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Reference Number: FL6802-115141319
This essay was written for assessment in the Food, Festival and Folklore module of the Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture. It was submitted on 4th May, 2021.
Question: “Irish folklore, legends and popular beliefs often reveal something of the traditional Gaelic society’s relationship with and understanding of the natural world.” Discuss and illustrate the veracity of this statement, incorporating some examples from the National Folklore Commission, include a food element or food elements as relevant.
The importance of milk and butter in Ireland has been recorded throughout time and can be fully understood when viewed through the lens of two important days in the Irish calendar of customs: St Brigid’s Day and May Day, or Bealtaine. The early medieval Corpus Iuris Hibernici (Binchy, 1978) records milk and milk products as forms of tithe, land rents, punishments, and remediations, and dictating what milk and milk products should be appropriately used as hospitality depending on a visitors’ rank and standing. These legal tracts underpin the individual and communal importance of milk, its value and esteem, suggesting an inherent knowledge of the nutritional importance of milk in its various forms with the most nutritious of highest value and reserved for those of high status.
The 12th Century Aislinge Meic Con Glinne (Meyer, 1982) makes several references to desirable ‘white meats’ and demonstrates how five hundred years after the creation of the Corpus Iuris Hibernici the importance of milk was evident in the everyday diet of the Irish. Lucas, (1960), wrote how: “Milk constituted virtually the sole food of the ordinary people during the summer,” that cows were kept for their milk, that milk was considered “food for guests” and that a cow would only be killed for meat once deemed too old to yield anymore milk. Milk was an important and valuable source of food in medieval Ireland, something that has persisted to the present time. Those who eked out an existence from subsistence farming knew as much, and that: “The prosperity of the coming year hung on May Day.” (O’Gealbhán, 2021).
Much depended on acquiring milk in sufficient quantity, also its quality for making good butter (Lysaght, 1994). Dairying work, calving, milking, and butter making fell to the women of the farm, a likely extrapolation of the legend of St Brigid. St Brigid, (also Bríg, Brighid, Bríd, Bridget and Bride), one of Ireland’s three patron saints, is an influential figure in pagan and Christian lore whose feast day occurs on 1st February, marking the first day of spring in Irish custom, also known as St Bridgit’s Day, Imbolc or Oímelg in ancient Irish, a word that literally translates as ‘lactation’. O hOgáin (2006) says:
“St. Brigid has always been regarded as the special patroness of farm animals and crops […] portrayed as having the power to multiply such things as butter, bacon, and milk […]”
In Irish folklore, tangible boundaries play an important role in separating the intangible boundaries between worlds. O hOgáin goes onto say accounts from Medieval hagiographies “detail that Brigid was born as her mother brought milk into the druid’s house at sunrise – the mother had one foot outside the threshold and the other foot ‘neither without or within.’” The inclusion of the detail around sunrise speaks to the folklore belief that magic was at its most potent on the eve of a feast day expounding belief that boundaries, and events that happen near boundaries, are powerful. A third boundary is in play in this account: that between the inner world and the outer world, experienced as childbirth. This trinity of boundaries reinforce a portrayal of Brigid as a woman of power, supernatural or otherwise. The trinity appears again as the three patron saints of Ireland, Patrick, Brigid and Colmcille. O hOgáin provides further examples where boundaries and trinities are associated with St Brigid:
“Foremost among the customs was that of the Cros Bhride (Bridhid’s Cross), […] in Ulster a simple three-legged type was sometimes used for cow byres. Equally prevalent was the custom of leaving a piece of cloth outdoors from sunset to sunrise on the eve of the feast in the belief that the saint would touch it and thus confer on it protective and curative properties. […] A more general practice was to include the residue from the making of Brigid’s Crosses in new spancels for the cows, so as to protect them during the ensuring year.”
St Brigid is such a key figure in Irish folklore to the extent Christianity could not supplant her, (O hOgáin, 2006) instead, realising Brigid as a saint of importance in day-to-day life of the rural peasantry and enfolding that into Christian teaching. This straddling of belief systems re-emerges at Bealtaine and illustrates how the link between Brigid and Bealtaine creates a continuum in what was a pivotal time of year in terms of survivalism while blurring the boundaries of how to celebrate deities and customs: the festival of St Brigid is religious whereas the festival of Bealtaine is pagan. Both are associated with nature in as much as they are markers of significance in the seasonal calendar, it is the May Day festival of Bealtaine where symbolism, beliefs, and connections with nature and preternatural peak and are heavily associated with the feminine: in symbolism of fertility and abundance, but also witchcraft, charm setters, Bean Feasa; coinciding when milk is at its richest and butter making, the engine room of the domestic economy, is in earnest. Such depictions of women and their influence on the natural world are two sides of the same coin and can be interpreted either as locating women in positions of power or highlighting their precarious position in traditional Irish society.
Folklore is plentiful around Bealtaine accentuating a vernacular anxiety in anticipation of prosperity or failure based on the ability of women to make plentiful and good butter. Given the significance of butter to the rural Irish in actuality (the difference between full bellies and not) and the link between dairying and beliefs (both pagan and Christian), it is unsurprising that a complex system of customs, beliefs and superstitions to protect butter and milk ‘profits’ from theft during the festival of May, (Lysaght, 1994), developed “as a way to explain the inexplicable,” (Mac Néill et al, 1977), and which pervade in Ireland until 1940’s, only waning with “the coming of the creameries [which] put an end to the fear of butter-stealing […] In their time, nevertheless these things must have been the cause of grief and of terror to many, and their passing away is nothing but a blessing,” (Danaher, 1964).
