Irish Roots and American Promise

Is Traditional Irish Food in America Accurate?

Traditional Irish Food for St. Patrick's Day

St Patrick’s Festival is Ireland’s largest national festival. (Photo Credit: Tourism Ireland)

by Allison Gray

If an Irishman came to America on St. Patrick’s Day, he might be a little bit shocked by the leprechaun outfits, green beer guzzlers, and yes, even the corned beef and cabbage.

To be Irish in America is no rare thing — about 34.5 million people in the United States claim Irish heritage according to the 2011 U.S. Census, which is more than seven times the population of Ireland itself.

Despite the sizeable Irish-American population, the dishes Americans perceive as “traditional Irish food” are not entirely representative of actual Irish food, according to many respected people in the Irish food industry.

The first time Irish Chef Noel McMeel tasted corned beef and cabbage was actually in Connecticut when he was 20 years old. McMeel is the executive head chef at the Lough Erne Golf Resort & Hotel.

“Some Americans still think we still live in straw houses and we all have a donkey and cart, just like in the film ‘The Quiet Man,’” McMeel said.

Chef Darina Allen, owner of Ireland’s foremost cooking school called Ballymaloe, describes the country’s food culture over the past 30 years as a “food revolution,” with its artisan sector and farmhouse cheese makers emerging in prevalence.

“Gradually, the perception of Ireland as the land of corned beef and cabbage is changing,” she said.

Irish-American cookbook author Margaret Johnson, said that corned beef and cabbage is really an American interpretation of bacon and cabbage – a more traditional Irish food.

Traditional Irish Food Farmers' Market

The farm to table produce movement has found a home in Ireland such as this farmers’ market in Kildare. (Photo Credit: Tourism Ireland)

Though these are not the conditions modern Irish people deal with, those in the food industry are still very in touch with the land they farm.

“We in Ireland believe very much that we need to be putting Irish ingredient-led cuisine at every point from farm to table,” McMeel said.

He boils the Irish food industry down to five basic pillars: the quality of the food, ingredients and taste, the use of local and seasonal produce, the championing of local artisan producers, the personality of the cuisine and the service, and the hospitality and service.

Robbins: Celebrating the rich legacy of ‘the giving Irish’

The phrase “fighting Irish” did not originate with Notre Dame’s football team, but with the Irish immigrant soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. It was Confederate General Robert E. Lee himself who is said to have coined the term, a testament to the bravery and effectiveness of the so-called “Irish brigades” that helped save their new nation.

When Irish statesman Eamon de Valera came to America in 1919 to generate support for the Irish cause, he naturally came first to Boston. There he told a huge rally in Fenway Park what the phrase meant. “What we actually mean when we talk about it,” he explained, “is an indomitable spirit, a commitment, never tentative, always fully committed, to life itself…..that’s really the spirit of ‘the Fighting Irish.”

Ireland’s magic is plain to anyone who visits the Emerald Isle, but it is hardly the country’s physical beauty alone that furnishes the magic. Since time immemorial the Irish have been gifted at community – at nurturing and preserving communal celebration of tradition, music, humor, literature and memory. They’ve been gifted as well at transplanting community to the places to which painful circumstances have forced them to emigrate – and then nurturing and preserving community in those places.

America has been a blessed beneficiary of this Irish gift, and Boston has perhaps been the most blessed of the blessed. Those who have interacted with Boston – as students, or as patients or as transplants themselves – have reason to know that the phrase should be “the giving Irish.” The imprint of Irish-Americans on Massachusetts is vast and deep. But you can see and breathe it all over Boston. There is a great deal that is generous and good here, and so much of it has an Irish-American aspect.

University President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J.,  is stepping in as Fordham Conversations host. He is joined by John D. Feerick, Dean emeritus and professor of law at Fordham Law School. They will discuss his memoir, That Further Shore: A Memoir of Irish Roots and American Promise. Feerick discusses his family, Irish history and his career as a Lawyer.

Father McShane:

Good morning, I’m Father McShane and I’ve been asked to be the guest host for Fordham Conversations. I must tell you I was very honored to be asked to do this today because it gives me the opportunity to have a long conversation with a dear friend of mine, one of the most respected and loved members of the Fordham community, John Feerick, who had, as many of you know, a legendary run of 20 years as the dean of Fordham Law School. After many years of people asking him to put his thoughts down on paper in the form of an autobiography, he has finally done so. The autobiography has a marvelous title, it comes from Seamus Heaney: “That Further Shore: A Memoir of Irish Roots and American Promise.” It is my honor now to introduce to you all for a conversation, John Feerick.

John Feerick:

Thank you very much, Father.

Father McShane:

John, I must say when I was asked to read your autobiography, I accepted not the challenge, but the gift of the opportunity very eagerly. But I have to tell you at the outset, I wondered how would this man, who has spent a lifetime in service doing extraordinary things, but always being a man of great humility, how is he going to write and autobiography which will give us all a sense of who he is and what he had done? 

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