dangerous to
make comparisons between words merely because of similarity
of form, yet it is hardly possible to avoid doing so in this case,
especially as the only other Aryan name of corn like it with
which I am acquainted, belongs to a species which we have no
evidence for supposing was ever cultivated in Ireland, namely, /
Soru (plural Soros), the Lithuanian name of millet. Maelan
was, 1 believe, a leguminous plant, and not a cereal one, as
is shown by the name Maelan rnilce, being applied to the
tuberous bitter vetch, Orobus tuberosus, the tuberous roots of
which were formerly much prized for making a kind of drink
by the Highlanders, and used in times of scarcity as food. The
Oiobus niger, or black bitter vetch, which is said by some
to have supported the Britons when driven into the forests and
fastnesses by the Empeior Severus, was also called Maelan.
Fidbach is literally wood-gland, bach being cognate with
Sanskrit bhag, Greek ..., and may have been applied to
the hazel nut or the acorn, both of which were used as food.
From the frequent reference to oatmeal and porridge, there
can be little doubt that the kind of corn most generally grown grown.
was oats. Barley was also cultivated, not only for making
bread, but also for making malt. Frequent mention is also
made of wheat, but wheaten bread must have been used
almost exclusively by the higher classes. I have not met with
any direct evidence of the use of leaven or of yeast in early
times in Ireland, but I infer from incidental circumstances that
the yeast of Citirm, or beer, was used in the making of wheaten
bread. Oatmeal and barleymeal cakes appear to have

been unleavened, and to have been prepared as now by mixing
the meal with sweet milk or buttermilk, so as to make a
stiff dough, which was fashioned into flat cakes. The wheat-
meal and barley-meal cakes were baked upon a griddle, but
the oatmeal cakes, called Bocaire and Bletliacli. were always
baked by being supported in an upright position before the
fire by means of a three-pronged forked stick, still called
Maide an Bliocaire or the Bocaire stick, or the Cranachan,
which, however, included also the three-legged stool upon
which the cake was supported by the stick. From the latter
name the Bocaire is sometimes called Ciste cranachain, or the
cake of the Cranachan. The cakes of bread were called
Bairgins, a name still preserved in the " bairn breac", or cake
spotted with currants, of confectioners in Ireland. There were
different sizes of these cakes, but three are mentioned in the
laws: the Bairgin Ferfuine and the Bairgin Banfuine, the
former double the size of the latter—the larger representing
the ration of a man, and the smaller that of a
woman; the third was called the Bairgin iudriuc or whole
cake. This was a large cake which the mistress of a house
kept whole for guests, before whom no cut-loaf should be
placed. Any whole cake was, properly speaking, a Bairgin
Iudriuc, but the term was usually restricted to such large
cakes as those which Bricriu had had made, each of which
required a quarter of a Miach. Honey was sometimes mixed

with the dough of bread, as appears from a curious account
of the " champion s share at the feast given by Briciru one
of the heroic personages contemporary with Citchulaind.
Meal prepared from highly kiln-dried oats, mixed with new
milk or sweet thick milk, or boiled with water into stirabout,
was also much used. Coarsely ground meal of this kind
was called Grus and Gruth, and the food prepared from it
Gruiten ; the second form of the words is almost identical
with the Anglo-Saxon Grut. In discussing the names of
the different kinds of com grown in Ireland in former
times, I mentioned that filberts and acorns were used as
food. These were crushed, so as to form a kind of meal
to which the name Maothal was given. In early Christian
times those who devoted themselves to a religious life, built
their cells in remote woody districts or waste lands, which
seem to have been generally covered with a scrub of hazel,
judging from the quantity of hazel twigs found in turf
bogs. Nutmeal naturally formed a valuable resource to these
early monks, so important indeed that the word Maothal came
in process of time to mean the meal taken on fast days, and
which consisted at first of nutmeal and milk, and afterwards of
oatmeal, milk, cheese, etc. Thus a Lenten dinner mentioned in
the life of St. Moling consisted of Maolhla acus Loim. The

