In honor of St. Patrick, whose name I humbly bear as my saint name, I offer these valuable Irish facts and a recipe for a traditional Irish soup. Now let's raise a glass and toast our forefathers and mothers - those saints and sinners who brought so much inspiration and laughter to our lives. And even if you don't have a drop of Irish blood in you, we are all Irish every March 17th.
TEN IRISH FACTS WE ALL WOULD DO WELL TO REMEMBER
1. Legend has it that St. Brendan discovered America 1,000 years before Columbus. Legend also has it that when he arrived at 10 am and saw that the pubs were not open yet, he turned ship and headed back to Ireland.
2. The Seven Celtic Nations are: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany, and Galicia. For nearly 100 years South Boston has petitioned to be included, but that would've meant re-printing all the Seven Celtic Nations t-shirts, posters, flags and other stuff, so it never really gained traction.
3. The phrase "tying the knot" originated in Ireland and referred to the ancient marriage custom of "handfasting". It has nothing to do with what randy newlyweds may do when presented with a four-poster bed and a handful of neckties.
4. Just a few years ago there were more Polish folks in Ireland than there were native Irish. That this occurred because Ireland had a surplus of vowels and was running low on consonants is purely speculative.
5. One of the largest and most famous festivals in the world starts on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th when over 500,000 people line the streets of Dublin to watch the St. Patty's Day Parade. Then they will flood the local pubs to carry on the celebration, which will continue uninterrupted until March 16th of the following year.
6. There are over 36 million United States residents with Irish ancestry. That's nearly 12% of the population. However, if one were to count just the beer and whisky drinkers, those with an Irish ancestry make up 127% of the population.
7. Ireland's top star in the sport of hurling is Sean Og O'Hailpin who plays for the County Cork Team. America's top star in hurling is Danny "The Whale" O'Shannon from Chicago. You can catch Danny in action every Friday night down at Schaller's Pump. For the best hurling, wait until after 11 pm when he has already downed a couple of pints of Smithwick's and a few burgers.
8. The Irish Academy of Engineers recommends that an under-sea tunnel be built to link Ireland and Wales. They envision trains running at speeds of 150 mph between Rosslare and Fishguard, Wales. Currently, there is no financial backer for such a project mainly because they have yet to figure out why anyone from Ireland would want to visit Wales.
9. The tallest identical twins ever born (7ft 2in) were the Brothers Knipe from Magherafelt, County Derry in 1761. However, due to their size, one Knipe brother was born in March while the other was born sometime in late April.
10. Why the world will never run out of Guinness: the original Guinness Brewery in Dublin has a 9,000 year lease on its property and they pay an annual rate of 45 Irish pounds a year, which is about 75 bucks in US dollars.
TRADITIONAL IRISH CHEESE AND BEER SOUP
While corned beef, colcannon and Irish stew take top food billing at most St. Patty's Day celebrations. One can't go wrong with this hearty soup made with sharp Cheddar cheese and a bottle or two of Harps. Or as we Irish like to call it: Breakfast.
This will serve about six. Face it. It's too good not to share with friends.
Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 25 minutes
2 leeks (white and pale green parts only) or onions cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 carrots cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk (or half and half for a creamier soup)
1-3/4 cups chicken broth
1 (12-oz) bottle of Harps (or Smithwick's for a nuttier taste)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lb extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (4 cups)
4 bacon slices (to garnish
Chopped parsley (to garnish)
1. Wash leeks in a bowl of cold water to remove any grit then drain.
2. Melt butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery and bay leaf and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 6 - 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 2 additional minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until nicely crisp. Let cool a bit then crumble and reserve.
5. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle flour over vegetables, then cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Slowly add milk, broth, and beer in and whisk until it simmers. Continue to simmer (adjust heat accordingly) for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.
6. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add cheese by handfuls, stirring constantly, and cook until cheese is melted, around 3 - 4 minutes (do not boil). Discard bay leaf.
Ladle into warm bowls and sprinkle with chopped bacon and parsley.