St Brigid, Bealtaine, and Sympathetic Magic
St Brigid’s Day marks the beginning of spring and Bealtaine marks the beginning of summer, (Danaher, 1959) both connected to the importance of dairying to the rural (peasant) classes. Superstitions are heightened at Bealtaine, a fretfulness about protection at a liminal time when the veil between this world and the other world is at its thinnest and things of value become vulnerable to malevolent magic. This is in contrast with Samhain when liminal time also occurs but is associated with welcoming beings and visitations from the other world.
The folklore, beliefs, and customs prevalent at St Brigid’s Day and Bealtaine differ but are not mutually exclusive. The belief in the employment of sympathetic magic is widespread at Bealtaine, especially in relation to butter protections, stealing and remedy. Frazer, (1925), identifies two branches of sympathetic magic: Homeopathic (like for like) and Contagious Magic (continuous effect) and says: “the laws of sympathetic magic are not limited to human action but are universal in application.” This can be seen in some of the protective measures employed during Bealtaine to prevent butter stealing. Taking a lit coal from the fire; placing yellow blooms at boundary places; tying the butter churn with rowan branches; skimming May morning dew, water from the surface of a well or streams and rivers; or driving an iron nail into the bottom of the butter churn – all of which are human actions. Driving cattle over embers or “between two fires”; smoke escaping from the chimney, or the motif of the changeling hare suckling from a cow’s udder, could all be universal application where other aspects of nature are employed: the elements, other creatures of the natural world, etc. (Danaher, 1964; Lysaght, 1994; O’Gealbhan, 2021; National Folklore Collection).
“Magic is always considered art, not a science” (Frazer, 1925), that “the principles of association are excellent in themselves, and indeed absolutely essential to the working of the human mind.” Magic is pre-science and reiterates O’Neill’s statement that it provided a framework for viewing and understanding the world at a time when the inexplicable and science were strangers to each other. At Bealtaine, all thoughts are occupied by butter making and the magic, malevolent or benevolent, that might be performed in either the protection of the butter profits or the stealing of them. Lysaght (1994) notes that the “profit thief was invariably believed to be a woman,” and as women were responsible for butter making and that good quality butter could produce sufficient income for the year ahead, Lysaght also suggests that this pressure to provide may have given rise to the notion of The Butter Thief:
“Since milk and butter production were the responsibility of the women of the community, and since they no doubt wished to be as successful as possible in this vital undertaking, they were, of course, in competitions with each other.”
Lysaght goes on to state that women farmers or any woman who was alone, independently, or otherwise, and in some way “socially unsupported” were also viewed with suspicion. By Bealtaine, women have transgressed from being associated with a goddess figure of abundance and miracles, to an association with malevolent charms and spells capable of thievery; from a persona of captivating beauty to one of an old hag possessed of magic. O’Catháin (1975) goes further and states: “even a little special or occult knowledge, whether for good or evil, perhaps, even an innocent expertise in the medicinal use of herbs, for example, was sufficient to set any woman apart and qualify her as a ‘cailleach’ or a ‘máistreas’…” When much depends on butter, the status of women in society is on shaky ground, and this is emphasised further in the benign consequences of men in relation to butter stealing: men ‘accidentally’ steal the butter seemingly without understanding the effect of their actions or incantations; and whereas women must employ sympathetic magic to make good their thievery, men simply return what is considered excess to their share of the butter profits.
The National Folklore Collection of Ireland holds 13,767 mentions of butter in the transcripts of the Manuscript Collections, and includes accounts of customs, beliefs, stories and superstitions of butter thefts, sympathetic magic applied, and the differences between women and men in relation to butter stealing. Even the material culture used in milking, skimming and butter making is catalogued such is their importance in the domestic economy, but also because of their vulnerability to sympathetic magic.
Danaher (1964) noted that milk, butter, and cream all remained vulnerable until taken to market. The use of salt in butter was a popular method of protection especially when butter left the house; yet salt is an excellent preserver, something that would have been well known in the context of meat and fish curing for winter stores. Use of salt in butter is an excellent example of where the act has a basis in what we now understand as science, but at the time adding salt to butter was used to promote good luck – a preservative, nevertheless. Butter was seen as particularly vulnerable to the actions of hags but also “the Good People”, (Danaher, 1959) or fairies, and various counter charms could be employed to protect butter from their malevolent ways. The use of hot iron in milk when butter wouldn’t come is another example where pre-scientific thinking was deployed in the eradication of spells cast by the wee people, but that could now be explained by the cream being too cold to churn into butter. The belief here is that fairies are vulnerable to iron, one of several protections often cited in the NFC transcripts used against the malevolent magic of fairies, including: fire, salt, running water, and faith (Lysaght, 1994). Other protections are tying red ribbons; use of hawthorn or rowan twigs, wearing one’s clothes inside out, or keeping herbs or yellow flowers in a pocket.
Appendix 1 details a few short examples from the NFC of the use of such items in the protection of cows, butter makers and butter churns. A theme that reoccurs is a belief that butter could be taken, stolen off the milk or the churn; and reinforces the connection between supernatural beings, especially fairies, and abduction (O hOgáin, 2006), or that butter profit could be stolen by an act of sympathetic magic, with or without incantation, such as skimming dew from grass on May Day morning with a rag or a stolen spancel. An incantation combined with a reddened iron coulter was thought highly effective in the return of stolen butter profit:
Come butter, come,
Come butter, come,
Peter stands at the gate
Waiting for a buttered cake,
Come butter, come.
And if the milk has lost its good qualities by means of incantations,
it immediately turns to excellent butter. (Crofton Croker, 1824)
The Image of the Limited Good
Folklore beliefs and customs associated with butter have a close connection to the theory of “limited good” in peasant communities, as documented by Foster (1965):
“Peasants view their […] total environment exists in finite quantity and are always in short supply, as far as the peasant is concerned. […] There is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities.”