use of Maotlial was not, however, confined to monks and nuns,
but formed part of the food of even the higher classes, as is
proved by the finding of tlie nutshells in the neighbourhood of
forts, and by the occurrence of the word in combination with
Cathair and Lie in topographical names, such as Cathair
Moathal, now Cathermoyle, in the county of Limerick, where
full evidence was obtained of the use of nutmeal, and Lis-
maothal now Moyhill, near Maurice's Mills, in the county
of Clare.
Oatmeal formed also an important constituent of the porridge
which was one of the chief articles of food in Ireland. When
this porridge was made with water in which meat was boiled, it
was the Bruth or broth which was distributed or served out in
Dabachs or tubs to the retainers and servants at feasts and the
eyres or circuits of kings and Flaths. The simple porridge as well
as the broth were seasoned with leeks. Large quantities of leeks
and onions were grown around the houses, and served as a substitute
for pepper and other spices, introduced at a later period
into Europe. Some other culinary vegetables were also cultivated
in the Murathaig or enclosed Gort or garden, for we find
Lns Lubgort, or garden vegetables, mentioned as part of the
Imglaice or opsonia of the Oc Aire. The Birur or Water Cress

was also used at feasts as a salad with meat. Dulesc (i.e.,
water leaf), the Rhodymenia palmata of botanists, was gathered
on the sea shore, dried, and sold throughout the country. It is
mentioned in the Crith Gablach as an accompaniment of the
seasoned fowl to which the Aithech ar a Threba was entitled.
Sluican, sloke, or laver prepared from Porphyra laciniata and
P. vulgaris, as well as other marine vegetables, were also used
along the sea coast.
As the principal wealth of the Irish was in cattle, flesh-meat
and milk formed the most important part of the food of the
Aire class, milk, besides being taken in its natural fresh
state, and as skimmed milk, furnished butter, curds, and
cheese. Butter, while abundant in summer, was preserved Batter ;
in small firkins or barrels for winter use, and for expeditions
and feasts. Many of these vessels filled with butter are found
in peat bogs, the butter being altered into a hard crystalline
fat, free from salt. If salt was used in the curing of the original
butter, it must have been gradually removed along with the
products of the alteration of the glycerine. As butter
is still made without salt in some parts of Ireland, it is
probable that it was sometimes similarly prepared in ancient
times. The terms t-Saland, applied to salted meat and butter,
show that the method of curing provisions with salt was practised
at a comparatively early period in Ireland. The Privileges of the lower
grades of Bo Aire, as regards maintenance when wounded, absence from
home attending
absence from home attending their Flath, etc., as given in the Crith
Gablach, show that
the use of meat and butter was not universal. Thus the Oc
Aire, when on visitation to persons of his own rank, was
not entitled to butter; and only on stated days when on
Folach. An Aire Desa or Flath was, however, entitled
to butter at every meal in his own territory, while an Aire
Ard was not only entitled to butter at every meal for himself, but also
for his Foleithe, that is, the suitors of his Court Leet. A wounded
person on Foluch, of whatever rank, appears
to have been entitled to butter only on stated days. This legal
provision was, no doubt, adopted to prevent a defendant from
being ruined by the expense of the maintenance of a complainant who was
wounded. Curds was a favourite article of food of the ancient Irish. It
was made both from skimmed
milk, and Binnit, or rennet was used in its preparation. The
curds of fresh new milk was not unlike our modern cream
cheese. cheese. True cheese was also made, and seems to have formed
an important element in the food of the wealthier armers, specimens
of it from early Christian times have been found in
bogs impressed with a cross. From a passage in the tale of
the " Navigation of Maelduin's Curach, it would seem that
even different kinds of cheese were prepared, and especially a
rich kind from beestings milk.
Judging by the description of the " Champion's Share"
of Bricrius house, and other passages in Irish manuscripts, the
rearing and fattening of oxen and pigs for food was well understood
by the ancient Irish. Beef naturally took the first place
among the flesh meats : veal, lamb, mutton, and goat's flesh were
also eaten. Mutton was boiled, and the water in which it was
cooked constituted the basis of the Bruth or broth already
mentioned, which was so freely served out to strangers off the
road, that the word became almost synonymous with hospitality.
Part of the beef was eaten fresh, but a larger part was
cured with salt. The cattle intended for curing were fattened
in autumn, and then driven in from the Boulaglis on the approach of
winter and slaughtered. The carcass was cut up,
salted, and hung up to dry on hooks in the smoky air of the
kitchen. Flesh-meat of all kinds was called Saill, or when
salted, Saillti, or Saill t-salnd, the Sialfaeti of the Norse. Fresh
pork was considered a great delicacy, as is evident from the
curious poem in which Midir promises Befind a banquet of
fresh pork, new milk, and ale." Young sucking pigs were
roasted and were especially esteemed. Like the beef, the
pork was first salted in a Caire, or meat vessel, which
was usually kept in the Cull Tech, or store-house, or in
some recess used for the purpose, or when there was no special
store-house in any convenient place. It was left to season for
some weeks, and then hung up in the smoke. The meat of a
Muc Forais, or house-fed pig, appears, however, to have been
specially smoke-dried in the smoke of green wood, such as
beech, ash, and white thorn. The general name for bacon was
Tini, but smoke-cured hams and flitches were called Tineiccas.
This is almost identical in form with the Gallo-Roman word
Taniaccae or Tanacae, used by Varro for hams imported from
Transalpine Gaul into Rome and other parts of Italy.
Puddings prepared from the blood of pigs also formed an
article of export from Gaul to Italy, as we learn from Varro,
Puddings of the same kind were also made by the Irish. The
Mucriucht, or Caelana, Tona, bottom, or belly pudding, appears
to have been a black pudding of this kind, into which a
little tansy (Tanucetum vulgare) and onions, salt, etc., were introduced
as seasoning. Moroga was another term for puddings,
and, perhaps, included those prepared with liver. Saussages
were also made of different kinds of flesh. The word Tarsun
appears to have included regular saussages and seasoned mincemeats
of all kinds, and melted lard, and in this way was sometimes
applied to seasoned fowl and other birds. The name
Drisechan caorach, or as it is called in Cork, Drisheen, given
to a kind of pudding made of sheep's blood, seems to be a corruption
of the Irish Tarsun; the pudding itself probably affords
an example of one of the ancient Irish puddings. The Cisalpine
Gallo-Roman Tuceta mentioned by Persius and other
Latin writers is perhaps a Latinized form of the Gaulish representative
of the Irish Tarsun.
The Irish Aìre class were expert hunters, and trained several
kinds of hunting dogs, among which the wolf dog attained to
even a foreign reputation, and was much sought after. The
wild boar, the red deer, and other game must have also contributed
to the supply of animal food. I do not know whether
in early times the Irish, like the Britons, avoided eating the
hare, the goose, and the common domestic fowl. The curious
legend of Einglan, king of the birds, and Mesbuachala, the
mother of Conaire Mor, king of Eriu, shows that although birds
were killed as game, there must have been a tradition that at
some earlier period they were considered sacred. In many
of the transformations recorded in Irish legends, birds appear
to have been the favourite forms into which the personages of
the story were changed. Fish seems to have formed an important
article of the food of the ancient Irish. Tales and
poems are full of references to rivers abounding in fish ; and
we have distinct mention of the use of the commoner kinds of
fresh-water fish in the life of St. Brigit, and the ancient life of
St Patrick, known as the Tripartite Life. The salmon was
considered food for kings and nobles; king Cormac Mac Airt
is said to have been choked by a bone of one which he swallowed.
The ancient Britons are also said to have had a prejudice
against eating fish, but I do not know whether in very
ancient times this was shared by the Irish. But whatever

