Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  The patron saint of Ireland would be proud to see how enthusiastically and seriously this day is taken by the multitudes of Americans of Irish descent.  When I lived in London, despite its proximity to Ireland, it was fairly easy to not notice St Patrick’s Day (or, let’s say, most celebrations outside of Christmas, Easter and New Year’s) come and go.

But here, about 36 million Americans (six times the population of Ireland!), or 12 percent, are of Irish descent. NYC hosts the biggest and oldest St Patrick’s Day Parade on Wednesday, in which up to 250,000 people will participate as marchers or band members, watched by 2 million people on Fifth Ave. 

Those of you who have visited scenic Ireland will probably know there’s more to being Irish than the drinking jokes will let on. Take a quick peek at this Paddy’s Day post of my friends for a reminder of the beauty of the Irish coast (while you’re there, read how their son was born this day 6 years ago).

Indeed, it’s fitting, today, to pay tribute to Ireland’s prolific contributions to the world in literature (James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yates, G.B. Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift), poetry (Thomas Moore, W.B. Yates, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett), theater (Beckett, Brendan Behan, Denis Johnston), as well as music, dance, art, science and technology.

Here’s a word from my Irish-born friend Rachael Quinn Egan (you’d never have guessed), who, with her husband Mark and two beautiful daughters, had put together a wonderful celebration for families with young kids on Sunday.

We had a Paddy’s day toddler music jam at our house on Sunday. Our friends came with their children, and we celebrated our family, music, and independence, sans alcohol. It’s not about alcohol. Perhaps I should write that one hundred times…

When I got to the US first from Dublin, I resented the Irish American take on our culture, it was annoying to me that they hung on so fiercely to an Ireland that is mostly dead and gone. I couldn’t understand it.

But now I see how valuable the Irish American culture is in itself, even in it’s state of semi arrested development. The part that they added to the Irish parts, the American parts; are fully grown, and there is a lot to be proud of. Their ancestors came here under very difficult conditions, some on coffin ships escaping a holocaust, and managed to thrive, while helping to build this crazy, but ultimately fabulous, country.

I’m legally an American these days, but I’m not sure what to call myself. I am Irish, and American, but not actually an Irish American. It’s not truly my culture, but it’s turned out to be one that I love.

And finally, a recipe for Irish soda bread. Soda bread gets its name from one of the smallest ingredients in the recipe, the bicarbonate of soda and raising agent which is used instead of yeast.

This version is sweet and cut into more manageable sizes for kids’ mouths. You may shape it into a loaf and bake it thusly, too. It produces a lovely, moist loaf – perfect for breakfast or tea – slathered generously with clotted cream or butter and jam (or lemon curd, I seem to be on a lemony bent these days).

PS. Yum, that soda bread was made last night and tastes even better today! The orangey bits are even orangier and go perfectly with the choc chips and raisins – just what I was after this morning.

  • unbleached plain flour, nearly 2 cups
  • salt, 3/4 tsp
  • bicarbonate of soda, 3/4 tsp
  • sugar, 1-2 tbsp
  • egg, 1
  • yoghurt, 1/2 cup
  • milk, 1/2 cup
  • dried orange peel, handful
  • raisins, handful
  • chocolate chips, handful
  1. Preheat the oven to 475F, or 230C
  2. In a bowl, sieve together the flour, salt, soda and sugar. Repeat for lightness of bread
  3. In another bowl, whisk milk, yoghurt (or 1 cup buttermilk) and egg
  4. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour the milk mixture into it. Do this slowly and gradually, not pouring the whole amount at first, to ensure the batter doesn’t get overly soggy. You may not need it all – depends on the humidity and temperature of the day 🙂
  5. Using a fork or clean hands, bring everything together, add raisins, choc chips, orange peel
  6. Turn it out onto a floured surface. It will be a slightly tacky dough, quite floppy
  7. Knead gently, pat it down to about 1 1/2 to 2 inch thickness – as you may for scones
  8. Either shape it into a loaf or use a biscuit cutter to cut circles out of it
  9. Bake 10 mins (to brown the outside and give it a crust), turn oven down to 400F and bake for 5-10 more mins
  10. Serve warm with butter or cream or clotted cream and jam