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.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Doolough Tragedy: Death by Indifference in 1849

Irish people starving during An Gorta Mor
Photo from Wikimedia, originally
from Illustrated London News, 1847
by James Mahony

By Adrian McGrath

There are different ways to kill people. One way is directly, for example, by shooting them with a gun or stabbing them with a sword.
But there is another way. The indirect way. Through neglect. Through a lack of human compassion, a lack of caring.

By refusing to help desperate people who are in deadly circumstances, when it would be very easy to help, is another way of killing. It is debatable whether the indirect way is culpable under law. It is, however, clearly morally reprehensible, by almost any civilized standard.

This indirect way to death happened in Ireland in 1849 on the rugged road from Louisburgh to the Delphi Hunting Lodge in cold, wet, foul weather.

Certainly there was suffering and dying all over Ireland at this time, during what is called in the Irish language An Gorta Mor, or The Great Hunger -- The Great Irish Famine. This particular case near Doolough Lake is just one small example of this larger horror. But it is a tale that needs to be told and remembered.

A point needs to be made at first. Although this period from 1845 to about 1850 when 1,000,000 Irish people starved to death or died of related diseases, and another 1,000,000 fled to other countries -- mainly to the United States -- is often called The Great Famine or even the Potato Famine, it was much more than a famine.

"An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store"
The potato blight in Ireland
Original art by Daniel MacDonald, 1847
Photo from Wikimedia Commons 

There was plenty of food in Ireland besides potatoes, the main food source for Irish peasants, which began to rot because of a blight in 1845. There were grains, vegetables, fruits, diary products, seafood, and even beef. But this food was controlled by the British overlords who would not share this with the starving Irish. If it was a famine, it was largely a man-made famine.

 (A case of genocide could be made as well, using the definition of the crime as stated by the 
United Nations. See this information from the UN website on genocide. 

Some of the grounds for genocide --relating to a group, national, ethnical, racial, or religious -- include "killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part ..." 
See )

Indeed, there are cases of large amounts of food stuffs being shipped overseas for sale, under guard by British soldiers or police, while the Irish were deliberately left to starve to death. An opportunistic blight destroyed the potatoes, but the British government allowed the Irish to starve.

To be fair, there were some efforts at hunger relief by the British government; but these were grossly inadequate. Some have argued this is evidence that the mass starvation, exiles, and deaths were not deliberate, but only the result of government ineptitude. Some aid, likewise, was sent by foreign countries which helped but not enough. (Please see my earlier article on Coffin Ships and the Great Hunger.)

It should be obvious, however, that if a nation like Great Britain had the skill and resources to ship its soldiers and military equipment all over the planet to create and maintain an empire, it should have been able to send food to starving people who lived next door in Ireland, and who were actually then subjects of the British Empire.

The Doolough Tragedy: A Death March

In County Mayo in Connacht (also spelled Connaught) on the west coast of Ireland on March 30, 1849, two government inspectors arrived in the town of Louisburgh on a mission. They came under the auspices of the Poor Law Union to see if the Irish people in that area really needed government assistance.

Doolough, Mayo, Ireland
Photo from Wikimedia, originally by
Wikimedia Commons Patrice 78500, in public domain

Yes, incredibly, despite the fact that thousands of people were dying of starvation on a regular basis with dead bodies in plain view on the ground all over, the government required verification of true need for bureaucratic reasons.

The inspection did not occur for unclear reasons. So, the two officials went to a place called the Delphi Lodge, a hunting lodge belonging to the Marquess of Sligo. This was about 12 miles away. There they could spend the night and perhaps get a bite to eat.

Meanwhile, the Irish people who went to Louisburgh for the inspection and to get food were told to go to the Delphi Lodge. If they did not appear in person, they could be removed from the list of people eligible for relief.

Under the circumstances they were in -- destitute, cold, starving, many seriously ill -- a forced march of 12 miles over rough terrain or bad roads in cold and wet weather was enough to kill them.

And that is exactly what it did. The Irish people had to arrive by 7 o'clock in the morning to get assistance. So, through the night hundreds of starving people walked 12 miles in miserable, cold weather to the Delphi Lodge.

How many died along the way? We are not sure. One report said that seven dead bodies were found along the roadside later on. Some of the bodies were of women and children. Other reports said some people were later unaccounted for -- most likely they perished as well in the night and were lost in the countryside.

Exactly how many died was never determined, but clearly all of them suffered both physically and mentally.

The area of Doolough Lake between Louisburgh and the Delphi Lodge, in short, became a place of agony and death. (By the way, the odd, French-sounding name of Louisburgh was given to the town by the British because of the British victory over the French in the battle of the French town Louisburgh in Canada during the French and Indian War.)

Reportedly, when the starving people arrived at the Delphi Lodge, they were told the government officials could not be disturbed as they were having lunch. Finally, they did meet with the officials who told them to just go away, the officials could not help them. More of the desperate people died on their way back from whence they came.

Perhaps this tale has evolved over time. We are not exactly certain of all the events. It has become almost a legend. We do know that, essentially, these starving and desperate Irish people got no help at all, and that many of them died from the experience while all of them gravely suffered.

The event itself has different names and is also known as the Doolough Famine Walk of 1849. (See this story from Irish Central.)

Famine National Monument in Murrisk, Ireland
Photo from Creative Commons Wikimedia,
Original work by Graham Horn. Murrisk is a few miles from
Louisburgh, Mayo, Ireland

The original source of information of the walk came from a letter sent to a newspaper called the "Mayo Constitution" from April 10, 1849. The letter told the tale of these horrible events.

