Food, feasting and folklore

Get a real taste for Ireland's Ancient East, the Bread Basket of Ireland

A cultural identity of a nation is defined by many things and one of the main influences is the country’s cuisine. Ireland has a proud history and culture of food, a gastronomic identity that can compete with any - complex and fascinating, it is reflective of the history of our people and our island.

Ireland’s Ancient East weaves together our rich food heritage, with stories from our past and present, presented to us in experiences in the company of the finest natural storytellers in the world.

Ireland is a fertile island, with some of the best arable land on earth, set in some of the richest seas. Her crystal lakes and rivers teem with fish and the forests abound in game. It has always been so. Ireland has always been plentiful.

The history of Ireland’s people is so intrinsically linked to their food and drink and how it changed through the ages. Let food be your key to understanding thousands of years of history in Ireland’s Ancient East. Eat the same food our ancestors did, connect with the land, listen to the stories and create your own unique experience.

Olivia Duffy’s Maperath Farm, just outside Kells, Co. Meath is in the heart of the Boyne Valley. Here the story of Ireland’s food history comes to life. This family run farm is committed to the traditional methods of food production and preparation, producing free range turkeys and geese and farming the land naturally as Irish people have done for centuries. Observe and experience the agricultural tradition that has sculpted Ireland’s Ancient East over many generations.

A land of plenty
The first settlers are believed to have arrived from Britain, some 12,000 years ago. They found a rich abundance of food in wild garlic, wild watercress, myrtle berries and grouse. The rivers yielded freshwater mussels, salmon and trout. The shorelines would have provided rich pickings for early Irish settlers, who would have scavenged oysters, scallops, mussels and herrings.

The main crops cultivated were wheat and barley and they remained the principal of the Irish diet for thousands of years. A porridge meal would have been the main dietary constituent for both the wealthy elite and the poorest slaves, with the only real difference in the size of the portions.

In Gaelic culture, social hierarchy and wealth was defined by a person’s ownership of cattle. For this reason, beef cattle, which are not indigenous to Ireland but were imported by migrating dairy farmers were not slaughtered for meat, only if they did not produce milk. White meats were far more common and beef didn’t appear in the Irish diet for a long, long time. Dairy began to become an intrinsic part of the natives’ diet and the birth of Ireland’s dairy industry saw a new economy develop on the island.

Descriptions of the types of cheeses that were eaten at the time speak of ‘yellow, bubbling cheeses’. These were rich unpasteurised curds and whey that required a lot of chewing and digestion. It is also interesting that Queen Meave herself was killed by a piece of cheese, fired from the sling of Furbaide who sought revenge for the death of his mother, while she bathed in a pool on Inchcleraun, an island on Lough Ree.

Discover the bountiful gifts, the wealth of edible and medicinal wild plants of Ireland's land with an individually tailored wild food walk or workshop with Wild Food Mary.

Discover sun gods,bog roads and legendary High Kings

Follow this itinerary in Ireland's Ancient East to retrace the steps of Ireland's first famers

Follow this itinerary in Ireland's Ancient East to retrace the steps of Ireland's first famers

Pass through the pristine green fields and age-old bogs of this trail and you’re hitting the very centre of Ireland’s ancient history. See things through the eyes of our ancestors as they sat around campfires 9,000 years ago, celebrated sun gods and built incredible oak roads. Swirling with myth, rippling with history and surrounded by some of Ireland's most haunting landscapes, this three-day tour is more than just a step back in time – it's an escapade with the ancients.

Butter
Irish butter is sometimes called ‘Irish gold’, and with some of the richest pastures in the world, the quality of the milk and butter produced cannot be rivalled. It is one of our most important exports and has been for a very long time.
While butter was exported over the years to Europe and later as far as Brazil and India, wrapped in Irish Oak, it was considered the height of luxury, available to only the wealthiest connoisseurs. The butter was produced locally but moved through the country on a network of bog roads, wooden constructions laid atop the uneven and murky expanses of bog that prevail in the midlands of Ireland. These roads allowed the free movement of goods, from east to west, while the river Shannon remained the main artery of trade movement from north to south.

