Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans

Irish Cross Memorial New Orleans
The Celtic Cross Memorial in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Adrian McGrath. Click the image for the story about the cross.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Easter Rising, 1916: A Terrible Beauty is Born

"Birth of the Irish Republic" -- painting by Walter Paget
depicting the Irish rebels at the GPO during the Easter
Rising Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath

Easter is a very important time of year in Irish history. In addition to the obvious religious implications for a land so steeped in religion --- something which has resulted in both good and bad things -- Easter is the time when the modern state of Ireland was born. It was born in rebellion and violence and much destruction and bloodshed. It was born in failure. Stillborn, in a sense. But resurrected just a few years later, in 1919 to 1921, in yet another Irish rebellion and war. This time the birth was for real and an Irish Free State resulted which eventually led to the Irish Republic of today.

In the Easter Rising of 1916 Irish revolutionaries fulfilled the defeated dreams of the Irish rebels from the doomed Rebellion in 1798, The Year of the French. For centuries the Irish struggled for freedom from Great Britain; but with 1916, though it was a failure in itself, the rising brought about the War for Independence which won freedom for the Irish nation. In this sense "a terrible beauty was born" in 1916. The great poet William Butler Yeats would use that phrase in his poem, "Easter, 1916," to describe the birth of modern Ireland.

In April, 1916 (specifically on Easter Monday, April 24) while World War I was still raging a force of largely unprepared and ill-equipped Irish rebels seized by force of arms several buildings in the city of Dublin and proclaimed an independent Irish Republic. Part of the reason the Irish rebels were so ill-equipped was because a shipment of weapons from Germany intended for the rebels had been seized by the British Navy. Because of this the rebellion should have realistically been cancelled, but it went on nonetheless to its doom.

The document proclaiming Irish freedom
from Britain. A type of "Declaration of Independence"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The British sent in an army and proceeded to shut down the rebellion with artillery fire and machine guns, and even war ships. Since Britain was already at war with Germany, it was not hard to image that the British would not hesitate to use massive force against an armed insurrection in its own backyard.   

The Irish public did not at first fully support the rebellion. In fact many Irish men were serving in the British Army at this time fighting the Germans in the trenches in France. So, supporting a rebellion might be seen as aiding Germany.

Something called the Irish Republican Brotherhood instigated the rebellion, and its troops were from something called the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. They were led by poets and school teachers and other citizens who were basically incapable of taking on a British Army already experienced in fighting major wars.

Nevertheless, the rebels were serious despite being hopeless. The Irish men also had a women's auxiliary called the Cumann na mBan, or women's council, whose members acted in supporting roles typically as nurses, medics, and messengers and couriers, although some carried guns.

The main fighting took place at the General Post Office which the Irish rebels held for awhile. But within six days the Easter Rising was crushed by a vastly superior British military force.

The leaders of the Irish rebels were arrested and sent to Kilmainham Gaol (or jail) in Dublin or to internment camps. The British executed many of the revolutionaries by firing squad.
Kilmainham Gaol (jail) in Dublin,
where Irish rebel leaders were jailed
and executed after the Easter Rising
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

They did not kill the man who would become the first president of modern Ireland, Eamon de Valera because he was actually an American citizen, having been born in Brooklyn, New York.  The British did not want to create an unpleasant incident with the neutral United States with a world war going on. After all, the British might need America's help sooner or later during the Great War.

Eamon de Valera,
jailed by the British, became the
first President of modern Ireland
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Some of the more famous names of the Irish leaders are as follows: James Connolly, a wounded socialist rebel whom the British infamously tied to a chair, since his wounds prevented him from standing, and then used a firing squad to shoot him to death with rifle bullets.
James Connolly, a wounded
Irish rebel leader, who was tied to a chair
since he could not stand, and shot to death
by the British in 1916
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Thomas McDonagh, a school teacher.
Thomas McDonagh,
executed by the British

Patrick Pearse, was a teacher and Irish language advocate. (He wanted to revive the use of the ancient Irish Gaelic language.) Pearse was noted for a statement, famous in Irish history: " .. they [the British] have left us our Fenian [rebel] Dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."  The British shot him to death.