The horrors these poor people endured have not been forgotten, however. In modern day Ireland there is an annual march called the Famine Walk near Doolough Lake in memory of those who suffered and died.

The Famine Walk also brings attention to unfortunate people around the globe who suffer from similar injustice or oppression. (See this video about the Famine Walk.)

The Famine Walk is supported by a human rights organization from Ireland called AFRI which stands for Action From Ireland. (See their website.)

Many notable people have joined in this Famine Walk commemoration over the years including the world-renowned
Archbishop Desmond Tuto of South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
appeared at the Irish Famine Walk
Photo from US Government and

Sources: article on the Doolough Tragedy; Video at on the Famine Walk; Irish Central article on the tragedy. See also the United Nations information on genocide

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Dracula was Irish

Count Dracula as portrayed by
Bela Lugosi in the classic 1931 film
"Dracula" Photo Wikimedia Commons
And Universal Studios 

By Adrian McGrath

    The scene is set near the Carpathian Mountains in the Balkans in southeast Europe near present-day Romania. There in a remote region known as Transylvania (which means "across the forest") lived Count Dracula. It is an ancient land of peasants and nobles ... and superstition, folklore, and ... vampires.

A market in Transylvania circa 1818
Photo from Wikimedia.

    We are familiar with the famous 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi, a Hungarian actor who spoke perfect English, as a refined aristocrat should, but with a slight Hungarian accent. Dracula too is a product of this ancient land. 

Vlad Tepes dines as he has his enemies impaled.
This is from a woodcut from 1499 by Markus
Ayrer, from Nuremberg, Germany.
Photo from Wikimedia.

Some say Dracula (whose name means "the devil") is a fictional character based on a real-life warrior noble named Vlad Dracul. He had other names -- Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracula, and notoriously, Vlad the Impaler. He acquired this title by executing the enemies of his homeland in the Balkans by sticking them on long, sharp poles and raising them up to die, as gravity pulled their bodies down on the deadly stakes. 

Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler
It is said that Count Dracula is
based on this real life leader.
Photo from Wikimedia

In Christendom in the Balkans, Vlad is seen as a hero who freed his homeland from the invading Ottoman Turks. Vlad may have been a hero to some, but he was ruthless with his enemies. And his legend became somehow mixed with a preexisting superstition of vampirism.

Vampires were mythological creatures who supposedly lived by drinking the blood of the living. They were the undead. To ignorant, non-scientific people, a belief in vampires provided an explanation for many ills in their society. For example, if somebody died mysteriously -- perhaps by a disease which ignorant people did not understand -- the people simply explained the death as due to vampire attack.

Many people in Europe and indeed worldwide believed in vampires in one form or another. In fact, Lilith was a sort of vampire as mentioned in the Holy Bible. She was believed to be the first wife of Adam. Belief in vampirism, in one form or another, dates way back to the days of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians.

So now we all know where Dracula came from.  He, of course, came from ... Dublin, Ireland.


Yes, Count Dracula, the Prince of Darkness, came from Ireland. Or to be more precise, Dracula was created in Ireland.

Bram Stoker

Dracula came from Ireland because he was invented in 1897 by an Irish writer from Dublin, Ireland. The writer was named Bram Stoker. (Bram is short for Abraham.) Stoker created this monster but set his homeland as Transylvania.

Bram Stoker, 1906
He was born in Dublin and wrote the
legendary novel Dracula
Photo from Wikimedia

Stoker lived from 1847 to 1912. Most people do not realize the significance of 1847, but the Irish --or people who study Irish history -- do. The year was called "Black 47." This was the worst year of the five year horror in Ireland known as The Great Famine or An Gorta Mor, The Great Hunger. (See my article on The Great Hunger and Coffin Ships.)

Yes, the potato crop rotted; but the Irish people starved not because of a lack of potatoes. There was plenty of other food in Ireland, but the British, who then controlled Ireland with British laws and a British police force and a British army, denied other food stuffs to the starving Irish people. In fact the British exported food stuffs to England and overseas to sell for profit while the Irish people died. 

Irish people starving to death during
An Gorta Mor, Skibbereen, Ireland, 1847.
This was the year called "Black 47"
when Bram Stoker was born in Dublin,
Ireland. Photo from Wikimedia.

Bram would have been too young to remember this first hand, but he certainly would have been aware of it as he grew up and became educated. This atmosphere of mass death would have been a profound part of his life.

Bram was born in Clontarf, a neighborhood near Dublin. (A very famous battle between the Irish and the Vikings happened there in 1014 AD, by the way. More death and violence for Bram to absorb into his consciousness.) Bram's father, a civil servant, was from Dublin; and his mother was from County Sligo, Ireland. The family was not Catholic, but Protestant, Church of Ireland.

Bram was very sickly in his youth but recovered. He spent much of his time, while other boys played outside or did sports, by thinking and daydreaming and creating ideas -- a solid basis for eventual writing. He went to Trinity College in Dublin and acquired a BA (bachelor's degree) and an MA (master's degree). He was especially interested in history and philosophy.
Stoker developed an interest in the theater while studying at Trinity. 

After college Bram worked in the government in civil service, as his father did. Later, Bram combined his theater interest with his writing skills and became a journalist and theater critic, writing for a newspaper. He also wrote a few books when he could.

Stoker married a lady named Florence Balcombe, who was once romantically involved with non-other-than the famous Oscar Wilde. Bram knew Wilde from their days at college. To his credit Bram still remained friends with Wilde even after Oscar fell from grace, was arrested and jailed. Oscar Wilde was unjustly persecuted just for being gay, which was a crime in those days.