In a small community, there is an expectation that each person will have a share of the total amount of butter produced relevant to their position (e.g. number of cows). Should one person suddenly lose the ability to make butter while another suddenly is able to produce more than usual, it upsets the perception of a proportionate share in a limited good – e.g. butter. Foster argues that such communities are closed, therefore any perceived gain at the expense of another’s loss is easily deduced and blame levelled accordingly. The notion of Limited Good “is seen as […] the supreme threat to community stability, and all cultural forms must conspire to discourage changes in the status quo.” When much depends on butter, and women in a closed community are solely responsible for that industry, the competitiveness that Lysaght (1994) identifies between women is intensified; and in the knowledge vacuum created by pre-science, the use of magic and supernature to explain the inexplicable, as O’Neill (1977) puts it, supports belief in malevolent magic and the use of counter charms to undo its effects, thus justifying a belief in butter stealing. Furthermore, a reinforcement that magic ‘happens’ with respect duly accorded to the observation of the folklore, charms and belief structures associated with it.
The Church’s acquiescence to assimilate the cult of St Brigid in its teachings finds itself involved in religious exorcism of pagan spells and fairies, with those afflicted mixing religious and pagan lore and beliefs in banishment of wickedness and malevolence:
Folklore, as it pertains to butter stealing, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts; and speaks to the societal pressure of women in their role as mistresses of an important facet of the domestic economy. It demonstrates how well women in traditional Gaelic society understood the importance of the dairying season – not only for the survival of the family, but also as it pertains to her position in society. Women did not possess such privileges as ownership and status and their position was precarious as a result, therefore it is possible that use of folklore beliefs were deployed as a tool to shift focus away from any perceived inability to provide. The start of dairying season is full of promise, enhanced by the deity status of St Brigid; but come Bealtaine, the milking woman needs to be successful in her endeavours, less she be deigned useless at best; a hag at worst.
Word Count: 2731
Appendix 1: Excerpts from the National Folklore Collection (NFC) referencing folklore, customs, beliefs and superstitions around butter making, butter stealing, accidental butter stealing, charms and counter charms, and material culture.
A. Examples of Charms and Spells
A.1 NFCS 0208: 142; Denis Flynn, Inchinarihen, Co. Cork. Collector: Denis Flynn, Barrlinn National School, Co Cork, 1938. Teacher: Máire Ní Chruadhlaoich. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4921577?pageNum=142
Piseog’s Connected with May Day
Long ago people’s butter used to be “taken” from them, that means some bad minded neighbour used to put bad eggs or something in the dairy. Some people used to go to the priest to pray for them so that they might get their butter back. This is a piseog connected with May Day, “that if you make butter on May Day and if you keep some of the butter in the house for the year, nobody could steal your butter from you. Many people here made it their business to make butter on May Day and they carefully preserved it for the year. Then nobody would have the power to “carry” the butter.
A.2 NFCS 0094: 285; Charles Daly, Belcarra, Castlebar, Co Mayo. Collector: Charles A. Daly, Belcarra (Buachaillí), National School, Co Mayo. Teacher: Seosamh Ó Heireamhóin. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427830?pageNum=285
Taking the Butter off the Milk
Long ago if you went into a house and a churning to be going on you should put a coal under it and a grain of salt into it, and if you did not that person would never have a bit of butter out of it. It happened that a red haired woman went into this house, while a woman was churning and took all the butter on her. For months she had no butter until at last one day a priest, having come into the house, and she told him of how she had been churning for months and never got a bit of butter. He told her to go to the red haired woman and tell her she was down and out and would she kindly spare a bit of butter. She having done as he had commanded her and she always had enough of butter from that day forth.
A.3 NFCS 0123: 183; Rose A Henegan, Tumgesh, Co Mayo. Collector: Rose A Henegan, Tomghéis National School, Co Mayo. Teacher: M. Ó Casaide. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4427956/4360952/4465345
Butter Making – A story – Superstition
There was once a woman on the border of our village, who was supposed to be on the pastures on a May morning before the sun got up and before any smoke came out of any of the chimneys, to pick a certain herb and to skim the well where people went for water to make their butter. It was said that she sold a great amount of butter each week, from one cow and some people said that she used to say “the butter of the village for me”.
Rose A Henegan.
B. Examples of Sympathetic Magic employed in Butter Stealing
B.1 NFCS 0050: 159-160; Michael Kelly, Reyrawer, Co Galway. Collector: Eileen, Réidh Reamhar National School, Co Galway. Teacher: Seán A. Mac Fhloinn. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4583308/4578397
Biddy Early and the Butter
If Biddy Early came into a house and the people churning she would take the butter from them. One time there was an old woman out in Clare. She had the finest “bawn” of cows you could lay eyes on and during one week not a bit of butter would come in the churn if she was churning till morning. Nothing but froth and an awful smell out of it. There was a calf after dying on the woman’s neighbour. Biddy Early had the dead calf dug up and buried in the woman’s land. While the dead calf was in the land she couldn’t get any bit of the butter. She told the priest about Biddy Early and he hunted her out of the place. From that time Biddy Early lived near Feakle and before that she lived near Lough Grainne.
Biddy Early used often go begging house to house. One day, there were three men coming home form digging potatoes with their spades on their shoulders. They met Biddy Early and as she passed them by, one of them saw a briar stuck to her shirt and trailing after her. He took down his spade, cut off the end of the briar and pure new milk ran out of the briar. That night the spade was stolen from him and he said it was Biddy Early stole it.
B.2 NFCS 0637: 153; Cappoquin, Co Waterford. Collector: N/A. Teacher: An tSiúr M. Teresita, Clochar na Trócaire, Ceapach Chuinn. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428096?pageNum=153
My mother always put a spark of fire under the churn or into it, to keep away evil.