Patrick Pearse, an Irish poet
and rebel, shot to death by a British Firing Squad, said
"Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The great poet William Butler Yeats wrote a poem about the rebellion called "Easter, 1916." He described the scene in Dublin and the epic nature of the fighting.

Irish rebel prisoners in a British jail, awaiting trial.
The man with the "x" above his head is the future IRA
leader, Michael Collins
Photo by Wikimedia Commons 

At the end of his poem, Yeats lists some of the leaders who were executed and creates the phrase which perfectly depicts the nature of the new nation -- modern Ireland  -- composed of both a positive and a negative term, as only a great poet can do -- "a Terrible Beauty."

William Butler Yeats,
the Nobel Prize winning Irish poet,
who wrote "Easter, 1916"
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

W. B. Yeats wrote:
"I write it out in a verse --
McDonagh and McBride,
and Connolly and Pearse,
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, Changed Utterly:
A terrible beauty is born."

The British eventually arrested and jailed over 3000 Irish after the failed rebellion. Most of the Irish leaders were put to death.

The harshness of the British suppression, however, backfired politically. It simply made the Irish public, which earlier was not supportive of revolution change their minds and become more sympathetic to future rebellion. A future rebellion did occur with the Irish War for Independence or Anglo-Irish War in 1919 to 1921.

Michael Collins (L) and Arthur Griffith (R). Collins, nicknamed
"The Big Fellow," was the leader of the IRA which gained independence
for Ireland. Griffith was an ally of Collins' and journalist who started the
Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone) movement for Irish freedom.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.  

Its new leader was a young man who had played a rather minor role in the Easter Rising, who was jailed but later released. He was, however, to play the main role in the war which won freedom for Ireland. His name was Michael Collins. He was the leader of the Irish Republican Army, the original IRA. Collins brilliantly used guerrilla tactics and a hit-and-run strategy to defeat the vastly larger and much better supplied and equipped British military. Michael Collins is one of the greatest heroes in all of Irish history.

Irish leadership -- Harry Boland (Left), a friend and ally of Collins'; Michael Collins (center), leader of the IRA; Eamon de Valera (Right), the first president
of modern Ireland
Photo Wikimedia Commons
Yet, Collins tragically was assassinated, after securing a peace treaty with the British and partial independence. He was only 32 years old when he died. No one knows who killed him, although it is suspected the assassins were other Irish who opposed the peace treaty he secured with Britain. The IRA, in effect, broke into two parts after the peace treaty, one group supporting it, the other opposing it. The opposing group felt the treaty did not go far enough in gaining full Irish independence since the North (Ulster) remained a part of Britain, and other limitations were made on full independence. Collins saw the treaty as a "stepping stone" to greater independence later on and the best possible deal available under the circumstances.  The Irish populace supported Collins.

Easter, 1916 started a very bloody and traumatic time for the Irish in Ireland and those Irish in America who were concerned about Irish freedom and Ireland's future.

The Irish fought the British for independence; and later on the Irish fought the Irish in an Irish Civil War, brother against brother, over the peace treaty with Britain.

The viciousness and the significance of the fighting throughout all of those bloody years was exactly as William Butler Yeats described it.

Easter,1916 created A Terrible Beauty.

Irish rebel soldiers at the GPO, General Post Office,
in Dublin, Easter, 1916
Photo Wikimedia Commons

Sources and Further Reading:
Painting of "Birth of the Irish Republic;   Photo of Patrick Pearse; Photo of Collins and Griffith[ photo of WB Yeats ; Wikipedia article on WB Yeats 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Trifle: An Irish Dessert

Trifle: An Irish Dessert
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

After you have had a wonderful Irish meal of Irish Stew or Corned Beef and Cabbage for St. Patrick's Day -- or any day -- why not have an easy to make and very flavorful Irish dessert?

The solution would be what is called a Trifle. This dessert, popular in England and in Ireland, is a mixture of many things which can change from cook to cook. It is usually made from a pudding or custard, with soft cookies or pieces of cake added, which are sometimes soaked in liquor such as wine or rum. Include some chocolate or fresh fruit, as you like. Whipped cream may be used too. Sometimes small candies can be added. 

