Traditional Irish Foods and Drinks to Celebrate St Patrick’s Day

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day with Traditional Irish Dishes

Traditional Irish FoodsHistorical Significance of St Patrick’s Day Foods

Breaking the Lenten Fast: A Feast of Irish Traditions

St Patrick’s Day – a Catholic feast day – is celebrated on March 17, the anniversary of Patrick’s death. Usually occurring in the middle of Lent, when fasting was observed, the feast day gave Irish Catholics a welcome break from the Lenten fast, even if only for a day. Not only could they enjoy meat and eggs on St Patrick’s Day, but they could also consume alcohol and wet the Saint’s head with one drink.

All across Ireland, people broke the fast and enjoyed meals of traditional Irish foods, including pork and bacon with potatoes and garden vegetables. They also toasted St Pat with a celebratory beverage called the Pota Phádraig or St Patrick’s Pot. The custom—called drowning the shamrock—involves floating a shamrock leaf in a whiskey shot before drinking.

So, if you are looking to feast like the Irish on March 17, here’s my guide to the traditional Irish foods and drinks we use to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

Mains dishes for St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Bacon and Cabbage: The Quintessential Irish Fare

bacon and cabbage traditional Irish foods

Corned beef and cabbage is probably the dish that most non-Irish people associate with St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. However, that dish traces its roots back to the early days of Irish immigrants in America, not Ireland itself. Yes, you read that right, it is not one of our traditional Irish foods.

Traditionally, Irish bacon was the meat most often eaten in Ireland, mainly because it was cheap. Small rural households would keep two pigs — one for the table and the other for the market. However, Irish immigrants found the price of pork in America to be very expensive, so they started using beef in their recipes instead and brined it much the same way as they would pork. This is how the traditional Irish dish of bacon and cabbage became corned beef and cabbage.  

So, if you want to keep things strictly traditional and eat what the Irish eat on St Patrick’s Day, cook up some bacon and cabbage and serve it with some rich, flavoursome parsley sauce. In Ireland, the dish calls for loin of bacon and in-season Savoy cabbage.   

Here’s a traditional recipe for Bacon and Cabbage with Parsley Sauce Executive Head Chef Jonathan Keane at The Lodge at Ashford Castle in Mayo, Ireland.

Irish Stew: A Hearty Emblem of Irish Cuisine

traditional Irish foods irish stew

Stew is probably the best-known dish associated with Ireland. In fact, stew is so ubiquitous in Ireland that it even appeared on a postage stamp. Even now, it is one of the most popular traditional Irish foods served today.

Stews are a method of cooking a meal in one pot. Every household in Ireland has its own way of making stew, but, traditionally, Irish stew was made with a combination of mutton, onions, potatoes, water and some light seasoning of salt and pepper.  

A controversial ingredient in stew is carrots, and you’ll often hear Irish cooks ask, ‘Do you put carrots in your stew?’ People feel strongly about this addition. However, nowadays, you’ll find all sorts of flavour enhancers in Irish stew recipes, including celery, leeks, bay leaf, chicken stock, and even oxtail soup!

In Ireland, many restaurants and pubs serve a modern take on a traditional stew made with beef and Guinness. But whether you opt for traditional Irish lamb stew or beef and Guinness stew, make sure you make it the night before serving, as all Irish people know that stew always tastes better the next day.

Looking for some traditional Irish stew recipes? Here’s a Beef and Guinness Stew recipe from Irish cook Donal Skehan.

Here is a flavourful Traditional Irish Stew recipe from Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb and here is a great recipe from Mary Gleeson of Gleeson’s Restaurants and Rooms – Gleeson’s Traditional Irish Stew.

Seafood Chowder: Ireland’s Coastal Bounty

traditional Irish foods seafood chowder

Seafood chowder is a veritable feast of fresh, salted, and smoked fish, evidence of the bounty of Ireland’s fresh waterways and seas. Irish seafood chowder is a very adaptable dish, and the ingredients vary from place to place and day to day based on the fisherman’s catch from the local waters.

A good chowder starts with cream and wine and then a mixture of fish and shellfish, as well as vegetables like celery and potatoes. Carrageen moss, a seaweed gathered off the coasts of Ireland, is often added to enhance the taste of the ocean. 

The proportion of solid ingredients to liquid in seafood chowder is larger, making it a very hearty dish indeed. The most traditional accompaniment is homemade brown bread or soda bread smeared with a thick coating of real Irish butter. Traditional Irish seafood chowder really does warm the cockles of your heart.

