Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and in searching for a St. Paddy recipe, I realized I knew very little about the day, the man, and the Irish heritage of which my father was always so proud.

I was surprised to find the traditions I grew up with are not actually recognized by the Irish. They didn’t eat corned beef.  They wore very little green. St. Patrick did not drive snakes out of Ireland.  And, he wasn’t even Irish. He was probably British.

St. Patrick’s name is believed to be Maewyn Succat. His Romanized name was Patricius, and later became known as Patrick. He was born in the latter half of the fourth century in either Scotland or Roman England. His father is said to have been either a Roman-British officer or a Christian deacon.

Patrick was kidnapped at the age of 16 and held as a slave for six years in Ireland. He turned to God for support during this time of fear and loneliness. One night he had a vision of God telling him to escape Ireland, and escape he did. He walked over 200 miles to the coast and gained passage to France.

He joined a monastery upon his return, and after studying for approximately 12-16 years, became a priest. Patrick had a second revelation where God told him to return to Ireland to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to covert the rest of the country. He was quite successful in making converts, including the Irish nobles. This angered the Celtic Druids. The Gaelic Irish were mostly pagans and the Celts were Druids. As a result of his Christian preachings, Patrick was imprisoned and escaped several times. He ultimately spent over 20 years traveling the countryside, setting up monasteries, churches and schools to support his teachings.

Snakes, shamrocks, leprechauns, and corned beef and cabbage spring to mind when I think of St. Patrick’s Day. However, I learned there were no snakes in Ireland to be driven out. The “driving out of the snakes” is actually a metaphor for Patrick driving out the pagan religions and introducing Christianity.

Patrick, not wanting to minimize or lose native Irish beliefs, incorporated his knowledge of the Irish language and ways into his religious teaching. The shamrock was sacred to the Celts, who believed it represented the rebirth of Spring. Patrick used its three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In later years, when England began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language, many wore the shamrock as a symbol of their Irish heritage and a sign of their disapproval of English ruling.

Leprechauns had nothing to do with the holy celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Walt Disney released a film in 1959 called Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Moviegoers were so intrigued and amused, this American invention eventually evolved into a symbol of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick was reported to have died on March 17, AD 461, and the date has been commemorated ever since. A day of celebration on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland would usually begin with the family attending Catholic mass. After church the women and children rushed home to prepare the food, while the men were off to the pub for a pint before returning to the feast.

The women did not prepare any form of beef, but instead cooked Irish bacon, similar to a ham, cut from the back of the back meat of the pig. Floury potatoes, cabbage and Irish soda bread usually rounded out the meal. After dinner, the evening was spent singing and dancing.  

In spite of this new information, corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes will be on the dinner table tonight with the addition of Irish Soda Bread with raisins.

To make this popular Irish dish, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray an eight-inch diameter cake pan with vegetable spray. In a large bowl whisk together two cups of all purpose flour, four tbls. of sugar, 1-1/2 tsps. of baking powder, one tsp. of salt, and 3/4 tsp. of baking soda. Cut three tbls. of chilled butter into cubes. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it forms a coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add one cup of buttermilk and gradually stir together to blend. Add 2/3 cup of raisins or if you prefer, substitute dried cranberries. 

Using floured hands, shape the dough into a ball, transfer to the greased pan and flatten slightly. The dough will not come to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the top of the dough with a tbl. of sugar and bake until the bread is brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the bread for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours. May you have warm words on a cold evening,?a full moon on a dark night, and may the road be downhill all the way to your door.