St Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world are often highlighted by top-class parades, festivals and the odd Guinness. What’s more for the health conscious, there’s plenty of traditional Irish fare and fun to be had that will keep you in good shape.
A resurgence in the popularity of traditional Irish dance started in the mid-1990s when Riverdance exploded onto the world stage at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. Since then the show has toured the world and been seen by millions of people, and with its enduring popularity has come a renewed interest in Irish dance.
Dancing in any form has always been recognised as a great way of keeping physically active for silver surfers. There’s plenty of studies showing a range of health benefits including improved heart and lung condition; increased muscular strength, and improved muscular tone; increased endurance and aerobic fitness; better coordination, agility and flexibility; weight management; and even a decreased risk of osteoporosis.
Traditional Irish dancing has been linked to improved balance thanks to the many multidirectional movements involved. The study of Irish set dancers aged 55 years or older also found that regular dancing resulted in better balance, endurance and quality of life compared to their non-dancing counterparts.
Another piece of research conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that dancing may also improve cognitive function and even ward off dementia. The researchers believe that learning something new that challenges the brain, such as a step routine as part of an Irish set dance, brings the most benefit.
Traditional Irish food
Once you’ve worked up an appetite on the dancefloor, Ireland’s hearty dishes are an incredibly simple and healthy way to satisfy your hunger.
This Irish staple is the Emerald Isle’s favourite folk dish and its most recognisable food export. While a consistent recipe is impossible to identify, traditionalists will tell you that an Irish stew should be made with mutton or goat kid, potatoes, onions and water alone. However carrots, turnips, pearl barley, parsley and bacon are now common additions and most recipes have been handed down through families and inherited unique ingredients along the way.
To make a traditional stew for two you’ll need:
- 5kg mutton or lamb chops from the neck or shoulder, still on the bone, cut about 3/4 inch thick
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 carrot, cut into thick slices
- 1 medium onion, cut into quarters through the root to keep the wedges intact
- Salt and pepper
- 150ml lamb or chicken stock
- 3 to 4 potatoes, peeled and halved
- Preheat your oven to 160°C.
- Cut the chops in half, but keep the bones intact
- In an oven safe casserole pan, heat the olive oil before cooking the chops until browned
- Remove the meat and add the carrots and onions to the hot oil and cook for a couple of minutes
- Add the stock and return the meat to the pan and bring to the boil
- Add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste
- Cover and bake in the oven until the meat is very tender
No St Patrick’s day meal would be complete without a side of colcannon. Another folk dish with endless regional variations, colcannon is also the title of a traditional Irish song which usually goes something like:
“Oh weren’t them the happy days when troubles we knew not,
and our mother made colcannon in the little skillet pot.”
To make a colcannon side-dish you’ll need:
- 300g potatoes, peeled
- 40g unsalted butter
- 100g savoy cabbage, finely shredded
- 50ml milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Boil the potatoes until soft
- While the potatoes boil, heat half of the butter in a saucepan and fry the cabbage for 5 mins before setting aside
- Drain the potatoes and mash until smooth, adding the remaining butter as you do
- Add the cabbage to the potato and mix and season to taste
For something to keep you going between meals or to enjoy for supper, nothing beats Irish soda bread. So loved is this traditional ‘quick bread’ The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread has been formed “to encourage modern bakers to get in touch with their Irish roots and use the traditional ingredients/recipes.” Here’s the Society’s recipe:
- 350g of wheat flour
- 100g plain white flour
- 400ml of buttermilk
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 200°C
- Lightly grease and flour a round cake tin
- Sieve and combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl
- Rub in the butter by hand until the flour is crumbly
- Add the buttermilk in parts while mixing to form a sticky dough
- Place the dough on a floured surface and lightly knead
- Add the dough into the cake tin and cut a cross in the top
- Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes
- Remove the cover from the pan and bake for a further 15 minutes
- The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped to show it is done
- Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle with water to keep the bread moist