Irish Potatoes

Humble in appearance but rich in flavor and nutritional value, the potato reigns supreme in Ireland.

Melanie Acevedo

If any foodstuff is associated with Ireland more than salmon, it is the potato. Tradition has it that Sir Walter Raleigh—who is sometimes credited with bringing the potato to Britain from Virginia—planted the first ones in Ireland in 1585. In time, the potato was to change completely the eating habits of the Irish. Half an acre could grow enough potatoes to feed a family all year long; they were nutritious and easy to cook. In some parts of the country, citizens consumed as much as ten pounds of potatoes a day. Then came the potato blight, and the ensuing Great Famine of 1845-47. So great was Ireland's dependence on the potato that the failure of the crop devastated the country. Literally millions disappeared, either dying of fever or starvation or emigrating in coffin ships to America and Canada. Yet, after the famine had ended, potatoes remained a favorite Irish food—and they still are. Such "old" varieties as Golden Wonders and Kerrs Pinks are especially well liked. Two popular Irish dishes are colcannon—potatoes mashed with hot milk, chopped onions, and cooked kale or cabbage—and champ, potatoes mashed with chives.