Funny how here in America, we are about to start celebrating everybody’s inner Irish with corned beef and green beer. But in Ireland, nobody eats corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish will be having proper Irish bacon (more like ham than our bacon), potatoes, and cabbage, with parsley sauce, thank you very much. Or maybe a nice stew.
Irish cooking tends to be a big joke here in the US, though that is quickly passing. The bad Irish food rap though, isn’t really Ireland’s fault. In reality, bad Irish food is more a symptom of poverty and repression suffered at the hands of the English. Irish people do not refer to the potato famine as a famine. Instead, they call it The Great Hunger.
The famine and starvation were more a form of genocide, and Ireland during the famine years was actually a net exporter of food. The Irish had been kicked off their farms, their land confisgated by the British, who then stocked the farms with cattle to satisfy the insatiable British demand for beef.
In 1845 alone, Ireland exported 200,000 head of livestock, 2,000,000 quarts of grain, thousands of barrels of “corned” beef (named for the corn-sized chunks of salt used in the preserving process) and several hundred million pounds of flour – all under military and naval escorts.
The Irish have a long history of healthy, diversified agricultural practices and certainly would not have been caught with their entire food supply dependent on one single variety of one single crop if they had a choice.
Facts and statistics don’t nearly convey the tragedy and cruelty these resilient people endured. According to one Polish observer, corpses lined roads with green mouths from eating grass, whole families standing in snow in complete nakedness having pawned their clothes, or a starving mother half insane thrusting her dead child forward and begging for a coffin.
England being, at that time, the wealthiest nation in the world.
Funny how today, we who rebelled with all our might against the golden handcuffs of England, have today, manifested a very similar nation to the old British Empire. The same platitudes about withholding charity and assistance lest the poor become lazy were popular among wealthy British then, just as they are today, here in the US.
Oh sure, tomorrow is a day of fun and revelry, well deserved for sure. But the great Irish thinker, Edmund Burke reminds us, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”
Sooo, on this eve before St. Patrick’s Day, let’s give a nod to the real Ireland, and the stoic pluck of all the Irish forced to harsh new lives in America, without whom The United States of America would be a very different place.