The Co. Kerry spailpíns used to come here to dig the potatoes. Five or six were there and the day came very wet, and they were all inside. The mother said they could make the butter, and if they were not at it yet, they couldn’t get it all to turn. One of the men said “I’ll soon find out who is taking it. He reddened the sock of a plough and started beating it with a sledge and it started to blaze so much that they all ran out, they thought he was bringing the devil out of it, and what did they see but a woman walking down the road who had been sick for a long time. I saw her myself. After that they made the butter. I believe myself that the evil spirits were handed down from generation to generation. They can do these things.
B.3 NFCS 1026: 220-221; Mrs Mac Grory (30), Ballymunterhiggin, Co. Donegal. Collector: N/A. Teacher: Eibhlis Ní Mhathghamhna, Loughill National School, Co Donegal. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428250/4388407
Getting Back Stolen Butter
James Loughlin was coming from town one morning at three o’clock. As he was passing along a lonesome road he saw two girls in a field throwing a ball or yarn from one to the other. He stood and watched and soon the ball of yarn was thrown over the ditch and he caught it. He brought it home and threw it up on the “hure” [?] over the fire. Sometime afterwards James get a hole in his stocking and his wife had no yarn to mend it. James thought of the yarn on the “hure” and got up to take it down. When he found it, it was covered with butter. The two girls were supposed to be stealing the butter from cows which were in the field. and get a horse shoe made. The iron must only be heated once. Take it home and when you start churning again put it under the churn. During the churning moans and cries will be heard outside and the butter will be given back. The shoe is supposed to burn the person who stole the milk ad she repents and gives it back.
B.4 NFCS 1026: 128; Mrs F Miller (30), Ballyshannon, Co Donegal. Collector: N/A, Loughill National School, Co Donegal. Teacher: Eibhlis Ní Mhathghamhna. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428250/4388407?pageNum=128
Butter Stolen Off the Churn
Butter is sometimes stolen off the churn. When this happens a person churns for hours and hours and still no butter appears. To get the butter back procure a box of pins and place them beside the fire. Close the door and do not open it no matter what knocks or noises are heard outside. Then continue churning. Many knocks will be heard and many cries and moans. Before long the butter will appear as usual. Out of the box by the fire the pins will have disappeared and drops of blood will be seen on the doorstep. These pins are supposed to stick in the person who has stolen the bitter and this person is supposed to repent and give it back. Only special people will have this power of bringing back the butter. The person is usually a woman. The above is a description of what she tells one to do in a case of stolen butter.
B.4 NFCS 0147: 40; Ballna, Co Mayo. Collector: N/A, Béal Átha ‘n Fheadha, Co Mayo. Teacher: D. P. Ó Cearbhaill. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428053?pageNum=040
This entry is unusual in that the butter is stolen by a man, but it is unclear if the act was accidental, or the appearance of butter thereafter expected or a surprise.
Taking Away the Butter
A man went into a house where the churning was going on, and took a lighted sod to bring to the bog. The woman continued the churning but got no butter. The man when leaving the bog threw the coal in a bog hole and when the man returned to the bog next morning the quenched coal and they woman’s butter were side by side in the bog hole.
C. Examples of Accidental Stealing of Butter by Men
C.1 NFCS 0190: 19-20; William Clancy, Aghanlish, Co Leitrim. Collector: Pádraig Ó Gallchobhair, Ahanlish National School, Co Leitrim. Teacher: Pádraig Ó Gallchobhair. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4602723/4598452/4626435
Taking the Butter on a May Morning
Clancy was profound believer in charms spells superstitious practices. He lived in the downland of Drumcashel in his early days. It was a thickly populated townland and the Clancy family resident was in the centre of what was almost a village. One may day morning he was return from a wake just as the morning was breaking. As he approached the cluster houses he observed an old woman of the place who was looked upon almost as a witch traveling swiftly from house to house. From the eve of each house she pulled a few straws and not ceasing till she had finished every house and pulled a few straws from each. By the time she had a finished she had a fairly good sized bunch of wisps in her hand which bunch she on reaching her house stuck into the thatch just over her own door and then went in closing and bolting the door when inside. the “master” waited for some time till he felt she had retired to bed then he noiselessly crept up to the door of the woman’s house and extracted the bundle of straws she had stuck in and got away as noiselessly as he came. When he reached his own home he stuck the wisps into the eve of his own house and went to bed.
Next day his mother started to churn. After a time she found it impossible to work the “dash” in the churn. She removed the lid to see what was the matter and to her surprise found the churn packed with butter. This she removed and re-started the churning to find the same thing repeated. She continued taking butter from the churn till every available vessel in the house was filled. Soon the news spread of the neighbours churning for hours without a trace of butter appearing on the milk. When the “Master” returned from school and heard of the wonder he took the magic wisps from their hiding place and returned some to each house visited by the witch woman. He also made his mother share the butter amongst the victims. After that things went on normally.
C.2 Accidental Butter Stealing, Use of Incantation, Religious Interception
NFCS 0409: 107-110; Mrs Mary Kirby (72), Kilcarra Beg, Co Kerry. Collector: Bridie Flaherty, Dromclough (C.), Co Kerry. Teacher: N/A. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4613725/4613155/4643643
How People Through Witchery Stole Butter
About fifty years ago a young student lived near Rathea. This time he was home for the Easter holidays, and it happened that he was invited to a friends house to a party.
He was coming home when the sun was rising on May morning. He was coming through a field and he was passing the boundary going into his own farm. He saw an old woman up on the ditch between two white thorn bushes with a reaping hook in her hand.