Stoker's real claim-to-fame in his lifetime was his work as assistant and manager for the then famous Shakespearean actor Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theater in London. Irving more or less controlled the Lyceum, and he became so well regarded that he was knighted by the British Crown.

Henry Irving, the famous actor,
for whom Bram Stoker worked
Photo from Wikimedia

Stoker held Irving in great esteem. In many ways Irving was Stoker's tutor and idol. Stoker admired Irving, but he also feared his power. There are historians who believe that Bram based the character of Count Dracula on the commanding personality of Henry Irving. 

It was not because Irving was evil in any way, as was Dracula; but it was because Irving was overwhelmingly persuasive, commanding, and powerful as was Dracula, that a connection between the two is seen.

Dracula wanted more than to rule Transylvania by night. He sought to travel to England, then the most powerful country on Earth, and find more blood to drink. There Dracula could acquire even more power.

Bram Stoker wrote the book Dracula as a sideline. Archibald Constable and Company first published the book in 1897 in London, England. 

A copy of the first edition of the
novel by Bram Stoker called
Photo from Wikimedia

Despite the impact the concept of Dracula has had on everything from movies to breakfast cereal (Count Chocula), the book did not make Bram Stoker rich. In fact it did not really sell much at all. He got a few good book reviews in the newspapers, comparing him to Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. But that was about it.

Arthur Conan Doyle, another Irish writer and creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories, praised Stoker for his Dracula and even wrote him a complimentary letter.

A silent German film was made in 1922 called Nosferatu. There was a lawsuit over the legal rights to the idea of the vampire character. This legal dispute and its publicity created a new interest in the book.

Then there was a stage drama based on the book. It was popular in Britain and later in the USA.

But it was the 1931 Universal film called Dracula starring Bela Lugosi which made Dracula a household name until this very day.

Dracula has become an essential figure for Halloween, even though Halloween actually, originally had nothing to do with vampires. (See my article on Halloween and the Irish.)

Today most people think of Count Dracula as a creature of the night roaming the spiderweb-filled halls of Castle Dracula in remote Transylvania or perhaps attempting to seduce privileged English ladies at their estates near London and drink their blood.

But really ... Dracula was Irish.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

When the Irish Flew Around the Moon

American astronaut, Michael Collins.
Like another Michael Collins, famous in
Irish history as a military leader, the NASA
astronaut is of Irish descent. Photo from the US
Government in public domain, from NASA.

By Adrian McGrath

Once upon a time, the Irish flew around the Moon. Yes, it sounds incredible; but it is true.

The Irish always seem to show up in the strangest places. And in the summer of 1969, it happened -- 50 years ago this week.

The American spacecraft Apollo 11 made its historic and spectacular approach to the Moon. Two men would walk on the lunar surface in this mission -- Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Orbiting the Moon alone in the main spacecraft would be Michael Collins, the Command Module pilot.

Collins was a graduate of the US Military Academy (West Point). He joined the United States Air Force (USAF), flew a Sabre jet (an advanced USAF jet fighter), and became a distinguished test pilot. He then became one of the most select people on planet Earth -- a NASA astronaut. (NASA is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.)

The story of astronaut Michael Collins, however, goes far back in time to a land far, far away from America. It goes to Ireland.

Irish immigrants going to America
Photo from,
1868 picture by Henry Doyle

Michael's grandfather was Jeremiah Bernard Collins from Dunmanway, County Cork, Ireland. Jeremiah left Ireland to be with his immigrant Irish relatives in Cincinnati, Ohio around 1860. This was just a few years after the nightmare of the Great Famine or Great Hunger in Ireland. This placed him in America at the time of the bloody American Civil War. This war tore America apart, and it cost the lives of about 700,000 Americans. So, Jeremiah went from one enormous devastation and trauma to another.

It is possible, though not certain, that the grandfather had been a drummer boy in the Union Army during the war. After the war he worked various odd jobs including working in a cattle drive to Texas to replace some of the animals which had been lost during the war.

After his work in Texas ended, Jeremiah traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana. There he settled in and worked in the grocery business, being employed for a man named James Lawton. He married the boss's daughter, Kate Lawton.

Jeremiah and wife eventually moved across the Mississippi River to Algiers, Louisiana (today a part of New Orleans, which, by the way, is my home town) where the trains from the West Coast ended their run. There was no bridge for trains back then across the Mississippi. This made Algiers a key spot for unloading goods to send across the river to the heart of New Orleans.

New Orleans during the Civil War,
1862. Photo from Wikimedia
and Campfires and Battlefields, 1894

Irish immigrants worked in the New Orleans railroad marshaling yards and also on the river's waterfront. To capitalize on this opportunity, Jeremiah and Kate opened their own general store selling mainly dry goods. They also had the good sense to open a bar in the backroom too, selling lots of beer.

Jeremiah and Kate had many mouths to feed from their business because they had a very large Irish Catholic family with many children. As their children grew, they worked at the family business too.

James Lawton Collins, a Major General
in the United States Army, father of
astronaut Michael Collins, and
born in Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1882
Photo by Library of Congress and Wikimedia

Their first born was named James Lawton Collins. James later became the father of astronaut Michael Collins. James grew and eventually was accepted at Tulane University in New Orleans. But by chance he was also later accepted by West Point, the United States Military Academy.

So, James went to West Point and became a professional US Army career officer. This is how his son, Michael, became connected to the US military and eventually to NASA.