Check out this cracking traditional Irish seafood chowder recipe from Irish Chef Eric Matthews.

Shepherd’s Pie: A Tale of Two Meats

Shephard's pie

Shepherd’s Pie is the ultimate Irish comfort food and a staple on dinner tables across the island. However, Shepherd’s Pie is not the same as Cottage Pie. There is a difference. The difference is the meat with which each dish is made. Cottage Pie is made with minced beef, and Shepherd’s Pie is made with minced lamb. Well, the clue is in the name — you don’t see many shepherds herding cows, do you?  

This isn’t a pie in the traditional sense — it is not made with pasty, and there is no crust. Instead, the topping is mashed potatoes (although we just say: ’mash’ here in Ireland).

Shepherd’s Pie is a great dish for St Patrick’s Day because spring lamb is coming into season. The minced lamb is cooked in a gravy with onions; sometimes, carrots, celery, and even peas are added according to preference. Then, this hearty mixture is topped with fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. You can elevate the dish even further by adding Irish cheese to the potato topping.

For a Shepherd’s Pie recipe with a tasty twist, try this version by Darina Allen.

Side dishes for St Patrick’s Day celebrations

Boxty: Ireland’s Beloved Potato Pancake


Boxty is like a cross between a potato pancake and a flatbread. The traditional recipe varies from region to region but all feature grated raw potatoes. In Gaeilge, they are called bacstaí. This word is derived from either bácús, meaning bakery, or arán bocht tí, meaning bread of the poorhouse). Boxty can be grilled, fried or baked. In fact, there is a traditional rhyme that accompanies this dish. It goes like this:

 ‘Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan, if you can’t bake boxty, sure you’ll never get a man.’

When making boxty, try to use floury potatoes like Kerrs Pink, Records, or Golden Wonder. Waxy varieties of potatoes just won’t work—it’s all about the starch content.

The basic idea behind boxty is mixing raw grated potato with flour and some sort of fat. You then form a patty. Some recipes also use mashed potatoes, buttermilk, cream, and cheese. However, almost all of them call for lashings of real Irish butter for frying.

Serve with more butter as a snack or as an accompaniment to a full Irish breakfast.

If you want to cook boxty for St Patrick’s Day, here’s a great recipe from The Daily Spud.

Colcannon: A Comforting Blend of Potatoes and Cabbage

Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage.

Colcannon is a comforting, tasty side dish that is very traditional in Ireland. In fact, the dish has been around for hundreds of years. In Gaeilge, it is called càl ceannann meaning ‘white-headed cabbage’. It is a simple concoction of mashed potatoes, white cabbage, butter and milk, seasoned with salt and pepper. It is a great accompaniment to any meal and is often served with bacon.

Recipes vary. Some use cream to make the dish extra rich, and some use kale instead of cabbage. Some recipes also call for onions, leeks, or garlic for added flavour. Food historians believe that the name might be a derivative of the old Irish cainnenin. Cainnenin can mean garlic, onion, or leek. Therefore, the dish may originally have been made with these ingredients.

Though most often associated with Halloween, colcannon is eaten year-round in Ireland.

Would you like to serve up this side for Paddy’s Day (not Patty’s Day)? Here is a recipe for traditional colcannon from the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland.

Potato Farls

Potato bread is a form of bread in which potato flour or potato replaces a portion of the regular wheat flour. It is cooked in a variety of ways, including baking it on a hot griddle or pan, or in an oven.

Farls are baked potato bread — not dissimilar to boxty — served most often for breakfast. So, they are a great dish to kick off your St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Traditionally, they were made by combining oatmeal, butter and potatoes. However, nowadays, most recipes call for potatoes, butter, flour and baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. This makes a dough which is then formed into a circle before being cut into four symmetrical pieces — in Gaelic, the word farl means fourths.

Potato farls have a soft texture and are rather bland, which is why they are best served with, you guessed it, lashings of Irish butter or beef dripping and a sprinkle of sea salt.

If you want to make this part of a traditional Ulster fry (a Northern Irish hot breakfast), serve the farls with sausages, bacon, black pudding, fresh free-range eggs, and fried tomatoes. You also need to add a couple of slices of soda bread too.

Speaking of which…

Irish Soda Bread: A Staple of Irish Tradition

Irish soda bread

Homemade soda bread is a staple of many Irish households. It is probably my favourite of all the traditional Irish foods. It accompanies full Irish breakfasts, stews and chowders. Smothered in butter and jam, it is a wonderful snack served with a cup of tea.

