Dia dhuit! Hello from the Emerald Isle, aka Ireland. Having lived in Boston, we’re familiar with American interpretations of Irish culture, especially around St. Patrick’s Day: corned beef and cabbage, beer, and shamrocks galore. There’s that saying that everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day–I’m most definitely not Irish most days of the year, though Derek is a wee bit Irish on his maternal grandmother’s side. Let’s say that everyone’s Irish this weekend, too, shall we? And let’s go beyond St. Patrick’s Day in the United States, and learn about Ireland itself.
Since watching a music performance as part of our previous gloebtrot to Iraq had worked out nicely, we decided to do something similar for Ireland, watching a 2009 NPR Tiny Desk Concert given by The Swell Season, a Dublin-based folk duo, who might be best known for starring in a 2007 Irish film Once, and winning the 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly,” a song featured in that film. The duo no longer seems to be performing together, but you can still enjoy their Tiny Desk Concert here:
For breakfast the next morning, I made a pared down, vegetarian version of the traditional Irish breakfast, leaving out the bacon, black and white pudding, and sausages. It seemed like we had plenty with fried eggs, browned tomatoes, and potato farls, which are kind of like mashed potato pancakes. We also enjoyed some hot Irish breakfast tea. The Irish are the second biggest tea drinkers in the world, consuming about 4.8 pounds per person annually according to a 2014 report. (Turkey holds the top honors, at 7 pounds per person per year.)
After our hearty breakfast, we made our grocery shopping rounds, which included grabbing potatoes, cabbage (of course), and also some Irish butter and cheese. I had some of the cheese once Derek snapped the cover photo above, and found it nice and creamy. Derek had more tea (but was probably still lagging behind an Irish person, who supposedly drinks six cups of tea a day).
For lunch, we had vegan corned beef (made from seitan) with boiled potatoes and cabbage. I made the corned beef the night before, so it was easy to just boil some potatoes and cabbage, and reheat slices of the corned beef. I’ve actually never had the quintessential St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage before I became a vegetarian (though I think I’ve had corned beef sandwiches), so I’m not the best judge of how close this vegetarian version is to the real deal. The seitan corned beef was rather salty, but the potatoes and cabbage balanced it out.
Now that we had quite a bit of Irish food in our systems, we turned to Geography Now to get better acquainted with Ireland in other ways besides food. A few things I learned from this episode: 1) Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was probably Welsh, not Irish, 2) Halloween’s origins can be traced to the Gaelic holiday Samhain, and 3) Barby, who is about an eighth Irish, is more Irish than Derek.
Derek baked a loaf of real Irish soda bread in the afternoon, which I guess I’ve never had before, since authentic Irish soda bread doesn’t have raisins or caraway (both are American additions), and I’ve only had soda bread with raisins and caraway, or with just raisins.
We had the soda bread as part of dinner later–Derek made colcannon, essentially a mashed potato dish with shredded cabbage mixed in, some carrots, and I reheated some of the corned beef, to add a bit of protein to the meal.
After dinner, we watched the film My Left Foot, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, about the Irish writer and painter Christy Brown, who had severe cerebral palsy at birth but taught himself to use his left foot. Here’s the trailer, though it doesn’t give viewers a good sense of the story:
We squeezed in a Rick Steves video that gave us an introduction Dublin and some of the sites in the surrounding countryside, before calling it a night.
The next morning, we breakfasted on more potato farls, tomato, egg, and tea, and then watched two more videos: a Wolters World piece on the 10 things that will shock tourists coming to Ireland, and a “short” (roughly one hour) history of Ireland, which covered prehistoric Ireland, Celtic Ireland, Viking invasion, Norman and English invasions, subjugation under the English (including the Great Famine, triggered by a potato blight, and mass immigration to America), and the partition which resulted in Northern Ireland remaining under English rule and independence for the rest of Ireland.
We then ventured out of the apartment and to a neighborhood in Buffalo we haven’t really been to before, South Buffalo, which has historically been where the Irish community settled in the city. You can read a little bit about the neighborhood here on the Buffalo Niagara tourism website. We found the sign welcoming us to the Irish Heritage District.
Along Abbott Road, there are street signs in Gaelic, like this one near the Buffalo Irish Center, which is closed on Sundays (we did check its calendar for Saturday, but didn’t find any special events taking place).
We also walked by an Irish imports store, Tara Gift Shoppe, which looked quite charming, but was, alas, also closed on Sundays.
Of course, no Irish American neighborhood would be complete without some pubs. We walked by several, and stopped at The Blackthorn for lunch. Derek started off with a Guinness, probably the most well-known Irish beer. I stuck with a water, but oddly enough, my water came in a glass with the Guinness logo, but Derek’s stout was in a plain glass:
For food, Derek had the shepherd’s pie, which, according to the menu is “The Irishman’s Favorite.” There wasn’t anything Irish that was also vegetarian, so I had a mandarin orange goat cheese salad and a side of the jalapeño-cheese tater tots the restaurant is allegedly famous for.
Buffalo has a few other Irish-related things of note, which we didn’t personally see this weekend, but are still worth mentioning: a memorial commemorating the Irish Famine along the waterfront, and The Irish Classical Theatre Company, which, unfortunately for us, hasn’t started its 2018-2019 season yet. The South Buffalo Irish Festival is also taking place just a few weekends from now, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, but again, timing’s not on our side, since I’ll be out of town then. But I think what we managed to do in Buffalo this weekend is still pretty impressive.
Back at home, we learned about the Irish language and how it fell largely out of use, and how it’s slowly making a resurgence in Ireland, with students ages 5-18 required to learn Irish in school, the growing number of Irish immersion schools and summer camps, and an increase in Irish language media. The video also talked about the growing interest in learning the Irish language in the United States among Irish Americans.
For dinner, Derek made us a vegan version of Irish stew that we ate with soda bread.
So concludes our Irish weekend. Traveling to Ireland someday has been on both of our bucket lists for a while, before we even knew each other, and I think this weekend has only piqued our interest further. Go raibh maith agat, Éireann! Thank you, Ireland! Slán go fóill–see you later! Next up: Israel!