Food in Irish Culture

Irish culture is steeped in myth, legend, fairytale and folklore. It is not surprising that food and feasts play a central role in many of these tales as Ireland developed primarily as an agricultural society. The four main pagan Celtic festivals were celebrated with feasts and dancing at the change of seasons: Imbolc (February), Beltaine (May), Lughnasa (August), and Samhain (November). Although food has always been an important part of life in Ireland, this culture, as with all things down through the years, has changed dramatically.


Food as we know it has evolved from centuries of social and political change. Ireland has slowly become a premier European culinary centre and is now home to an ever increasing ‘speciality food’ sector. Western culture has become very popular in Ireland with rice, pizza and pasta fast becoming staples in our diet. As a result of Ireland’s growing cultural diversity as well as exposure to world cultures through exotic travels, we have now embraced and developed new ideas and trends in our cooking.

There are as many misconceptions about traditional Irish food as there are proven statistics and facts. One of the most common misconceptions about Irish cooking is that whiskey is added to all recipes to ‘Irish’ them up. Whiskey, in fact, is added to very few recipes for this effect. When we consider the history of Irish food, and indeed the famine, we can now appreciate that everything consumed in Ireland in the years of our forefathers was natural, wholesome food, home-grown or produced in the locality. Giraldus Cambrensis, the Anglo-Norman historian, visited Ireland in 1185 and wrote:

The island is rich in pastures and meadows, honey and milk.

It is thanks to the country’s extensive coastal and inland waterways, together with its rich agricultural lands, that we have always enjoyed a bounty of varied produce.