From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XVII....continued

4. Flesh-meat and its accompaniments.

The flesh of wild and domestic animals, boiled or roast or broiled, much as at the present day, formed one of the staple food-materials in old times in Ireland as in other countries.

Pork (muicc-fheóil, i.e. 'pig-flesh,' pron. muckole) was a favourite among all classes, as it was among the Greeks and Romans. Pork was also made into bacon as at present by being salted and hung up on the wall over the fire. Old bacon was considered good for chest disease.

Beef, or, as it was called in Irish, mairt-fheóil (i e. 'ox-flesh': pron. morthole), was much in use. The animal seems to have been generally killed with a spear. The flesh of fattened calves, either boiled or roast, was considered a dainty food, Mutton—in Irish caer-fheóil or muilt-fheóil ('sheep-flesh,' 'wether-flesh': pron. kairole and multhole)—was perhaps in more request than beef.

Venison was in great favour: everywhere in the tales we read of hunters chasing deer and feasting on the flesh. It was sometimes called fiadh-fheóil, 'deer-flesh' [pron. fee-ole]: and also milradh [milra]. Goats were quite as common in old times as now, and their flesh was as much used, as well as their milk.

Some of the animals mentioned in the records as supplying food are no longer used for this purpose: such, for instance, as badgers: but badgers were eaten in Ireland until very lately. Seals were valued chiefly for their skins, and partly also for their flesh as food, but they are now seldom eaten. Corned meat was everywhere in use. A number of whole pigs salted commonly formed part of the tribute paid to a superior king or chief.

Besides the main joints boiled or roast, we find mention of various preparations of the flesh of. animals, mixed up with many ingredients. A pottage or hash formed of meat chopped up small, mixed with vegetables, was called craibechan [craiv'a-han]. We find it stated in an Irish document that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a craibechan. In the "Vision of Mac Conglinne" is mentioned as a dainty food "sprouty craibechan with purple-berries": "sprouty," i.e. mixed with vegetable sprouts. The "purple-berries" were probably the quicken-berries or rowan-berries added to give a flavour. There are several other terms used to designate meat-preparations of this kind, each of which, no doubt, pointed to some special mode of preparation: but the distinction—if it ever existed—is now lost. Simple broth or meat-juice without any mixture of minced-meat was a favourite with the Irish, and also among the Scottish Highlanders.

Sausages or puddings were a favourite dish, made much the same as at the present day, by filling the intestines of a pig, cow, or sheep with minced-meat and blood. They were known by the terms indrechtan and maróc. Puddings and sausages got a boil after making, so as to half cook them, and were then put aside till wanted: when about to be brought to table they were fried and served hot as at the present day.

In the "Vision of Mac Conglinne" is mentioned, as good food, the dressan of an old wether. The word is a diminutive of dress or driss, which is familiarly applied to things of a branchy nature, such as a bramble or the smaller intestines: and as applied to an article of food is still in use in Cork in the form of drisheen, which has the Irish diminutive ín instead of the án of Mac Conglinne. The name drisheen is now used in Cork as an English word, to denote a sort of pudding made of the narrow intestines of a sheep, filled with blood that has been cleared of the red colouring matter, and mixed with meal and some other ingredients. So far as I know, this viand and its name are peculiar to Cork, where drisheen is considered suitable for persons of weak or delicate digestion.

Lard (Irish blonog) was much used as an annlann or condiment, and entered into cooking in various forms. We also find mention of olar, 'rich gravy'; and of inmar, 'dripping,' both used as a condiment or relish.

Most of the birds used for food at the present day were eaten in old times: and frequent allusions to birds as food are found in ancient Irish writings.

Giraldus Cambrensis says that the Irish loathed the flesh of the heron; but that Henry II. induced those kings and chiefs he entertained in Dublin at Christmas, 1171, to taste it. They do not seem to have much relished it: for ever since that time the Irish people have let the herons alone. Eggs were extensively used: goose-eggs, if we are to judge from their frequent mention, were a favourite. In a legendary account of bishop Erc of Slane, we are told that he kept a flock of geese to lay eggs for him. At the banquet of Dun-nan-gedh, some of these eggs were on the table, cold; and Congal, going in to view the feast, ate a part of one. And when the company sat down, a goose-egg [cold] on a silver dish was placed before each chief. From all this we may infer that eggs were generally boiled hard and eaten cold.

All the fish used for food at the present day were eaten in Ireland in old times, so that there is no need to go into details. Only it may be remarked that salmon was then the favourite; and we meet with constant reference to it as superior to all other fish. The salmon of the "salmon-full Boyne," of Lough Neagh, and of the Barrow, were much prized. The subject of fishing will be treated of in chapter xxv., sect. 6.

Any viand eaten with the principal part of the meal as an accompaniment or condiment, or kitchen, as it is called in Ireland and Scotland—anything taken as a relish with more solid food—was designated annlann, equivalent to the Latin obsonium. The Brehon Laws specify the annlanns with much particularity:—butter, salt bacon, lard, salt, meat of any kind (when used in small quantities and not the principal part of the meal), honey, kale, onions, and other vegetables, &c.

Salt—Irish sal, salann—was used for domestic purposes much the same as at the present day. It was not so easily made or procured then as now, so that the supply was limited, and people kept it carefully, avoiding waste. In rich people's houses it was kept in small sacks. The Senchus Mór mentions salt as one of the important articles in the house of a brewy, on which the glossator remarks that it is "an article of necessity at all times, a thing which everyone desires." It was kept in lumps or in coarse grains; and at dinner each person was served with as much as he needed. In the sixteenth century in England—as we are told by Roberts—each guest at dinner was given a little lump of salt, which he ground into powder with the bottom of his glass or drinking-goblet: and something of the same plan may have been followed in Ireland. English salt was largely imported, and was considered the best.

In 1300, salt was exported from Ireland, as we know from the fact that it was one of the commodities sent to Scotland to supply the army of Edward I. The salt must have been manufactured either from sea-water, or from rock-salt taken from the earth, or more likely from both. For we know that there are plenty of salt deposits in Ulster: but of salt mines, or of the mode of preparing the salt, the ancient literature—so far as I know—contains no details.

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