The whole concoction is mixed in a clear bowl so all the colors can be seen. If you layer it, it makes a very nice presentation. 

A side view of Trifle --
Pudding, cookies, and fresh fruit.
Photo by Adrian McGrath

A bit of research shows us that this dessert first came into being in the 1500s probably in England, but different versions appeared elsewhere in Europe. Over time various things were added like jelly or gelatin. But today there are really endless variations of the dish.

The best way to make Trifle is to find the fruits and pastries you like the best and just mix them up, adding what you like and see what happens. So, it is a great dish for experimentation.

Bord Bia, the Irish government's food board or agency, gives its recipe and a little discussion here. Its trifle contains a fortified wine, nuts, cream, and many other fine things. 

I made my own simple dish with just four ingredients. I never made Trifle before, so I decided to keep it simple. I used sliced fresh banana, strawberries, a vanilla pudding, and soft cookies. 

Ingredients for my Trifle -- vanilla pudding,
soft cookies, sliced banana, strawberries.
Photo by Adrian McGrath

Simply spoon the dish into individual bowls and serve with coffee, tea, or wine for a nice dessert.

Sources and Further reading: Bord Bia on Trifle; Wikipedia article on Trifle.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Coddle, also called Dublin Coddle
or Irish Coddle, with sausages,
ham, onions, potatoes, and broth
Photo by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

This is the first time I have ever made Coddle. So, if you have any ideas on how to do this differently, please let me know. From the research I did, however, it seems that Coddle is really a great comfort food especially for cold or rainy days.

It is popular, I am told, in Dublin, Ireland and has been so since the 1700s. Legend has it that Johnathan Swift, the famous author of "A Modest Proposal" and "Gulliver's Travels," loved this dish. Some say it was his favorite. The dish is also linked to the great writer James Joyce.

Most people call it Coddle, but it is sometimes referred to as Dublin Coddle or Irish Coddle. The word "coddle" means to cook slowly in a liquid just below boiling, much like simmering. After I made it for the first time, it reminded me a bit of the French dish Pot au Feu, which is a type of pot roast with vegetables which sometimes adds sausages.

I made the dish with just a few ingredients, but feel free to add whatever vegetables you like or change it as you choose. From what I researched, there are many different ways to make this dish.

Basic ingredients for Coddle: Sausage, bacon,
potatoes, onion, salt, pepper, parsley. Also used but not
shown, beef broth and a pinch of brown sugar.
Photo by Adrian McGrath

My ingredients were beef sausage, Canadian bacon, red potatoes, and yellow onion. I added a can of beef broth, salt, black pepper, dried parsley, and a pinch of brown sugar. As usual I do not give a detailed recipe, because I feel the individual reader can best make his or her own version of the dish with just the basic ingredients, a few photos, and a general description of the cooking process.

Coddle, also called Dublin Coddle
or Irish Coddle, an Irish dish of sausages,
bacon, onions, potatoes, and broth
Photo by Adrian McGrath

The dish really calls for Irish bacon which is a type of "back bacon" totally different from "pork belly bacon" used in the USA. Irish bacon, sometimes called "rashers," is not always available in grocery stores in the USA; so Canadian bacon can be a good substitute or even ham.

Then pick the sausage of your choice. Saute the sausage and bacon in a pot just a bit. Add chopped chunks of onion and potatoes and a liquid. I used canned beef broth, but chicken or vegetable broth are fine. Or you can just use some water and let the dish make its own broth. Some people add beer later on, but I did not.

Ingredients with ham,
sausage, potatoes, and
onions. Photo by A. McGrath

Spices are simply salt, black pepper, and dried parsley. I added a pinch of brown sugar to have a little sweetness.

Bring everything to a boil on a stove top burner and cover the pot. Then cook on a low flame or simmer for about 45 minutes.  And that is it.

Some people cook the dish covered in a pot in the oven over many hours. But the choice is yours  -- you pick your own ingredients and your own cooking method. Coddle is a simple dish and can be experimented with. Give it a try.

Serve it with some bread and a beer, and you have a great and comforting meal.

Sources and Further Reading:
Wikipedia article on Coddle; "A traditional Irish cold weather treat: Dublin coddle recipe" by Holly Thomas from