Every time the wind would blow she would slash the hook towards his neighbour’s cows, and said “half of your butter to me.” The student was surprised, and every time she said “half of your butter to me”. he used say and “the other half to me.” When the sun rose she went home and he went home too.
The next time his mother was making butter at home she couldn’t stir the barrel it was so packed. She was surprised, and wondered where she got all the butter. The student heard her talk about the butter, and said “Mother such a thing” telling her about the woman.
The next day they went to the woman whom the butter was carried from. She had no butter. They told her what happened, and the Student said he was only codding. Then they went and told the priest and the old woman was found out and beaten, and the woman got back her butter again.
That Student was a priest for a long time in America, but now he is dead. His name was Father O’Leary native of Rathea Listowel Co. Kerry.
C.3 Accidental Butter Stealing, Use of Incantation, Religious Interception
NFCS 0228: 76; Thomas Brady, Ballyduffy, Co Longford. Collector: N/A, Druim Bréan Lios National School, Drumbreanlis, Co Leitrim. Teacher: Eibhlín Nic Ghuidhir. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4658459?pageNum=076
Beliefs Concerning Taking of Butter by Witchcraft
A boy named Masterson living in the townland of Enaghan near Arva was minding cows in Cordonaghy (a town land also near Arva) about sixty years ago. He saw a woman come to a well, take off all her clothes and go into the well. She started to teem the water out of the well with a trencher while saying “the whole of it to me”. The boy not understanding that she meant any harm said “the half of it to me”. When he went home his mother churned and found out that she got as much butter from the churning as she would in the ordinary course of events have got from twenty churnings. She told the priest and he said the boy was not accountable since he meant no harm and he blessed the well that the woman was in.
A lot of people in the town land of Cordanaghy failed to get butter from their milk for some time before this but got it after the well was blessed.
In the town land of Fahora lived a family named “Smith” 50 years ago.
They could not get butter from their milk for a considerable time. They were told by someone to milk a cow belonging to all their neighbours in turn and when they’d mix the milk of a cow belonging to the person who practised the witchcraft with the milk of their own cows they’d get back the butter. They milked several cows but without effect until they milked the cow belonging to a man named McNaboe. When McNaboe’s cows milk was mixed with that of their own cows and churned they got a copious supply of butter. They had no hesitation then in saying that the McNaboe family practised witchcraft and made the story public. The McNaboes denied they were guilty and came and took an oath at Moyne Chapel that they were innocent.
References & Bibliography
Figure 1. Lysaght, P., (1994) ‘Women, Milk and Magic and the Boundary Festival of May’ in Long, L., eds. Food and Folklore Reader, 1st edition, Bloomsbury Academic.
Binchy, D. A., ed. (1978) Corpus Iuris Hibernici, 1st edn, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
Danaher, K., (1964), Irish Customs and Beliefs, Mercier Press.
Danaher, K. (1959) ‘The Quarter Days in Irish Tradition’, Journal of Scandinavian Folklore, Vol. 15, pp 47-55.
Foster, G. M., (1965) ‘Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 67, No. 2, pp. 293-315.
Frazer, J. G., (1900), The Golden Bough A Study in Magic and Religion, abridged edition (1994), Macmillan & Co.
Lysaght, P., (1994) ‘Women, Milk and Magic and the Boundary Festival of May’ in Long, L., eds. Food and Folklore Reader, 1st edition, Bloomsbury Academic.
Lucas, A. T., (1960) “Irish Food Before The Potato”, in Gwerin: A Half-Yearly Journal of Folk Life, 3:2, 8-43.
Meyer, K., (1982), Aislinge Meic Conglinne, The Vision of MacConglinne, a Middle-Irish wonder tale, 1st edition, David Nutt London.
O’Catháin, S., O’Flanagan, P., (1975), The Living Landscape Kilgalligan, Erris, County Mayo, 1st edn, Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann An Coláiste Ollscoile, Dublin.
Ó hEochaidh, S., Mac Néill, M., Ó Catháin, S., eds (1977) Fairy Legends from Donegal (Síscéalta ó Thír Chonaill), 1st edn, Dublin, Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann.
O’Gealbhán, C., (13th April, 2021) Lecture Presentation.
O hOgáin, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland, An Encyclopaedia of Myth, Legend and Romance, The Boydell Press.
The National Folklore Collection – multiple entries, refer to Appendix 1.
Crofton Croker, T., (1798), Researches in the south of Ireland illustrative of the scenery, architectural remains, and the manners and superstitions of the peasantry, with an appendix containing a private narrative of the rebellion of 1798; introduction by Kevin Danaher, Irish University Press, 1969, [online] , available: https://celt.ucc.ie/published/E820000-001.html
Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture – 2019 – 2021
In 2019, I returned to third level education for the first time in nearly 20 years to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture at University College Cork.
In this category of The Flavour Files, I am publishing for the first time my research work, essays, and presentations completed as part of the assessments for the Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture. I hope to use my work to create a foundation for further writing on Irish food culture and its many facets and faces via long-form blog posts that are more in depth, spark conversation or challenge. Often times, this kind of food writing does not appear inside mainstream media publications or outside academic institutions, and I believe that it should be accessible and that this is where the true worth of food writing lies.
The Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture is the only course of its kind in Ireland. It is delivered by the Adult Continuing Education department of University College Cork, and the Programme Manager is Regina Sexton, Ireland’s leading Culinary Historian.
I was part of the first cohort of students to complete this course. I graduated in November 2021 with a First Class Honours. This is my work; I hope you find it interesting, engaging and informative.
The Postgraduate Diploma in Irish Food Culture is equivalent in standing to a Masters degree.
All my work is original. The work contained in this category can be referred to in other mediums and platforms, but must be respected as original work authored by Kate Ryan of Flavour.ie. Each entry in this category will be given a unique reference which must be included in any future work, academic or otherwise.