So, from exile from impoverished County Cork, Ireland (which was then still suffering from the past horrors of the Great Hunger, 1845 to 1850, where 1,000,000 Irish people starved to death and another 1,000,000 people fled their homeland to permanent exile), to Cincinnati, Ohio and the slaughter of the American Civil War, to the wilds of Texas, and then to New Orleans, the story led to the improbable result of an Irish descendant flying around the Moon.

Michael Collins, alive and well today, is an American hero. And the Pride of Old Ireland too.

Michael Collins from Ireland,
nicknamed "The Big Fellow,"
Irish military leader in the 1920s.
Photo from Wikimedia

By the way, people in Ireland might recognize the name Michael Collins in another sense. Another Michael Collins, a national hero, was an Irish military leader who fought for Irish independence in the Anglo-Irish War of the early 1920s. He was the leader of the Irish Republican Army. 

After the great success of Apollo 11, many Americans began to take Moon missions for granted and space trips even in the Space Shuttle as routine. But that was a grave error.

The Saturn V, the rocket ship for Apollo 11.
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia.

Ventures into outer space, beyond the atmosphere of Earth, are extremely dangerous. Any number of things can go wrong, and the result can be death. We saw this with the near fatal mission of Apollo 13 and the tragic explosion of the Challenger space shuttle where the entire crew was lost.

All of us on planet Earth, from what ever country, owe a large debt to the brave men and women who venture into outer space.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, Apollo 11.
Photo from NASA, taken by Neil

So, you might rightly ask: Why do we take such risks? We should remember the words of another famous Irish American, John F. Kennedy, who told us in his famous "Moon Speech" at Rice University in Houston, TX on September 12, 1962 why we take these tremendous risks, why we dare to leave the safety of our planet and reach for the stars: "We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon ... not because it is easy, but because it is hard." John F. Kennedy, in his brief time in office, steered America in the direction of a New Frontier.

President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, Houston, Texas,
September 12, 1962. "We choose to go to the Moon ..."
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia
So there was Kennedy, and there was Collins. Both American heroes, and descendants of the Irish.

One descendant of the Irish had the vision to go to the Moon, and the other did the driving.

The crew of Apollo 11.
Photo from NASA and Wikimedia 

Sources and further reading:

Monday, April 29, 2019

Colcannon: Make It Easy

Colcannon, the easy way. With Cole Slaw, butter,
Green onions, turkey bacon, instant potatoes, and milk.
Photo by A. McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

I have never made Colcannon before. I have made Champ, which is similar and which I like very much. But I never made Colcannon. So, I decided to make some; but I wanted it now and did not want a lot of cooking and effort.

So, I devised this shortcut version. If you want a traditional Colcannon and have a lot of time on your hands, go somewhere else. But if you want a quick and easy Colcannon which still resembles real Colcannon pretty much and does indeed taste great, you have come to the right place.

Here is how I made it. You can vary it as you choose, and you will have a nice meal.

My main ingredients for easy Colcannon --
Instant potatoes, Cole Slaw, green onions,
Turkey bacon, canned milk, butter or margerine.
Photo by A. McGrath

You need 1. Instant potatoes, 2. Canned milk, 3. A premixed Cole Slaw without any dressing or mayonnaise on it (just shredded cabbage and carrots, etc), 4. Green onions or scallions, 5. Bacon (I used turkey bacon, but use whatever type you want), 6. Salt, pepper, and a pinch of brown sugar.

In a big pot (I used a Chinese Wok) add some olive oil and saute the bacon after chopping it up a bit. When cooked, add the Cole Slaw or shredded cabbage. Saute until soft. Add a pinch of brown sugar and salt and pepper.

In a separate bowl, mix the instant potatoes to instructions plus add milk. I used canned milk. Add the sliced green onions to the potatoes and mix.

Now mix the pototoes with the bacon and cabbage mix. If not still hot, put it in a microwave.

Mix it all up and put it in a big bowl. Make a hollow in the middle of the Colcannon mix and pour in some melted butter.

And that is it. It is done.

It is quick, easy, inexpensive, tasty, and filling. It is probably pretty nutritious too.

Some recipes for Colcannon use leeks instead of cabbage. So, you can try that too.

Sources and further reading:
Irish Cooking by Ruth Bauder Kershner.
Weathervane Books, 1979.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Concertina and Irish Music

My very own Anglo- German
concertina from a music shop
in Dublin, Ireland, given
to me by a good friend

By Adrian McGrath

You might have seen a classic film which had old time sailing ships in it, a film like Mutiny on the Bounty or Moby Dick. Among the various items on board these ships -- along with sails and lines, capstans, anchors, bad food, and many salty sailors -- you might have seen a musical instrument.

It could have been a fiddle, a fife, a tin whistle, an accordion, or one of those strange little squeezebox things that a seafaring musician swings around. That little squeezebox thing is called a concertina.

The concertina was a great instrument for seaborne musicians because unlike the accordion, they were compact and easy to carry and stow away. And there was very limited space on most sailing ships.

Sailing ships in olden days, hunting the whale.
Concertinas would likely have been on board
after the 1830s. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. 

Unlike the fiddle, the concertina is self-contained, not needing extra strings and rosin, etc. And it sounds louder than a fiddle. Unlike the fife it has more versatility and more power. All in all, the concertina was a great instrument for the romantic days of sail.

Music was a boost to a sailor's morale and was helpful even when doing work. Sea shanties, for example, were played or sung when the crew would haul in lines and weigh anchor.

Sailors using a capstan to haul a heavy object.
They often did this work to the music of a sea shanty
sometimes played on a concertina, or a fife,
or just sung aloud. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The concertina, however, was (and is still) used for more than sailing ships. It is a popular instrument for Irish music. It is great for most types of Irish dances -- jigs and reels, hornpipes, waltzes, slip jigs, slides, polkas, and marches. It is great for songs and ballads too either for the melody or as an accompanying instrument.