use the Irish may have made of game, fish, etc., the chief part Erin rich in
of their animal food was obtained from their cattle ; and
there can be little doubt that Caesar's observations regarding
the Britons, that they possessed " pecoris magnus nu-
rnerus might be equally well applied to the Irish.
The chief intoxicating drink of the ancient Irish, as of all
northern European peoples, was beer, which was called in old
Irish Cuirm, genitive Chorma, as in the Crith Gablach, where
we are told that the Brnghfer has always two vats in his
house—Ian Ais ocus Ian Chorma,—a vat of new milk and a vat
of beer. The Irish genitive is almost identical with ..... The name
the form of the word in Athenaeus, as amended by Casaubon. kno«m to
As Athenaeus quotes Posidonios, we may look upon the Greek
Korma as a pre-Christian, and, no doubt, genitive form of the
Celtic name of beer, corresponding to the Irish Chorma.
Dioscorides has the form .......The banqueting hall of
the Rig Tuatha, in which the Sabaid or councillors sat, was
called the Citirmtech or Ale house, which corresponded to a
certain extent to the Tech Midchuarda of the Ard Righ
Erind. In the fragment of the ancient tale of Tocmarc Emere,
or Courtship of Emer by Cuchulaind, preserved in the vellum
manuscript Lebor na h-Uidhri, beer is called ol n-guala. The
passage is as follows: "One time as the Ultonians were with
Conchabar in Emain Macha drinking in the Iernguali, one
hundred Brotha of ale used to be put into it for each evening.
This was the ol n-guala, which used to test the Ultonians, all
sitting on the one bank" The " one bank" here spoken of is evidently
the long bank
near the fire, which was called by the Norse the Brugge. In