Heading to Cork city this weekend and looking for something new to sink your teeth into?
With so many great outdoor dining options in the city, included the much-lauded Prince’s Street transformation and Marina Market, you might be looking to try something else this weekend. I’ve been taking opportunities to pop up to the city as often as possible these last few weeks, and with this weeks announcement by the Government that indoor dining is pushed back for the foreseeable, dining alfresco and getting weather hardened is just what we’ll have to do to support local hospitality businesses and enjoy the kitchen efforts of some of the city’s gifted chefs.
So, without prejudice, here are my top tips for dining out this weekend. Keep an eye out in The Echo a new four part series on alfresco dining and drinking this summer from mid-July every Wednesday.
Market Lane / Elbow Lane / Goldie Fish & Ale – Oliver Plunket Street
While Cork’s Princess Street’s gains from pedestrianisation have been well documented, many traders on the inner city’s Oliver Plunkett Street also regard the move by Cork City Council as a ‘life saver’.
Tracey Sweeney, co-owner of the Market Lane Group, which operates three restaurants on the street says “With the addition of permanent outdoor seating along the spine of Oliver Plunkett Street we’ve been able to regain 30% of the covers we had pre-covid, albeit when the weather is accommodating. This not only helps us recover as a business, but creates new, exciting opportunities, particularly for smaller traders on the street, that simply didn’t exist before. It really helps us future proof our businesses, as we think that the move to outdoor dining is becoming more and more important to cater to.”
As well as its mothership, Market Lane Restaurant, the group has Goldie and Elbow Lane restaurants on Oliver Plunkett Street. Pedestrianisation has allowed the group to establish covered, outdoor seating areas outside the restaurants. In addition, due to the support of non-hospitality businesses, restaurants have been able to use the foothpaths and loading bays outside other shops on the street when they are closed for business, which has been invaluable.
Lisa Grainger of the up-market Olori boutique, one such business, feels that the efforts made by hospitality operators to jazz up the area really adds to the ‘city experience’ and creates a huge buzz on the street. “This ultimately benefits everyone,” she says.
“This generosity has also bound us together as a neighbourhood” continues Sweeney, “which uniquely consists of mostly independently-owned businesses. There is a palpable sense of hope and enthusiasm amongst traders that with enhanced pedestrianisation, Oliver Plunkett St will continue to be a real destination for locals and tourists alike. This is a huge bonus for the inner city.”
This enthusiasm has been heightened by the recent announcement that Cork City Council have gone out to tender for the development of the adjoining Beasley Street, one of the few fully cobbled streets left in Cork city. Plans for the quarter now include a music and literary stage, food trucks and stalls, vegetable and herb plots, and much more.
The Castle Cafe at Blackrock Castle Observatory is also part of the Market Lane Group and have utilised the courtyard dominated by the castle tower to create a very special space that a little bit of sanctuary away from the hurley burley of life!
Harley’s StrEAT, near Mary Elmes Bridge
The range of pop up food trucks appearing on this little side street in front of Mary Elme’s Bridge is growing every week. Right now, there is Bev’s and Brews for coffee and cocktails, Taco Rebels for the ultimate food on the go, Cork Sultan Delight serving up flatbreads with everything on, and Cool Wok who promise to “Wok You” with their pan-Asian offering of noodle and rice dishes.
There is also Birdsong in the City, a new pop up over-the-fire-cooking venture from The Glass Curtain and chef-proprietor Brian Murray. Provenance of ingredients is key here, so expect sustainable fish, grass fed and free range meats, seasonal veg, inventive cocktails, and the best ice cream sandwiches known to man.
This pop up was only supposed to run for two weeks, but with indoor dining pushed back on the never-never, expect Birdsong in the City to be hanging out on Harley’s StrEAT for the next while. So no excuse to not check it out. My advice? Come early, come hungry, and eat the menu!
There’s also some pretty funky merch for sale by Hairy Baby Tees too!
The Terrace @ L’Attitude 51
Two for the price of one – experiences, that is, when you visit L’Atitude 51 on Union Quay, and now you can come for the wine and stay for the wine thanks to the little Terrace outside the shop overlooking Cork’s River Lee. Make use of the extensive knowledge proprietor Bev Matthews has of their 200+ bottles of wine available to buy to take home, or by the bottle or glass sat in the sunshine Leeside watching the world go by!
This is Cork’s best Cave a Manger experience by far, and great to see it rising again literally from the ashes. Also serving West Cork Coffee too.
I recently asked 143 V Café for top tips for Vegan lunch on the go for an article. Proprietor Lauren Marples came back with some – and a whole lot more. What couldn’t be used in the article now has a home here!
143 V Café opened in 2017, a diminutive and unfussy space serving scratch made vegan dishes for breakfast, brunch and lunch; coffee, fruit and veg juices as well as sinfully delicious sweet treats too.
It’s location on the Lower Glanmire Road, is just outside of the bubbling hub of the city centre in Cork, but the brisk 10 minute walk there is worth it, as these reviews by The McKenna’s and Joe McNamee for the Irish Examiner attest.
When I asked Lauren for her top tips for Vegan Lunches On The Go, she kindly sent back far more information than I could fit into the article I was compiling for The Echo (due to be published on 18th January 2021). But such was the value of the information provided, it felt wrong to just cast it aside as a mere casualty of the cutting room floor in my edit, so I asked Lauren if I could share her information here instead – and she agreed.
Before we launch into this, which includes a weekly menu plan and a recipe for a delicious Vegan Chili Burrito Bowl, show 143 V Café some love by liking them on Facebook and Instagram. Just take a look at the grid for 143 V Café’s IG feed:
Lauren also wanted me to let you know that, if you are starting to get sick of the sight of your own kitchen during Lockdown 3, then help is at hand! A three-course vegan meal is available to order and collect for takeaway for the month of January. Check out the Menu below, then call them up to order on (021) 241 4204.