A peat environment has preservative properties. For this reason it was thought that butter, prepared at certain times of the year was buried to keep it fresh for leaner times. Other theories claim that the practice of burying butter was a ritual sacrifice to appease the gods and guarantee a plentiful supply of milk from the herd. The oldest known find of bog butter was found in Tullow Co. Offaly in 2013 and weighed 22 pounds and is believed to be 5000 years old.”

Discover the unique ecology, history and culture of Irish bogs across Ireland's Ancient East at the Bog Of Allen Nature Centre, Lullymore, Co. Kildare and Lough Boora Discovery Park, Lea Beg, Co. Offaly.

Remarkably bog butter still looks and smells like butter, the few brave people who have tasted it have claimed that it tastes like a pungent cheese, not necessarily recommended. However if you want to see some of this millennium-old bog butter on display you can see a superb specimen in Cork’s Butter Museum.

The Butter Museum
The City of Cork has a fascinating maritime history, a vitally important provisioning port for the British Empire, it flourished and was fortified. The stream of emigration to North America and Australia further vitalised the port and city, the last port of call before British and Irish ships set off for the New World. While all manner of goods were exported from Cork all over the world, Irish butter was an integral part of those provisions.

A butter market was established in the Shandon area of Cork in 1730. Trade was so busy that they soon had to construct buildings to house the Cork Butter Exchange. The market became the most important export point of butter in Britain and Ireland as butter was exported to the four corners of the British Empire.

#bogbutter #corkbuttermuseum

A photo posted by Joe Escandon (@rich_inner_life) on

The Butter Exchange thrived throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and at its trading peak in the 1880s was handling 500,000 casks per year valued at £1.5 million. However the Butter Exchange’s success began to wane as European butteries began to compete and 1923 it closed. In 1997 the Cork Butter Museum opened its doors to the public. It houses a fascinating collection of the tools and the crafts that reflect the story of a with a once hugely important industry.

The 2016 Midleton Food and Drink Festival

4th - 11th September

Set in the undulating and bountiful countryside of East Cork, Midleton has become a hub of culinary excellence. With a long held and world-renowned reputation for whiskey making and more recently its fine Farmers Market, Midleton is a perfect setting for this Food and Drink Festival. The rich resources of the surrounding farmland and the wealth of excellent seafood available from nearby Ballycotton has made the Festival a celebration of its authentic and locally produced fare!

The Midleton Food and Drink Festival

Get a taste for the Midleton Food Festival here

Kilkenny Castle by night

Grain for the masses
Through the ages, from invasions and conquests, new settlers resulted in the emergence and introduction of food stuffs that impacted the Irish diet. All the evidence points to a diet in which bread, cereals, porridge and milk were the staples in Medieval Ireland. Meat, typically the beef from the unwanted male calves or the aged milch cows, pigs were kept for pork and salted rashers and sheep slaughtered for mutton. While meat was eaten by all members of society, the higher echelons enjoyed a meat rich diet while the poor classes supplemented their gruel with small amounts.

The Normans later brought rabbits, fallow deer and pheasants in the 12th century and introduced more complex methods of preparation involving wines and spices. Beer really became an important constituent of the Irish diet under the Normans.

Savour Kilkenny

28th – 31st October

Highlights of Savour Kilkenny

Get a taste for what Ireland’s Ancient East has to offer at, one of Ireland’s favourite food festivals. Savour gets bigger and better year on year and features fabulous food events at the Savour Village- a foodie heaven with heaps of deliciously tempting food stalls, more celebrity Chef cooking demos, talks, workshops, competitions, and unique dining events.

Get a taste for Savour Kilkenny here.

The Viking influence can be found all along Ireland’s Ancient East but there is probably no other place that bears the influence of the Nordic invaders more than Waterford. The city of Waterford, established by Viking settlers in 853 is a key stone of the Viking legacy in Ireland. A thriving port city for centuries it is also home to one of Ireland’s most unique delicacies – the Waterford Blaa.