An old time dance, possibly a
polka. Concertinas are good for this
type of dance. Photo from
Wikimedia Commons, circa 1840.

There are two main types of concertinas -- the English and the Anglo-German. The main difference is in the way the instruments play notes. On the English, a push-in and a pull-out of the bellows plays the same note. On the Anglo-German the pull-out plays a different note from the push-in, much like the way a different note is played on a harmonica. The Anglo-German makes for a more jaunty, bouncy style than the English, making the Anglo-German better for Irish music.

Most Irish folk tunes are played in the key of D and sometimes G.
The typical 30 button Anglo-German concertina comes in the keys of C and G with scatted, extra notes in the top of three rows. With the scattered notes, we can play in the key of D.

Sir Charles Wheatstone, inventor of the
English version of the concertina
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, circa 1868.

The concertina was invented almost simultaneously -- and without mutual knowledge -- by two men, one English and the other German. Sir Charles Wheatstone developed the English concertina in 1829, and in 1834 Carl Friedrich Uhlig invented the German concertina which evolved into the more popular Anglo-German version. The Anglo-German added a few elements from the English to the German, including the famous hexagonal shape and smaller size.

Carl Friedrich Uhlig,
inventor of the German version
of the concertina. Photo from
Wikimedia Commons.

Overtime the concertina, especially the Anglo-German, became popular with Irish music.

You can learn much more about the concertina at the website for the
Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, Ireland. The website is here or see This is a research organization for Irish music and culture.

The concertina is known as a free-reed instrument and is related to the accordion and the harmonica. It is larger and more powerful than a harmonica, but it is not as big and bulky as an accordion. So, the concertina is really just the right combination of power and size.

More portable than an accordion, louder than a fiddle, flute, or tin whistle, an old-time musical instrument with a pleasing and unique sound, as suitable for the Irish Dance as for sailing on the high seas -- that is what the concertina is.

The Anglo-German concertina is, by the way, my favorite instrument for traditional Irish music.

Sources and further reading: Website for Irish Traditional Music Archive; a book about learning the concertina The Anglo Concertina Demystified by Bertram Levy, 1985; McNeela Instruments in Dublin, Ireland; and's article on concertina here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Cabbage and Ham: An Irish Dish or a New Orleans Dish?

Cabbage and Ham with Rice (and Potatoes)
An Irish or a New Orleans Dish?
All Photos by Adrian McGrath

By Adrian McGrath

Here it is Mardi Gras night, and I need to eat something fast before
Ash Wednesday comes and Lent begins. Naturally, being in New Orleans I need a real New Orleans dish. But, St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner (on March 17), so I should really begin my countdown by eating a real Irish dish too.

What to do? Quite a dilemma I'm in now.

No problem. The answer is Cabbage and Ham. Oddly enough this one dish is great for both occasions.

Main ingredients for Cabbage and Ham
Photo by A. McGrath

New Orleans food comes historically from Creole Cuisine which is basically a mixture of French and Spanish food plus local south Louisiana ingredients. World famous dishes like Jambalaya, Gumbo, Crawfish Etouffee, and dishes from people of other cultures who immigrated to New Orleans like the Sicilians with dishes like Muffulettas, Crawfish Pasta, Stuffed Artichokes, and fried Eggplant Parmesan. Other New Orleans dishes were influenced by Native American Choctaws, African Americans, Germans, and many others over the years.

Yet there is also a very popular dish in New Orleans called, depending on who you talk to, Smothered Cabbage or Cabbage and Ham. No one really knows the origin of this dish. But could it be Irish?

Red Potatoes for our dish

Unlike most of the South in the USA, New Orleans historically had a very large Irish immigrant population starting in the mid 1800s. It was, again unlike the rest of the South, mainly Catholic as well. It is quite possible the Irish brought with them one of their favorite dishes which was Cabbage and Irish Bacon (which is not readily available in the USA, but resembles Canadian Bacon). But an easy substitute for Irish Bacon is ham. And, of course, ham could be found in Ireland too. (In the 1850s about 20% of the population of New Orleans was Irish.)

White Rice for the dish
with parsley and green

The Irish journalist Lafcadio Hearn lived in New Orleans in the late 1800s and actually wrote the very first English language (as opposed to the French) New Orleans Creole cookbook in 1885. He gave a recipe for Stewed Cabbage in his work called La Cuisine Creole.  (See more about Lafcadio Hearn.) He made it with butter and a cream sauce. He did not add ham, but it would have been easy enough to simply add chopped ham to the cabbage.

Irish cookbooks and Bord Bia, the Irish food board, give various recipes for cabbage dishes with some type of pork product, usually Irish bacon. So, we could imagine how the Irish love of cabbage worked its way into New Orleans cuisine.

Not many other New Orleans dishes have cabbage as a main ingredient, except for Cabbage Rolls which has stewed cabbage leaves as a wrap for ground meat and rice in a "red sauce" (tomato sauce). We could easily speculate that New Orleans Cabbage and Ham has Irish origins.

Whatever the case, here is how I made my version of this popular Irish/New Orleans dish. Perhaps you can make it at home and decide for yourself if it seems like an Irish dish, a New Orleans dish, or both.

Cooking in a copper pot

I used both white rice -- the New Orleans way -- and a cooked potato -- the Irish way; and you can take your pick of which way you like it.

Being in Louisiana, I finished the dish off with a garnish of freshly sliced and uncooked green onions and parsley.

