St Patrick’s Day, or Lá Fhéile Pádraig, to give it its Irish name, is celebrated on 17 March every year. A religious holiday commemorating the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, it is also the perfect time to celebrate all things Irish and enjoy the craic with your Irish friends.
St Patrick’s is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and is also celebrated by the Irish diaspora in many other countries - perhaps most famously in the USA - where non-Irish residents are usually happy to join in thanks to the lively, party atmosphere. The day is marked with public parades, festivals and céilís, with Irish dancing and Gaelic folk music. People dress in green, the national colour of Ireland, and overseas celebrations often serve green cocktails and party food as a tribute to the Emerald Isle.
A popular festival to this day, St Patrick’s Day actually has its origins in the 4th and 5th centuries, which is when the saint himself is supposed to have lived. According to his history, Patrick was born to a wealthy Romano-British family and lived his early life on the British mainland. At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland, where he worked as a humble shepherd for six years. During this time, the young Patrick found God, who told him to flee to the coast, where a boat would be waiting to take him home.
On making good his escape, Patrick became a priest and returned to Ireland to convert its inhabitants to Christianity. There are a great many popular stories about his adventures in Ireland, probably the most famous of which involves him chasing Ireland’s snake population into the sea. Another tells how he explained the Holy Trinity using the three-leaved shamrock plant, which went on to become one of Ireland’s most recognisable national symbols and usually features heavily in St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
St Patrick's takes place during lent, which is a time of fasting for Christians. Traditionally, the lenten restrictions on eating and drinking were lifted for the day in St Patrick’s honour, which is perhaps why the holiday has a bit of a boozy reputation. Restrictions on what you could and couldn't eat during lent were pretty strict in the past, so St Patrick’s Day would also have been an opportunity to get together with loved ones and enjoy a big celebratory feast.
If you want to have your own St Patrick’s Day feast, we’ve gathered together some of our favourite St Patrick’s recipes, some of them traditionally Irish, some invented by emigrants as a way of remembering the Old Country, and some are non-traditional, Irish-inspired recipes developed with St Patrick’s Day celebrations in mind.
Cabbage and bacon is a classic Irish flavour combination, both being ingredients traditionally produced by the country’s poor rural farmers. This bacon and cabbage dippers recipe from Delish takes that classic combination and adds a modern twist, using tasty wedges of roasted cabbage wrapped in rashers of salty bacon to make the perfect bite-sized finger food that tastes great dipped in creamy ranch sauce.
If you’re going for a green theme, these avocado devilled eggs from This Mama Cooks are a great choice. Made with all the spicy flavour of traditional devilled eggs, this recipe cuts down on the calories by swapping the mayonnaise for mashed avocado and egg yolks mixed with yoghurt, mustard, onion and jalapeños
Our final appetiser isn’t particularly Irish, but it is a great party dish. A circle of pastry-wrapped cocktail weiners arranged around a central reservoir of gooey cheese, this recipe for pretzel dogs with beer and cheese dip comes courtesy of Delish, and is perfect for sharing with friends.
St Patrick's Day Main Courses
The potato is one of Ireland’s favourite ingredients, with the average Irish person consuming 85kg per year, compared to just 33kg for the rest of the world. There is even a national potato day held on 2 October each year. Celebrate the humble spud with our recipe for thick, warming Irish potato soup, served with crispy croutons and a dusting of nutmeg.
Irish stew, or stobhach is a traditional Irish dish, with family recipes passed down through the generations for hundreds of years. Made with just a few cheap, filling ingredients, this dish was an affordable way for poor people to feed their families, but for many modern Irish people Irish stew is quite simply the taste of home. This version, from Irish chef Donal Skehan, contains lamb, potato, carrot, onion and celery, and is based on an old family recipe.
For a modern twist on this classic dish, try our recipe for Irish Stew with Guinness. This hearty stew is made with the same basic ingredients - lamb, potato, onion and celery - but the gravy is enriched with Ireland’s favourite drink, Guinness.
Another St Patrick’s Day favourite, corned beef and cabbage is actually a traditional Irish-American dish. Fleeing the horrors of the Great Famine of 1845-49, many Irish immigrants settled in big cities like New York, where they discovered a fondness for the Jewish corned beef sold by Kosher butchers. Instead of the traditional cabbage and bacon, Irish-Americans began eating corned beef and cabbage, and a St Patrick’s Day classic was born.
St Patrick's Day Side Dishes
There are so many delicious St Patrick’s Day side dishes we’ve found it difficult to narrow the list down, but these are a few of our favourites.
Colcannon is a traditional Irish side dish, again relying on cheap, readily available ingredients. It is traditionally made using potato and cabbage and may also have other green vegetables added.
Soda bread is another classically Irish dish, made with buttermilk, and perfect for mopping up those last bits of Irish stew. Traditional soda bread could be eaten unleavened, but our recipe includes baking soda to make it rise, with a handful of raisins added into the mix for a touch of sweetness.
For our next side, Irish favourites cabbage and potato are given the fine-dining treatment in this stuffed white cabbage recipe. An elegant dish made from blanched cabbage leaves stuffed with mashed potato and a blend of Italian cheeses, this recipe is great for more formal gatherings.
Not really Irish, but mostly green and all delicious, this green bean casserole is a treat for your tastebuds. Tender French beans are cooked in a creamy mushroom and herb sauce, all topped with a savoury cheese crumb.
St Patrick's Day Desserts
St Patrick’s Day just wouldn’t be the same without Guinness. Brewed in Dublin since 1759, this distinctive black and white stout is an instantly recognisable Irish icon, and it’s iron-rich flavor tastes incredible paired with chocolate. These easy bake Guinness brownies are the perfect way to end any St Patrick’s Day feast.
For a comforting home-baked dessert, try this recipe for traditional Irish apple cake from The View From Great Island. Made with sweet juicy apples and a buttery crumble topping, this dish tastes great with a generous helping of vanilla custard.
Finally, this Irish soda bread pudding, by Food and Wine, adds an Irish twist to the classic bread pudding recipe by using soda bread instead. Try using our recipe for soda bread with currants (see side dishes) for a sweeter version.
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