Baked them Blaas again #waterfordblaa #irishrolls #realbread #homemade #bread

A photo posted by Antonia L (@sarawak.laksa) on

Introduced in the 17th Century by the Huguenots, who fled persecution in Europe and settled in Ireland, it is a sweet doughy bap or roll that is made in the morning and is said to spoil after only a few hours. The name Blaa is said to come from the French word Blanc because of its very pale colour. The native Irish were said to have trouble pronouncing the French and it evolved to Blaa. Another possibility is a derivation from the French word blé, which is used for certain types of flour, or the Latin root "blandus" which gives the English word "bland" and the Spanish word for soft. Such is the aura of the Blaa it has been awarded Protected Geographical Indication status by the European Commission!
The Waterford Blaa is a food product unique to Waterford and not only does it encapsulate the rich history and heritage of the City but is the flouriest, tastiest bap you could ever hope to serve a breakfast in! Find out more at the Waterford Harvest Festival.

The Waterford Harvest Festival

9th - 11th September

Waterford Harvest Festival

Discover all that the city of Waterford has to offer at the Waterford Harvest Festival. From the best of local artisan produce to world class art and performance, craft beer, cocktails, local specialities as well as stout and oysters and much, much more.

Get a taste for the Waterford Harvest Festival here.

Bishops Palace Waterford

Follow in the footsteps of Labourers and Landlords

Follow this itinerary on Ireland's Ancient East to discover the stories of one of Ireland's most significant chapters in history

Follow this itinerary on Ireland's Ancient East to discover the stories of one of Ireland's most significant chapters in history

Some found hope in the harvest, some led lives of ease – but all the figures you’ll meet on this captivating trail had unique ties to Ireland’s land and great estates. Discover elegance, nature and dramatic tales as you stroll the iconic gardens of Ireland’s magnificent country houses. And unearth the tragic tales and incredible endurance as you tread in the tracks of Ireland’s Famine lives. Be bold and be awed by history’s abiding presence on this vital journey through Ireland’s past.

From the 16th century the English began to conquer Ireland and bring it under control. Cromwell invaded the country and wrought carnage on the people of the island, they were dispossessed and ownership of the land was transferred to English settlers. The Irish became little more than labourers on small tenement land holdings while the fertile farmlands produced food to feed the multitudes across the water in England.

This is the time the potato takes root in the Irish diet. Not indigenous to Ireland the first potatoes were reputed to have been be brought to Ireland by Sir Water Raleigh.
The potato was both a blessing and curse for the Irish peasant class. The potato was easy to grow in small land holdings and could thrive in any conditions. It was such a nutrient-rich carbohydrate that poor people could survive on eating it virtually to the exclusion of all else. They found that with the potato you could feed a family of 10 – 15 people on just one acre and the population boomed because of it. Unfortunately, it also proved their downfall once the potato crop was hit with Blight in 1845.
Many landowners were involved in soup kitchen direct relief projects to help those afflicted in the Famine and also initiated projects such as The Penny Wall build at Curraghmore House one such testament to a landowner-funded aid scheme for the suffering population. The Penny Wall was a 12 mile boundary wall built to provide work during the famine times with the labourers receiving a penny a day plus a bowl of porridge.

Potatoes remain a mainstay staple of our diet to thisday and with no sign of it waning no Irish meal is complete without spuds.

Lakelands International Food Festival

7th & 8th October

The cream of Ireland’s food producers will be displaying their produce at an International Food Festival and business-to-business event in Lanesborough and Ballyleague on Friday October 7th and Saturday October 8th. This fantastic festival will be staged in a giant marquee behind St. Mary’s Hall in Lanesborough and will feature chefs such as Nevan Magure, Lanesborough’s very own Patrick Guilibaud Chef Kieran Glennon and Roscommon’s award winning master baker Margaret Sexton.

Steeped in over 5000 years of history, legend, myth, folklore and stories abound in Ireland’s Ancient East. With rolling green pastures encompassing 17 counties it truly makes it the natural “Bread Basket of Ireland”. For anyone interested in food and our heritage, the two merge to provide an experience millennia in the making, yet contemporary and fresh in the present. Start your journey at www.irelandsancienteast.com.