Cabbage and Ham, a fine meal
from New Orleans and Ireland

You will need a green cabbage, a ham steak, parsley, green onions, Creole spices, butter, and rice and potatoes. And a pinch of brown sugar to balance the salty ham.

Cut and core the cabbage and place it in a pot with a little water. Cook it down on low for about 30 minutes. Drain and add butter and sliced pre-cooked ham and seasoning and cook on low. Cook the rice and the potato separately.

Cook until done and serve with warm New Orleans French Bread
 or Irish Soda Bread and butter. Be sure to garnish the dish with fresh, uncooked, sliced green onions and parsley; this is an old Cajun touch.

Cabbage and Ham makes a very nice and filling dish for Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day, or any day -- no matter what your background is or where you live.

Bon Appetit!

Sources and Further Reading:
La Cuisine Creole by Lafcadio Hearn; Irish Cooking by Ruth Bauder Kershner,Weathervane Books, 1979; A youtube video How to Cook Cabbage Southern Style; Bord Bia's discussion of cabbage, here

Monday, February 25, 2019

Full Irish Breakfast a la New Orleans Creole

"Full Irish Breakfast a la New Orleans Creole"
Photo by Adrian McGrath
My own concoction -- clockwise from top left,
Boudin, New Orleans French bread, fried tomatoes,
Andouille, turkey bacon, ham steak, strawberry
preserves, fried eggs, fried mushrooms, and baked beans

By Adrian McGrath

A traditional Irish breakfast, often called a Full Irish Breakfast, was, and still is, a very large meal indeed. In the past it was eaten on working days; but today it is more of a special occasion meal, morning or night. You may wonder how this huge and very filling dish came about? And why I decided to make my own unusual version of it?

My father, whose background was half Irish and half German, grew up in a small town in Wisconsin on a little dairy farm. He told me that when he was young the family would get up very early every day; and before going to work on the farm, they would have a huge meal. It could consist of eggs, breakfast meats like bacon or ham, pancakes, biscuits, jam, butter, maybe toast, coffee, and maybe oatmeal  -- but certainly not grits. He only later in life discovered grits (a ground cornmeal gruel) when he came to Louisiana and specifically to New Orleans just before World War 2. He was serving in the US Army then during the Louisiana Maneuvers, a very large military exercise to train US soldiers to fight Nazi Germany.

My father's large, farmer's breakfast may have had some fruits and vegetables too, but I am not sure. Being on a dairy farm, his family most likely had lots of dairy products -- milk, eggs, butter, etc. Even during the Great Depression when he was young, they could have traded or bartered dairy products for other food items.

My father from
Wisconsin, Master
Sergeant John N.
McGrath, US Army, circa
1943 (Family photo)
Yes, he ate a large
breakfast as a young farmer in
Wisconsin, just like the
farmers in old Ireland.

So why did they eat so much food for breakfast in rural Wisconsin ? For the same reason the Irish farmers and workers would eat a huge breakfast. A person working in an agricultural or agrarian culture burned a tremendous amount of calories each day. There was intense physical work to do all day long. The farmers needed enough fuel to keep going without stopping. Hence, they needed a large, varied, and nutritious breakfast. Lunch and dinner were less important than breakfast.

On top of this, sometimes mornings could be chilly or cold in Ireland as in Wisconsin. Although winters in Wisconsin could be much colder than in Ireland with frequent freezing weather and even sub zero weather. A large, hot breakfast could help fight off the cold and chill.

Ireland was for a long time an agrarian or agricultural society. So, Irish farmers and workers needed hot, nutritious fuel to eat in Ireland like my father did in rural Wisconsin.

But the Irish people, of course, are essentially an exiled people. Much like the ancient Israelites, they have traveled and found new homelands across the globe. Most people with Irish blood in them live today mainly in one country -- and it is not Ireland. It is the United States. They live mostly in the North East, but they also live in every state in the union. They have adapted Irish ways to their new surroundings.

In that sense I have taken as an experiment this occasion to make my own version of the Full or Traditional Irish Breakfast adding foods from my part of the country -- New Orleans. The original cuisine of New Orleans was called Creole, which is a mixture of the French and Spanish cultures. Nearby New Orleans to the south and west is Acadiana which is usually called Cajun Country. This is a French Canadian culture which developed in the swamps and prairies of south Louisiana when the French Canadians were driven from Nova Scotia by the British during the French and Indian War. (In fact, Cajun history resembles Irish history in many ways.) 

So, I took the basic ingredients of an Irish breakfast and added a few Creole and Cajun items and removed a few traditional items too.

Full Irish version Breakfast
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
From Gus-DLC and Creative Commons

The basic Irish version is made of the following although it varies, of course, from place to place and cook to cook: fried eggs, rashers (Irish style bacon, something like what is called Canadian bacon in the USA), sausages, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, baked beans, and perhaps some type of potato, and maybe Irish soda bread.

The typical drink is hot tea and perhaps orange juice. Additionally, the Irish use something most other cultures do not have called "black and white pudding." This is not pudding like in the USA, but it is more like a type of sausage patty. Black pudding is made partly from animal blood, usually from pig, plus meat and spices. White pudding is a soft sausage sometimes containing oatmeal or some other grain.

Breakfast meats for my version of the
Irish breakfast -- L to R, Boudin, ham steak,
turkey bacon, Andouille
Photo by Adrian McGrath
I decided to change my breakfast and call it an Irish Creole Breakfast (or Full Irish Breakfast a la New Orleans Creole); but it also has aspects of Cajun food. My ingredients include the following: fried eggs, ham steak, American bacon (except I use turkey bacon instead of pork bellies), canned baked beans, fried Roma tomatoes, and fried mushrooms. I removed both the black and white puddings since they are hard to find here. In place of them I included two sausages very popular in the Cajun country -- Andouille (which is a French sausage) and Boudin.

