Irish emigrants are famously known as being some of the most well-travelled on earth. To borrow the words of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, they fling themselves all over the planet in search of a new life, better opportunities or – probably for many – a chance to escape the dreary wet climate that permeates all aspects of life on Ireland.
But this year, in 2013, Ireland is calling for its long-lost American cousins and barbeque-loving Australian siblings, among others, to return home. ‘The Gathering’ is a worldwide, citizen-led initiative from Discover Ireland that is aimed at inviting all Irish people, near and far, to reunite with friends and family back home. Even if you just want to visit the country, 2013 is the year in which to do it. With all these reunions, Ireland will be hosting a pretty big dinner party all year long.
And there is nothing better than returning home to enjoy a home-cooked meal with friends and family. For those returning to Ireland this year, here is just a small selection of the deliciousness that awaits you.
For a long time, Ireland has been staunchly associated with the humble potato; a staple since its arrival from the Americas in the 1600s. Champ is made by mashing boiled potatoes together with milk and spring onions, or scallions as they are called in Ireland. Often served as a side dish, champ makes what would otherwise be a boring bowl of mashed potato, into a creamy, oniony goodness. And don’t be shy with the butter, lash it on and enjoy it. This is Irish home cooking at its finest.
Wheaten and Soda Bread
Traditional Irish bread is made by combining wheat flour with baking soda and buttermilk, which is the rising agent instead of yeast. This concoction makes the flavourful and somewhat tangy soda bread (when made with white flour) and wheaten bread (made with wholegrain flour). Best served just out of the oven with – you guessed it – a generous helping of butter melting gently on top. Mmm.
You’re never far from water when you’re in Ireland. Hemmed in by the English Channel on one side and the wild Atlantic on the other, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood on the Emerald Isle. Here you’ll find Dublin Bay Prawns, otherwise known as langoustines or scampi, freshwater eel (regarded with suspicion by the locals, but this has become one of Northern Ireland’s most important exports) and of course, the shellfish from Dublin’s unofficial city anthem – cockles and mussels.
Full Irish Breakfast
And after your Gathering, when you’re all talked out, listened to all the stories, danced all the dances and drank just a few too many Guinesses, your trip back home couldn’t be complete without the local hangover favourite: the full Irish breakfast. A firm feature of most small town cafés, the full Irish breakfast is to Ireland what the pain au chocolat is to France – hardly the healthiest option, but every once in a while you are allowed to indulge yourself, typically at the weekend. This hearty meal is usually served at breakfast time and consists of all those fried foods that you’re supposed to eat in moderation. Two eggs, two sausages, two slices of bacon, two slices of bread, fried, toasted or otherwise. That’s probably enough for most people, right? Then we add the fried tomato, baked beans, mushrooms and black pudding (probably best you don’t know what’s in that) and now it looks a little more like a ‘typical’ full Irish breakfast. Best served with a big cup of strong Irish tea – not a fruit or vegetable in sight.
“In Dublin’s fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
For traditional foodies out there, don’t miss the World Irish Stew Championship gathering on May 1st and 2nd in Sligo. The Westport Festival of Food and Music promises ample amounts of both on June 29th and 30th. And if you happen to be in Dublin during July, then check out the world record attempt for the longest Riverdance in the world – a continuous line of Irish dancers stretching over one kilometre along the banks of the River Liffy in Dublin. Surely a sight for homesick eyes, this world record attempt takes place on Sunday, July 21st.
Inspired to organise a Gathering of your own? Head over to TheGatheringIreland.com to find out more.