the words ol n-guala the ol is evidently the same as the Old
Norse ol, Anglo-Saxon Ealu, modern English Ale. Ol and
Cuirm were probably synonymous, the former being perhaps
a borrowed name Possibly ol was a simple fermented, slightly
sour decoction of malt, as it is said to have been in England
before the introduction of hops, and that the wort of the Cuirm
was boiled with some bitter aromatic herbs.
The second part of the name has been explained in different ways.
According to one gloss, the word Guala is the genitive
case of Gual, that is, coal,—ól n-Guala, or "ale of the
coal ", and was so called because the wort was boiled over a
charcoal fire :and Conchabar Mac Nessa and his warriors sat
around the fire and quaffed their ale. Another gloss derived
the name from the pot itself; and a third from the son of the
first owner of the boiler. It must have been a difficult task
in those early times to procure a boiler sufficiently large to
make the ale necessary to regale the household of a king.
Even the Norse gods were on one occasion in the unhappy
plight of not having enough of ale, and to prevent so great a
misfortune in future, it is mentioned that Thor carried off the
giant Hymir's big boiler Conchabar Mac Nessa also went on an
expedition the secret motive of which may have been a great bronze
boiler which a petty chieftain named Gerg possessed. He succeeded in
carrying off the pot and killing Gercf himself. Conchabar had a
celebrated brewing vat, the proportions of

which befitted his wort-boiler. This brewing-vat was called
Daradach because it was made of oak, that is, of oak staves
bound by great hoops. The vat, or Dabach, appears to have
been always placed in the principal hall, which was hence
called the ale house or Cuinn Tech. The ale was doubtless
drunk fresh from the vat as in the old breweries of Germany.
The word Lin is sometimes used for ale, but it is rather a
general term for liquor than a special name for beer. Barley beer,
appears to have been the grain chiefly used for preparing the
malt for beer in Ireland, though there is reason to believe that
spelt wheat was also cultivated in Ireland, and also used for the
same purpose. As oats was the corn crop most usually grown,
it also must have been frequently used for malting, at least in
the more mountainous districts not adapted for barley. The Malt.
Irish name of malt was Brack, genitive Braich, or Bracha, corresponding
to the Welsh and Cornish Brag, whence Welsh
Bragaud, Old English Bragot, modern English Bracket, a kind
of sweetened ale. These words contain the same root as
the Anglo-Saxon Breovan, Gothic Briggvan, Old Norse
Brugga, Old High German Bracvan, whence modern German
Brauen, English Brew. As in other northern countries,
beer at first consisted of a simple fermented infusion of the
malt. Before the introduction of hops, attempts were made used.
to flavour the beer with aromatic and bitter astringent
plants — oak bark, it is said, among other things, having
been employed for this purpose. The Cimbri used the
Tamarix Germanica, the old Scandinavians the fruit of
the sweet gale, Myrica gale, the Cauchi the Iruit and twigs of
the chaste tree, Vitex agnus castus. In Iceland, where hops
do not grow, the yarrow, Achillea millefolium, was used for
this purpose, and was even called Valhumall, or field hops.

Even as late as the last century, the yarrow was still used
for giving a bitter flavour to beer in a district of Sweden65'
From the large quantities of the pressed and exhausted leaves
and stems of the marsh plant, the buck-bean, Menyanthes
trifoliata, which have been found in the neighbourhood of some
Raths, that plant was probably used in Ireland at an early
period to flavour beer. That some plant was used by the
ancient Irish to flavour beer, there can be no doubt. In a
curious legendary life of prince Cano, son of Gartnan, and
Ireland. grand-nephew of the celebrated Oedan Mac Gabhrain, king of
the Gaedhelic kingdom of Scotland, to escape whose hostility
Cano fled into Ireland, there is a poem in praise of the various
celebrated ales of Ircland. We have no means of fixing the