More ingredients for my version:
baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes
Photo by A. McGrath

Boudin is actually related to the Irish white pudding; both are soft sausages that contain grains. Boudin has cooked rice inside its casing along with meat and Cajun seasonings. Irish white pudding usually has oats. 

Instead of soda bread, I used New Orleans French bread. Instead of tea, I used a French roast New Orleans coffee. I also added some strawberry preserves -- strawberries being very plentiful and popular in south Louisiana. This produces a nice sweet and savory taste.

I kept in the tomatoes and the mushrooms, and I believe that is a very good Irish idea to include vegetables. I should have included some type of potato too, but I already had way too much on my plate. If I do it again, I will likely add some mashed, creamed potatoes with butter. Or perhaps add Champ or Irish Potato Cakes.

And that is it. 

Why not give it a try or use whatever local ingredients you have wherever you live to create your own version of an Irish breakfast. 

It is not traditional as in Ireland; but just as the Irish people adapted as they went to new lands, so too Irish foods can adapt and become something exciting and new as well.

Sources and further reading:
An article on the Traditional Irish Breakfast at; Full Breakfast article at

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

When the American Army "Invaded" Ireland

US soldiers in North Ireland, February, 1942
Photo from US Army Signal Corps
and Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian McGrath

The American Army "invaded" Ireland in 1942. Well, it was a friendly invasion; and it was Northern Ireland. But technically speaking, at least a part of the island of Ireland was under the control of a foreign power -- the United States of America.

But unlike the other armed and dangerous men who sailed to Ireland over the many centuries -- the Vikings, the Normans, and the forces of the British Empire -- the Americans were greatly welcomed by the Irish ... and, of course, by the British too. That combination in itself was remarkable.

The American invasion was welcomed because the United States Army had come to prevent Adolf Hitler from invading Ireland with Nazi troops and to prepare for the eventual Allied liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany.

The American invasion of Ireland was so popular that some Irish actually fell in love with the American soldiers. Yes, they got married too. About 1,800 marriages occurred between Irish women and American soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland. 

Many couples sailed off to the USA after the war to take up  new lives. Some had other fates. We do not know exactly how many of these young American husbands died fighting the Germans. The average age of a US soldier in Northern Ireland was about 24 years old. (About 400,000 American soldiers died in all of World War 2.)

A dance and party on St. Patrick's Day,
March 17, 1942 in North Ireland
Irish women in uniform and American GIs
Photo from US Army Signal Corps
and Wikimedia Commons
Note the warning poster on the bulletin board
with instructions in case of a poison gas attack.

The Americans built military camps in N. Ireland for training and for preparations for battles and campaigns against the Germans, and they eventually saw combat in North Africa, Italy, the D-Day Invasion, and the Liberation of Europe.

Additionally, the US had a major Army Air Force base at Langford Lodge, east of Lough Neagh near the city of Belfast. Literally thousands of US aircraft gathered or passed through Langford for the air war against Nazi Germany. (See more here at the Ulster Aviation Society. And see American Air Museum Britain.) 

A type of American aircraft used at Langford Lodge,
a P38 Lightning, fighter bomber. The Lockheed
Company, which made the P38, helped run the base.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
The Americans eventually came to N. Ireland in tremendous numbers; and although they could occasionally cause trouble and be a nuisance, there is no doubt that they were welcomed. One reason was the Germans actually had a plan to invade Ireland early in the war. It was called Operation Green (Fall Gruen). It was to occur in conjunction with the German plan to amphibiously invade Britain called Operation Sealion (Unternehmen Seeloewe). 

Operation Green never occurred because Sealion was prevented mainly because the Royal Air Force (British RAF) stopped the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in the Battle of Britain in 1940, two years before the Americans arrived. But no one really knew for sure if the Germans would or could invade Britain or Ireland. 

Northern Ireland was controlled by Great Britain then and militarily active during the war, while the south of Ireland -- today called the Republic of Ireland -- was neutral. (How the island of Ireland got divided in two is another long, long story. Read about that at my article on the Easter Rising.)

Hitler's main attention was on an eventual war against the Soviet Union, a desire for Lebensraum or living space. The Germans, however, certainly remained a threat to Britain and N. Ireland with air power and later in the war with special "wonder weapons" like long range rockets -- the V1 buzzbomb and the very futuristic V2. 

Indeed in April and May of 1941 there was something called the Belfast Blitz where Nazi airplanes bombed the city and other parts of N. Ireland. About 1000 people were killed; and over 1,500 people were wounded -- primarily civilians. It should be added that, although a neutral state, Ireland (the South) was also hit be a few German bombs, and there were casualties and property damage and a some deaths, under 100. The typical explanation was navigational error, but it could also have been a Nazi warning to the Irish in the south not to aid the people in the north. 

The terrible results of a German air raid in Belfast,
N. Ireland in 1941. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The name of the American invasion of N. Ireland was called Operation Magnet. Magnet was first devised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when Churchill visited Washington DC in late December of 1941. 

US troops on special secret missions had been coming to N. Ireland even before the official American entry into World War 2, before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Specialists came to plan and to assist in the Lend-Lease mission. (Lend Lease was a plan of President Franklin Roosevelt's to help supply Britain with needed war equipment.) The placement of US troops into N. Ireland was actually the first overseas deployment of American troops in force in World War 2.