Over to you Lauren…
Hi everyone, I’m Lauren Marples, owner of 143 V Cafe in Cork.
I am now celebrating 5 years since I became vegan. Some benefits I have noticed in that time have been an increase in my energy levels, I no longer feel bloated after I eat, I no longer suffer from PMS, and my muscle recovery time is so much faster after exercise – just to name a few! I have become in tune with my body because I am more conscious about what I eat. I’ve never enjoyed cooking as much as I have since going vegan as I have infinite opportunities to be creative and experiment with my meals.
Happy Veganuary and Happy Plant-based Cooking!
Week Lunch Plan
Planning ahead for lunchtime is essential to eat well on a plant-based diet – and especially during a lockdown when your usual lunchtime vegan eateries are not open or you find yourself once more working from home. Here are my tips for getting prepared for lunchtimes with some easy to make and make-ahead dishes that transport well if you are on the move, or perfect for lunchtime al-desko dining!
- Monday: Burrito Bowl or Wrap
- Tuesday: Tofu “Steak” Sandwich and Soup
- Wednesday: Noodle Stir-Fry
- Thursday: Sundried Tomato Pesto Pasta
- Friday: Chickpea Curry and Rice
Snack ideas to be brought every day:
- Celery or Carrots Sticks + Hummus,
- Vegan Yoghurt,
- Vegan Protein Bars,
- Energy Balls,
- Chia Pudding,
- Overnight Oats
Recipe for Chili Sin Carne for your Burrito Bowl:
This recipe allows for easily increasing the quantity of ingredients to scale up for batch cooking. Store in air tight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days, or freeze.
- 2 Onions Diced
- 1 Red/Yellow Pepper Diced
- 1 Large Carrot Diced
- 3 Cloves of garlic Chopped Finely
- 1 tin sweetcorn
- 1 tin of your favourite beans (kidney or adzuki or black beans) or a mixture
- 2 tins chopped tomatoes or 500ml passata or 10 fresh tomatoes
- 1 chili
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 cup of Soy Mince TVP (Organic + Non GMO)
- Season with salt and pepper
- In a large saucepan, sautée the onions. Add the garlic, peppers, and carrots.
- Add the tomatoes, chili, sweetcorn and beans. Bring to the boil and let simmer.
- Add the soy mince, smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
- Enjoy in a wrap, or with rice and guacamole and don’t forget your favourite vegan cheese.
Huge thanks to Lauren for this guest blog post, and a happy Veganuary!
These milkshakes are strictly for adults only. If, like me, you loved the Cocktail at Home craze of this Covid Year, you’ll adore Hard Milkshakes. Just don’t let the kids near them…
A few years ago, I found myself in London by myself for one night. I was going to be spending a couple of days there with my Dad, but he wasn’t due to arrive up on the train until the following day. I was in a part of London I wasn’t very familiar with, it was winter, very dark, cold and wet. I needed entertainment, but I didn’t want to stray too far.
I opened up Google Maps to see what I could find. I saw some quite wonderful reviews for a two-screen cinema just a short walk from the hotel that seemed to be my idea of heaven: a great little movie theatre doing rave burgers (by all accounts), and with an interior that looked as though the entire place was licked in soft velvet in tones of mustard yellow, scarlet red and teal.
I grabbed my handbag and went out into the night. While I waited for the movie to start (I think it was Hamburger Hill – I do love a war movie), I ordered the burger with indecent amounts of blue cheese and French fries. At the bottom of the menu, I spied something called “Hard Milkshakes”… Obviously, I ordered one, and then ordered another one to take into the screen with me. Needless to say, I don’t remember much about the movie, except there was a line that could have won Cringiest Movie Line Ever and that the main actor did a lot of rope pulling and had very sore hands by the end of it.
The Hard Milkshake however…well, that has stayed with me ever since; and seeing as this Christmas is all about throwing out the rule book, I figured why stay tame with dainty little cocktails when you can unleash your inner punk and go all out brassy with a hard milkshake – or three…
I have two tips for this: Firstly, just stick with vanilla ice cream. You wanna taste the booze, so confusing the whole thing with fancy flavoured ice cream will cool the mood significantly. Secondly, use whatever booze you like – I mean you could even use stout if you wanted, and it would be rather festive! I like dark rum (especially a spiced dark rum), vodka, cherry brandy or something like a port cask aged whiskey.
Are you gasping? What am I at? Taking a beautifully crafted cask aged whiskey and firing it into a Milkshake? Yes, yes I have told you to do that. Now shut up and make one, and then you can come back and apologise to me properly.
- Large handful of ice cubes
- 150ml good quality vanilla ice cream (softened)
- 60ml whole milk
- 50ml of booze
- Whipped Cream and garnishes (thick chocolate, cherries, crumbled cookie pieces etc – frankly, the trashier looking the better!)
Combine everything except the whipped cream and garnishes in a blender and blitz on a high speed until smooth.
Decant into a glass vessel of some kind (you could go completely rouge an pop it an old jam jar for instance), top with whipped cream and garnishes, land in a paper straw and flounce about the place drinking your Hard Milkshake completely in love with Christmas!
Rich Black Pudding combined with Irish Black Butter was a mad experiment that turned out delicious. Good for snaffling down with a glass of festive porter. A proper canape!
Irish Black Butter isn’t butter at all, but an old Irish tradition that goes back hundreds of years to a time when Armagh was known as The Orchard of Ireland. It’s made of apples, a thick rich spiced conserve that is Ireland’s answer to quince jelly!
