Savage Beauty

Once in a person’s lifetime, they need to visit the Green Isle, no matter their heritage. I was fortunate to spend three weeks in Ireland a few years back. Although based in Dublin, I managed several side trips, one that brought me to the picturesque Clifden in Connemara. Oscar Wilde was known to say, “Connemara is a savage beauty,” and as I hiked on a rare sunny afternoon along the High Road taking in the ruined castles and roaming sheep, I experienced the truth of his words. The presence of St. Patrick also adds to the landscape and in many cases exists right along side the Druid mounds, creating sacred sites for pagans and Christians alike. The charm of Ireland strikes all its visitors tramping across those legendary green hills…

Irish or not, there is an universal excitement in the air on March 17th: young girls pick out shiny green ribbons for their hair, mothers rise early to make irish oats, many of us brew a Bewley’s cuppa before heading out to work and every Irish pub opens its doors early and closes them late to accommodate the revelers. So, how do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Sharing food and drink with a table of family and friends I hope!

I know there are plenty of reasons not to eat red meat. And there are equal reasons not to indulge in carb-rich meals. But in our household, we make a few exceptions throughout the year, and St. Paddy’s is one. Our dinner is comprised of a boiled corned beef brisket, potatoes, cabbage and carrots. There is no recipe needed, just time all together in the pot, simmering into something delicious. Afterwards, carve the meat, place on a large platter, surround with all the veggies, and drench with the “pot liquor.”

My contribution to this holiday celebration is the Irish Soda Bread. I wish I could remember where I first found this recipe, but as I have claimed it for three decades, let’s just call it mine. Many people are surprised to find caraway seeds in this bread, but in my household, this is a welcome taste. I also use currants instead of raisins, but again that is according to my family’s taste.

Irish Soda Bread                                                                                          

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. sugar

4 Tbsp. butter

1/2 cup currants (or raisins if you prefer)

1Tbsp. caraway seeds (optional)

3/4 cup sour milk ( add 1 Tbsp. vinegar to milk)

Preheat oven to 375. Sift the first five ingredients together. Cut in the softened butter until the batter looks like small peas. Add currants and caraway seeds. Add milk all at once, and stir until mixed well. Knead a bit, and shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Cut a cross in the middle of the loaf. Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Recipe makes one loaf.

The one beverage needed at the table, Guinness, dark and hearty, will complete your St. Paddy’s celebration perfectly. Erin Go Bragh!!!

**This post is dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandmother, Marjorie Buckley McAllister, herself a wonderful Irish woman, an inspiration to all who knew her and a St. Paddy’s Day baby!

12 thoughts on “Savage Beauty

  1. My trip,one of them,included my 13 year old grandchild, that was so special.We found a wonderful cousin who lived in Dublin,who took us to dinner and a show.Told us where the Irish Players were,and where all the sites and walking tours were stationed.I remember seeing Brian Barough’s harp and the Book of Kells in Ireland,it used to be just open,but now covered in glass…all the artifacts in Trinity College library. Then we trained down to the western most coast of Ireland!!!!!!Now was that a treat…pubbing it every night just to hear the fiddle and piano go at it,as only the Irish can…Beautiful Ireland! Don’t miss it.

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  2. A delightfully nostalgic essay, Moira. I married a first generation Irishman back in the early nineties (I’d known him for years but our paths diverged in that yellow wood), and we took numerous trips to the old country. I’m Scots-Irish–me great-great granddad left Ireland during the Great Famine and settled in Greenwich Village, NYC, so I had roots to explore as well. And I’ve always loved Yeats’ poems and have acted in Synge’s plays, so of course we had to visit the Aran islands where the old mother lost her six fisher sons to the wild waves. You’ve brought so much back to me here!

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