My family has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day for as long as I can remember, but the first year that really stands out to me was the year my sister was in kindergarten. The day before, she and her classmates had learned about countries of the world, and she came home with a pin decorated with the Union Jack. That morning, she asked our mom if she could wear it to school. Mom was appalled. “Today is Saint Patrick’s Day!” she exclaimed. “You CAN’T wear that today.” When my sister asked why, Mom simply said, “The British haven’t been very nice to the Irish. And we’re Irish.”
For many people in the U.S. and Canada, St. Patrick’s Day is a day for drinking, carousing, and wearing green things. It’s a day to claim Irish heritage, no matter how little, and to be as boisterous as possible in the name of cultural history. But in our family, the day is spent being proud of the things that really do come from Irish history- like the preservation of the early history of Western Europe. When I got to Montreal for my undergrad in 2004, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there’s a huge population of the Irish diaspora living in the area- so much so that a small town in nearby Ontario has been proclaimed the only Gaelteacht (Irish Gaelic-speaking population) outside of Ireland. During the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, there were always cultural events available throughout the city, including seanchaithe, céilidh, and live music. The city also had an annual parade, complete with a giant model of St. Patrick, that blocked off major streets for the entire afternoon. Partaking of these events always made the holiday feel more special because of the way they honour genuine cultural contributions from Ireland.
My favourite way to share the holiday during the six years since I’ve left home, however, has been to share the family tradition: food. Every St. Patrick’s Day, for me, is an excuse (as if I needed one!) to cook up a delicious menu of traditional Irish food and spend time with friends and family. The menu has remained basically the same, whether I’ve been cooking for four people or twenty four (true story), and I thought I’d share one of my favourite portions of it with our readers today. Everything else I usually make- colcannon, turnips, and the Secret Family Recipe sodabread- can be found in some form or another online, but my mother’s kale soup is a special dish that you too can make to have a bit of Ireland in your home.
1 small yellow onion
1 clove garlic
1 head of kale
2 cans red kidney beans
4 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Small red potatoes, carrots
Instructions: Chop the onion and garlic, and sautee in large pot with vegetable oil. Wash and gently slice kale into bite-size strips, and chop tomatoes into small chunks. If using potatoes and carrots, wash and peel, then chop into small chunks as well. When onion turns clear, add tomatoes (and carrots and potatoes if using them), then kale. Cook lightly, so kale is slightly limp. Add water and bouillon. Rinse and drain kidney beans, and add to soup. Season as desired. Turn heat to low and let simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 45 minutes. Serve hot with fresh sodabread.
Lá fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh, gach duine!