Irish Black Butter is made from Armagh Bramley Apples (an EU PGI protected variety of apple), cider, brandy and spices. It’s versatile, good as a savoury or sweet accompaniment with cheese and meats, as a glaze, spread on bread or even mixed into natural yogurt!
It’s a taste I find I need to get accustomed to, and because of that I often look at it in my fridge pleading with me to find something to do with it that I find tasty and interesting!
I received a #gifted box of traditional pork products from O’Herlihy’s in Ballincollig, a family business about to celebrate its 60th year in business in 2021. They do porky products that have a distinct nostalgic quality to them (their sandwich ham has a fabulous texture and taste you don’t often get in packed ham anymore, and they also do sliced corned beef the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a kid!).
In amongst all the porkie goodies was a chub of their family recipe black pudding. Made from pork, oatmeal and a gentle peel of spices, its a little smoother than other black puddings that frequent this house, which happens to make it very good for molding!
So I had the idea to pair O’Herlihy’s Black Pudding from Co Cork with Irish Black Butter from Co Antrim and made these glorious little Black Pudding Truffles – an absolutely divine combination of flavours, you must try these!
There are a little fiddly to make, so take your time; and chilling the truffles well before crumbing and frying them is essential if you don’t want them to fall apart in the fryer! Do try them, you’ll be so surprised how good they are!
- 300g chub of O’Herlihy’s Black Pudding
- 3 tbsp of Irish Black Butter conserve
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Oil for frying
- Into a bowl, crumble in the black pudding and gradually massage it into a softer, more malleable paste.
- Take about 1 tablespoon sized amount of the black pudding into your hands and gradually press and form into a ball. Repeat until finished.
- Take each ball and, forming a cup shape with one hand, press the ball out to create a small bowl shape. Turn and shape keeping the meat all together. Take the time to do this, thinning and lengthening the walls of the ‘cup’ to create a space to drop in the Black Butter paste.
- Using a spoon or a piping bag if you have one, put in about a 1/4 teaspoon of Black Butter into the dip.
- Then start to close the sides of the cup over the conserve to reform the black pudding into a ball again. Set aside and repeat until they are all done. It is a messy job!
- Chill the formed truffles in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a deep-sided saucepan pan or a deep fat fryer to a medium high heat. Coat the Black Pudding Truffles in panko breadcrumbs (or whatever breadcrumbs you have to hand) and drop carefully into the hot oil to quickly deep fry. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown, gently take them out of the oil and drain on a piece of kitchen paper.
Plate up and enjoy!
While researching for old Christmas cake recipes for an article, I came across lots of mentions of a Caraway Seed Cake that no-one seems to make anymore…
So I asked around, and it turns out those who remember it from their childhood never used to like it because of the caraway seeds. One person told me they used to fastidiously pluck out every single seed before they would eat it.
Now, to some this kinda feedback might dissuade you from the desire to taste such a thing. But if you’re me, and I am, then this simply yells *challenge* – after all, how bad could it be?
I happen to love the flavour of caraway seeds which puts me at an obvious advantage to those who don’t. I’m sure when this cake was the height of popularity in Cork, it was considered sophisticated for its use of such spices. Cork being a major trading hub for all kinds of foods coming into Ireland from near and far thanks to the international butter trade, to be so extravagant as to put such exoticisms into a tea cake is a display of Total Notions for which you only truly get away with at Christmas time!
Caraway seeds are used a lot in German cookery. It is often mixed with sauerkraut and used as a topping on a bratwurst along with hot mustard. It is also combined with apples for a very traditional Bavarian accompaniment to roast Goose. It is also used to flavour breads, biscuits and cookies, so it is versatile for use in both sweet and savoury dishes. I love it!
But to pull the Irish Caraway Seed Cake out of purgatory and turn it into something altogether more indulgent, I took inspiration from apples to really elevate this tea cake into something much more indulgent and festive!
And here’s how you do it…
- 180g soft unsalted butter
- 150g white caster sugar
- 3 medium eggs
- 225g all purpose flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tbsp whole caraway seeds, toasted
- 4 tsbp / 50ml of apple liqueur (I used Kilahora Orchards Pomm’O)
- 150g fresh apple puree
- Royal icing sugar and either a dash more apple brandy or apple juice
- Chocolate covered apple sticks to decorate (I like Lismore Food Co)
To make the apple puree, peel, core and quarter 4 – 6 apples in a saucepan with a dash of water. Cover and cook until broken down into pulp. Spoon out into a bowl, set aside and allow to cool. Any puree you don’t use for the cake will be lovely used for breakfast in porridge or with yogurt.
- Set the oven temperature to 170 degrees Celsius, fan.
- In a dry frying pan over a medium high heat, toast the caraway seeds lightly then place into a small bowl to cool.
- Grease a cake tin, either a 20cm circular spring form or a 1lb loaf tin.
- Put the butter and sugar into a large bowl, and beat together until light and fluffy. Using an electric whisk of some kind makes this even easier!
- Add the eggs one by one and whisk each one in until fully combined.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into the same bowl. Add half the amount of caraway seeds and fold the mixture together.
- Then add the apple liqueur and the apple puree. Beat together to form a light batter.
- Pour into the cake/loaf tin, and bake in the oven for 1 hour, checking at 50 minutes. Test with a skewer, if it comes out clean the cake is cooked.
- Take out the oven and allow to cool completely.
- Mix up some royal icing with either the apple liqueur or apple juice to a consistency you like. I like mine not too thick, more like a frosting. Pour over and let drizzle down the sides of the cake a little.
- Garnish the cake with the remaining caraway seeds and chocolate dipped apple sticks.
Cut a generous slice, and, leaving all the seeds in situ, devour with a freshly brewed pot of tea, or even a snifter of apple brandy. Enjoy…