American soldiers being transported
to Ireland in January, 1942
Photo from US Army Signal Corps, photo #145230
Also see
N. Ireland was seen as critical for the Battle of the Atlantic. This was a sea campaign to keep to supply lines open from the United States to Britain. Ships would land in N. Ireland. German U-Boats (submarines) and some German surface ships, like the infamous Bismarck, threatened these sea lanes.

It is believed that eventually about 300,000 American soldiers came to N. Ireland during the war. This represented about 10 percent of the population of N. Ireland. So, Northern Ireland was becoming Americanized to some extent. The American soldiers guarded the country, so that that the British troops could leave and be deployed to various places around the globe. Britain would eventually fight the Japanese in the Far East as well as the Germans and Benito Mussolini's Fascist army.

One of the interesting and positive facts of the US deployment of soldiers in N. Ireland concerns African American servicemen. Although there was still much discrimination and indeed legalized segregation in the USA, the African American soldiers stationed in N. Ireland were welcomed by the Irish and treated properly without discrimination. 

An example of this is the friendly treatment of sailors from the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer. Its crew was mainly African American -- only one of two US Navy ships with mainly African American crews. It was originally from Boston, Massachusetts but based in Belfast. The USS Mason saw action in the North Atlantic protecting supply convoys. 

Reportedly, some of the USS Mason African American sailors once had liberty (a day off) in the city of Derry. They went into town apprehensive about how they would be treated. They discovered that they were respected and treated politely and well by the Irish people, with far better treatment than they often received at home in the segregated USA.

Discrimination existed in the segregated US military, and African Americans were typically assigned to menial work. The skilled positions on the USS Mason (and the USS PC-1264, a submarine chaser) were exceptions to the rule and even experimental.

USS Mason (DE 529), a US Navy destroyer escort which protected
Allied supply ships in the North Atlantic from Boston
to Belfast among other duties. It and one other ship
were the only US Navy ships which had largely
African American crews.
Photo from the US Navy and Wikimedia Commons
Famous American generals came to N. Ireland as well. Among the important leaders who came were George S. Patton, "old blood and guts," and, of course, the man who would lead all of the Allied troops at the D-Day Normandy Invasion, General Dwight D. Eisenhower ("Ike"), who later became a US president.

American leaders in the European Theater
of Operations in World War 2, 1945, many of whom, including
Eisenhower and Patton were in Ireland in 1942.
Photo from US Army, National Archives, and Wikimedia
Commons. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower is seated in the middle
of the first row. Gen. George S. Patton, wearing a helmet, is on the
first row, second from the left. 

Ike went to Enniskillen in Fermanagh in May of 1944. The General visited US soldiers who were about to invade the German Atlantic Wall on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Many of the US troops were stationed at a place called Celtic Park in Enniskillen and at Portora Royal School. (A playing field there, where US soldiers once marched and drilled, was later named after General Eisenhower. See more here.)

The first US Army unit to arrive in force was the 34th Division, called "Red Bull Division." It came in January, 1942 from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York to Belfast. Reportedly a German U-Boat attempted to attack the American transport ship, but it was defeated by a US Navy ship. The Americans were met by cheering Irish people and a musical band as the GIs disembarked from the transport vessel called the Chateau Tierry and a sister ship called the Stratford.
American soldiers building a steel hut
in Ireland in 1942 for US soldiers
Photo 138660 from US Army Signal Corps,

The first American officially to enter N. Ireland was a soldier from Minnesota named Milburn H. Henke. The first official American unit was Company B, 133rd Infantry Regiment from the 34 Division of the Minnesota National Guard.

It is interesting to note that the US government issued US soldiers booklets about how to behave in N. Ireland. These were called US War Office Pocket Guides. The booklets told the Americans not to brag and boast, how to behave and not to behave towards the locals -- and towards Irish women too -- and what to talk about and what not to talk about. The guides also mentioned the special relationship America had (and still has with Ireland) since many Americans have an Irish ancestry -- from North and South Irish, and Catholic and Protestant Irish.

The guide booklets ended with two pieces of simple and very sage advice, emphasizing this applied especially to Ireland: 1. do not argue religion, 2. do not argue politics.  Yes, some very good advice from the US War Office from back in 1942.

US Army Signal Corps Photo 132954
US soldiers in Northern Ireland on
maneuvers, preparing for war, 1942

An interesting footnote for military history buffs is this. The American soldiers could have been given the newer style steel helmet used throughout most of World War 2 by the American

military, but they were deliberately issued the old World War 1 style American "tin hats" which, in fact, resemble British helmets. The reason was that it was feared that the local civilians and the home guard in N. Ireland would not recognize the newer American helmets and think the American soldiers were invading German soldiers, since the newer helmets looked more like German helmets than the British helmets or the World War 1 "tin hats." 

Ultimately, this is what the American soldiers
in N. Ireland were preparing for, and things like this --
D-Day, June 6, 1944 at Normandy, France.
Photo "Into the Jaws of Death" taken by US Coast Guard
Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent in a LCVP
landing craft (Higgin's Boat) -- Company E, 16th Infantry,
1st Infantry Division, Big Red One, US Army -- Fox Green, Omaha Beach.
Omaha Beach was the most heavily defended invasion beach on D-Day.
The well experienced German 352 Division was dug in. The Americans
suffered over 2,000 casualties on Omaha Beach on D-Day, but they prevailed.

Sources and Further Reading: US government documents on the Irish mission, see this; "The Yanks are Coming" from; "American Troops Arrive in Northern Ireland" -- article at; US Army website about the Irish in the US army. About the USAAF in N. Ireland at the Ulster Aviation Society .