In the early 2000’s the technology era was booming and Dublin was open for business. The city filled with young go-getters who shook loose the dirt of their sleepy villages eager to get degrees in computers and technology. After graduation they stayed in the city to work in shiny new business parks springing up in areas formerly home to abandoned industrial sites or tenement buildings. These new buildings were occupied by multi-national corporations like Amazon, Oracle, Microsoft, and many more of the world’s top mover and shaker companies.
In 2002 I spent spring and summer in Ireland thanks to a student work visa. Those months were my first taste of living completely on my own and I had an amazing time. The atmosphere of Dublin might seem down right slow to a visitor accustomed to much larger and more bustling cities. Coming from a smaller urban area myself, the relaxed attitude didn’t bother me a bit. Within days I was head over heels in love with the Fair City. One of my favorite things about Dublin was the size of its business and shopping core. It was not at all unusual for me to walk out of my apartment and wander through the entire city center in just a few hours. I ambled up and down narrow lanes discovering nooks and crannies the average tourist might never see.
Many unassuming buildings had small plaques noting their significance in Irish history. Once I began to notice these signs the closeness of history buzzed around me. At any moment you might read words like these next to a door frame or below a lamp post: Author James Joyce walked here, Revolutionary Robert Emmet was hung and died here, a barely honored and long forgotten treaty was signed here.
Perhaps this is why I was so comfortable. The presence of history, both terrible and beautiful, was palpable in a way I had never known before. It was hard to feel alone surrounded by all those ghosts.In a city full of new money, new cars, new business, and new residents it was a comfort to find reminders of the past quietly hanging on.
A discussion of Ireland’s past doesn’t take long to make its way to The Great Famine or The Potato Famine as many know it. The Irish people as a whole have a history scarred by deep wounds that are still healing today. Due to the politics of the time The Great Famine lasted on and off for years. The landed British lived comfortably while poor tenant farmers died by the hundreds of thousands while many more abandoned everything to seek a better life in another part of the world.
“During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%. The proximate cause of famine was a potato disease commonly known as potato blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland – where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food – was exacerbated by a host of political, ethnic, religious, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.” – Wikipedia
The devastation of The Great Famine took an emotional toll on the people in Ireland that continues to be a part of the modern cultural tapestry. Fortunately potatoes remain a staple within the canon of traditional Irish food.During my visits to Ireland I was blessed to receive invitations to Sunday dinner in the homes of friends. Each home cook put their own mark on the meal but they often featured the same basic components. These traditional weekly suppers included a slow roasted meat, hot vegetables, dense dark brown bread with butter, roasted potatoes, and brown gravy. There must be a national protocol for preparing potatoes, they were always perfectly golden and crisp on the outside with soft pillowy centers. Between the brown bread and the roasted potatoes I have a hard time choosing a favorite.
This St. Patrick’s Day I’ll be drinking gallons of tea and wearing my favorite cable knit wool sweater found a decade ago in thrift store on a tucked away lane in Dublin. I’ll be making my own slowly braised beef stew, rustic brown bread, and roasted potatoes for our holiday dinner and all the while my head will be far far off on the Emerald Isle.
- 1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, cut into cubes around 1 1/2 inches each
- 3 tablespoons fresh herbs, finely minced (thyme, marjoram, rosemary, parsley)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil for higher heat like canola, vegetable or grape seed
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees and have an ungreased baking sheet ready.
- Place the cut potatoes into a large mixing bowl and top them with the herbs and oil. Use a spatula to coat the potatoes with the herbs and the oil. Turn the potatoes onto the baking sheet and place into the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes remove the potatoes, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Use a pancake turner to flip the potatoes and replace the pan in the oven to cook for ten to fifteen more minutes. The potatoes are done when the sides are crisp and golden.