This yeast-free bread dates back to the 1800s when baking soda, or bicarbonate soda, was first introduced to the country. This was during a time of widespread famine, therefore bread had to be made out of the most basic ingredients. Irish soda bread just has four — flour, salt, baking soda and soured milk. It is the chemical reaction between the acid in the milk and the baking soda that causes the bread to rise without the need for yeast, which, at the time, was hard to come by. Nowadays, Irish soda bread is made with yoghurt and milk, or buttermilk, but it is still formed in the traditional round with a cross cut in the centre, which is said to keep the fairies out.

Here is a fairy-free recipe for Traditional Irish Soda Bread by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board.

Traditional Irish Foods for St Patrick’s Day desserts

Rhubarb and Apple Tarts: A Sweet Slice of Ireland

Rhubarb tart

When it comes to the sweet course of a traditional St Patrick’s Day meal in Ireland, a rhubarb or apple tart often appears on Irish kitchen tables. The Irish climate is perfect for growing rhubarb, which is also easily grown in small Irish gardens. It is also in season in March, so it is very easy to get your hands on some to whip up a pretty pink-stained pie or tart.

If rhubarb isn’t your thing, or you can’t get hold of any, then bake an apple tart, one of the most popular homemade desserts in Ireland. Most families have their own recipe handed down through the generations, but to make it as authentic as possible, seek out Armagh Bramley apples. Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, and the city was founded by Patrick. These PGI-status (Protected Geographical Indication) apples are grown and hand-harvested in the counties of Armagh and Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

In Ireland, a traditional rhubarb or apple tart is made with a buttery, short pastry like this recipe for Mummy’s Rhubarb Pie by Darina Allen, chef, author and owner of Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork.

However, you can also switch things up and bake a soft, fluffy apple cake instead. I love Biddy’s Apple Cake recipe from the Dublin Cookery School.

Whichever one you choose will be perfect for your St Patrick’s Day feast as rhubarb and apple are two very popular ingredients in traditional Irish desserts.

Carrageen Moss Pudding: Ireland’s Natural Sweet Treat

Carrageen Moss Pudding

We’ve already mentioned how carrageen is often used in seafood chowder, but it is also used in a traditional Irish pudding. This red seaweed is traditionally foraged from the coast and is a delicacy in Ireland. To make this sweet, light pudding, first, the seaweed is cleaned and dried. It is then soaked in warm water before being simmered with milk. The seaweed then starts to exude a jelly substance, a gelling agent, like a vegan-friendly gelatine. The milk and seaweed are then strained, and the liquid is mixed with egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and egg whites. Once this mixture sets, you have a soft, silky dessert that is delicious on its own but elevated when served with stewed fruit like rhubarb, gooseberries, or apples. The tartness of the fruit balances out the creamy sweetness.

You’ll find this delicious dessert on the menu of many farm-to-table restaurants in Ireland. If you would like to make it at home, here is a carrageen moss pudding recipe from the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork.

Irish drinks to serve on Paddy’s Day

Irish Coffee: The Perfect Culinary Nightcap

Irish coffee and shamrocks

If you are looking for a traditional nightcap to round off your St Patrick’s Day meal, well, there are plenty to choose from. Ireland is, of course, famous for its whiskey, as well as Baileys Irish Cream, and it is the home of Guinness. However, if you are looking for something a bit more luxurious and comforting, you can’t beat an Irish coffee. No, this isn’t just a coffee dyed green – Irish people don’t really dye things green for Paddy’s Day – Irish coffee is a hot cocktail.

The first Irish coffee was served up in 1942 in Foynes in County Limerick. It is made from three basic ingredients – Irish whiskey, coffee and cream. A little bit of sugar is also added. You can use whatever kind of coffee you like, but it needs to be really hot, and the stronger, the better.  

As for the cream, it has to be freshly whipped, but only lightly whipped. In order to get the cream to float perfectly on the top of the hot beverage, the trick is to pour it off the back of a spoon.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s a foolproof recipe to make the perfect Irish coffee.

What are your favourite traditional Irish foods?

Did I leave out any of your favourite traditional Irish foods? If so, let me know in the comments. What are you planning on eating this St. Patrick’s Day?

Hungry for more Irish recipes and travel inspo?

Here is my foolproof recipe for traditional Irish scones.

You might also like my Hot Irish Apple Cider recipe.

Visiting Ireland? Take a look at my Things to Do in Ireland blog post.

And if you are looking for somewhere to stay in Ireland, I highly recommend Galgorm Resort, Glenlo Abbey Hotel, and Longueville House.

If you like this traditional Irish foods blog post, please share it with others.

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