What The Real Irish Eat On Saint Patrick’s Day


by Kevin Thomas (edited by Lynne Hand)

During my travels I have always been amazed by the perception that people have of what Irish food is.  I have had numerous conversations with people trying to tell me the foods that myself and my family eat. which is completely contrary to what I know we eat. One of the biggest misconceptions is about “Corned Beef and Cabbage”, this is not a common dish in Ireland at all.  In fact it is generally confined to the small restaurants in tourist areas to cater for the hoards expecting everyone living on the island of Ireland to be tucking into this on a daily basis.  We do however have a dish similar to this, it is not eaten very regularly and certainly not on Saint Patrick’s Day or any other day of celebration.  It is “Bacon and Cabbage”, not the type of bacon that is fried but more like a boiled ham. So what will Irish people in (living in Ireland) eat on Saint Patrick’s day?

The day is more than likely going to start out with an “Irish Breakfast” this comprises of fresh eggs, normally fried, along with 2 sausages, 2 rashers of bacon, grilled tomatoes, black pudding, white pudding, mushrooms and Irish brown bread.  Bacon in Ireland is back bacon and is meatier bacon than is sold in the United States, its closest equivalent being what is called Canadian bacon in the US.  And then there are the puddings, sold in packages the size similar to a salami. Black pudding is really a blood sausage which is a staple across the European continent. The French call theirs ‘boudin noir,’ the Spanish ‘morcilla,’ the Germans ‘blutwurst,’ and the Italians ‘sanguinaccio.’  Irish brown bread is sometimes made with oatmeal, but its unique taste comes from using the finest milled wheat.

This will see you right through the day, giving you all the energy required to survive the hustle and bustle generated by the parades that spring up in all the towns and cities.  After this, and maybe a few pint of Guinness, it’s back home for dinner. Not what you imagine – no corned beef and no cabbage – a Saint Patrick’s Day meal is generally a joint of lamb roasted in the oven with rosemary and garlic.


Lamb trimmings and chopped bones from the butcher
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 leg of lamb bone in, approx 2kg (4½lb)
6 garlic cloves, halved
1 bunch fresh rosemary
15g (½oz) softened butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Seasoned vegetables, to serve


1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
2. In the bottom of a roasting tin scatter the chopped bones, trimmings and garlic head.
3. Make 2.5cm (1in) deep incisions in the lamb, into each incision insert the garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary.
4. Rub the butter over the lamb and place the leg on top of the bones
5. Season and place in the oven for 1-1½ hours (15 minutes per 450g/1lb for rare and 20 minutes for medium) turning over half way through.
6. Remove the lamb from the oven, season again and transfer to a tray to rest.
7. To make the gravy: Place the roasting pan over a moderate heat to caramelise the lamb juices, this will take 2-3 minutes. Strain off any excess fat. Pour in 350ml/12fl oz cold water, reduce heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Strain through a sieve. Serve the lamb with the gravy and seasonal vegetables.

Served with creamed potatoes, roasted vegetables (potatoes, carrots and parsnips) with peas and broccoli. The dessert is normally hot apple tart served with custard and cream.


For the apple compote
80g (3oz) unsalted butter
600g (1lb 5oz) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
80g (3oz) caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways, seeds scraped out

For the tart
Flour, for dusting
250g (9oz) puff pastry, thawed overnight in the fridge if frozen
6 Cox’s apples, peeled and cored
Squeeze of lemon juice
Caster sugar, for sprinkling
Custard and whipped cream to serve

Later that evening, if you still have room, it will be Irish brown bread with cream cheese and Irish Smoked Salmon.

So there you have it, it’s lamb instead of Corned Beef and leave the cabbage out.

!Note: Caster sugar or castor sugar is the British term for what is known in the US as superfine sugar. However it is the standard sugar in many countries. Basically it is coarser than icing sugar and not as coarse as granulated sugar.

About the author: Paddy the loveable Leprechaun