Food in Ireland

Further information on food and farming in Ireland is available on the public libraries’ website

In the past:

Early Irish farmers grew crops such as wheat, barley and oats. The main parts of the early Irish diet were milk and cereals. Butter, buttermilk and cheeses also were very popular. People also ate fish and meat. When the Celts and the Normans arrived in Ireland, they brought different ways of farming with them. Gradually, farming changed a little over the centuries. For example, until the Normans arrived in Ireland around 1169, cows were too expensive to be killed for meat. People preferred to eat the meat from pigs.


Generally however, the food eaten by the early Irish people changed very little from the time until the arrival of the potato from America in the 1600s. Potatoes were easy to grow in both good and poor soil. This meant that more and more people started growing potatoes. Soon many families across Ireland were dependant on the potato.

After some time there was very little food other than potatoes available to the ordinary people of Ireland. This was because poorer people did not grow other types of food. By the 1800s many people in Ireland needed the potato to live. In 1845 a disease called Potato Blight ruined potato crops all over Ireland. Many people died from hunger because they had no other food to eat. This is known as the Great Irish Famine. It lasted for almost 5 years.

After the Famine, farmers tried to not depend on the potato alone for their food. Those who continued mostly grew crops and reared animals. Many farmers kept cows for milking and larger scale dairy farming gradually became more widespread.


In more modern times:

Traditional Irish foods began to be seen as old-fashioned when new processed foods became available in the 1960s. Nowadays, many people are interested in the way their grandparents lived and the foods they ate. For example, in the early 1900s, bread was baked at home and the vegetables were often grown in people’s own gardens. Bacon and cabbage was a meal that was very popular in Ireland.

Nowadays, traditional Irish food can be found side by side with Italian, Chinese and other ethnic food on supermarket shelves and on restaurant menus. Traditional Irish food often takes a little longer to produce and prepare than convenient ready-made food but it is usually very healthy. Traditional methods of cooking use less salt and less fat and contain less additives.

Traditional foods used in modern recipes include farmhouse cheeses, stone ground cereals such as porridge and oatcakes, soda bread and cockles and mussels. Champ, colcannon, drisheen, boxty and Dublin coddle are still made in parts of Ireland.