exact date at which the poem was composed. According to
Tighernachi Cano was killed A.D. 687, and the manuscript in
which the poem is found was compiled about the year 1390.
That the compiler of the manuscript was not the author of the
poem is certain ; and judging by the language, and by the general
character of the contents of the book, the poem in its present
form belongs to a period anterior to the twelfth century, and
the original materials out of which the tale was worked up, to a
period three or four centuries earlier. We may safely assume that
in the twelfth century at least, there were many places in Ireland
which enjoyed the reputation of making good ales, some, if
not all, of which were red, or " red like wine". Most of those
places have long since ceased to brew beer, but Caatlebelling-
ham still maintains the reputation of the ales of Muirthemne,
and until within the last few years beer of some local reputation
was brewed in Bray, which may have been the seat of the original
breweries of Cualawi, or of one of them. Among the ales mentioned in the
poem is " the Saxon ale of bitterness".
which deserves some attention, because it proves that England
had begun to make bitter beer at a much earlier period than is
usually supposed. Was the " ale of bitterness" flavoured with
hops? and if not, what was the flavouring plant? These are
questions which the poem of Cano Mac Gartnain does not help
us to solve, but it certainly suggests a doubt as to the correctness
of the date, 1524, assigned by Beckmann, Houghton,
Anderson, and indeed most wiiters on the subject, as that of
the introduction of hops into England. The ancient Gauls and Germans,
as Weinhold tells us,
mixed honey with the wort from which they brewed their beer.
The ancient Irish also mixed honey with their Cuirm, or ale,
and with other drinks included under the term Lin ; but I.
cannot say whether it was before or after the fermentation. If
added before, it would make the beer stronger and more intoxicating
The brewing of beer appears to have been the privilege of
Flaths. The Fer Fothlai, or wealthy middleman who had
Ceiles to whom he gave cattle, received his rent in corn, " for
he is not entitled to malt until he is a Flath". The Brughfer
must have had the privilege of brewing, in virtue of his
functions as public hospitaller, as he was bound to have a vat
of ale always ready for the refreshment of a Rig, a bishop, a
poet, a judge, or other person, and their respective suites entitled »
mi in to public entertainment. In Germany also the brewing of beer
appears to have been in the middle ages a privilege of the

nobility, and in some parts this privilege came down to
comparatively modern times.
Another drink of the ancient Irish, which was only second
in importance to, though perhaps considered a nobler drink
than, Cuirm or beer, was Mede, or metheglin, the Metu of the
Germans, the Medu or Meodu of the Anglo-Saxons, and the
Mjoor (?) of the Norwegians. The great banqueting hall of
Tara was called the Tech Mid ckuarda, or " mead circling
house". The great attention paid to the culture of bees, as is
proved by the numerous laws and legal decisions concerning
them which have come down to us, and the large quantities
of honey supplied as rents and tributes to the Kings and
other Flaths, show that mead was a general and favourite
drink of the ancient Irish; for although, as we have seen
from the account of the " champion's share " of Bricrius
house, honey was sometimes used in the making of sweet
cakes, there can be little doubt that the greater part of the
honey produced in ancient times was fermented into mead.
This drink is perhaps older than beer ; but, so far as I know, not
there is no evidence that at any time in Ireland it was the
exclusive intoxicating drink of the Irish, or that it was
generally used as beer. As in the older songs of the Edda
from the Niebelungen Saga, so in all the older Irish poems and
tales, the heroes drink beer. Metheglin was probably made by
the ancient Irish by simply dissolving honey in water, as the
Romans did, but in medieval times aromatic plants seem to
have been added, as in France,and perhaps in Germany also.
The brewing of mctheglin in the south of Ireland came down to
within my own memory, but is, I believe, now extinct there.
It was as much esteemed in Ireland as wine, and was considered
as the especial drink of women.

The ancient Irish also made a kind of cider called Nenadmim
from the wild or crab apple—numbers of apple-trees being planted in
hedge-rows and greatly prized. A drink
bearing the same name is mentioned as being made from
the "woodberry", probably the Vaccinum myrtillus, and
uliginosum, called in Irish Fraocháin, or Fraoclioga, and commonly
called " Frochans",popularly known in Cork and in
the west of England as Whorts. This liquor seems to have
been the same as that known in later times as " bogberry wine."
The name Bear Lochlanach, or " Norse beer", or more popularly "
Danish beer", given to it, shows that the Norsemen,
like the modern Icelanders, made a similar drink. According
to Herr Weinhold, a berry wine or acid drink is also still made
beer" of - Heather in the German Alps in Carinthia. The " heather beer"
which the Danes arc supposed to have made from the common heath, is a
The only way in which heath could be used for making beer would be as
a substitute for hops, but
even for this use of it there is no evidence whatever.

-Source: On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish, O'Curry,
Eugene, 1873