Sunday, March 14, 2010

Saint Patrick’s Day: The potato! (Skip the Corned Beef this year.)

I know that Corned Beef and Cabbage are practically de rigueur for the feast of St. Patrick. We are not doing that!—not this year.

I propose that we honor the great Patron Saint of Ireland this time around with the potato, that humble but precious import from the New World. Why? The potato is what kept the Irish alive for centuries, and the potato blight—-the Great Potato Famine—-is what brought our Irish ancestors to the US. Our Irish great grandfathers and -mothers were, most of them, “Potato Famine Irish.” Indeed that famine drove the Irish all around the world.

A few words about St. Patrick to start us off. Considering how legendary a figure he is, it is interesting that we actually have letters written by him that tell his story. Patrick was born in Christianized Roman England in the late 4th century. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland (which was at the time still pagan). After 6 years, he escaped and returned home to England. He entered the Church as a priest—-and kept feeling called to go back to Ireland. He went there as a missionary bishop, and the rest is history—-aside from the legends, that is!

Now to the potato! A Continual Feast has several wonderful potato recipes on pp. 44-46, such as Scalloped potatoes! French fried potatoes! Stuffed baked potatoes! What’s not to love here?

Any of these potato dishes will, I guarantee, make Irish eyes smile. They will produce a similar effect on eyes that are only demi-Irish, or semi-Irish, or pseudo-Irish, or not the tiniest bit Irish.

And keep in mind that St. Patrick's just gives us one day off from Lenten fasting and abstinence--potatoes make a nice, solid, delicious, nutritious, inexpensive main dish.

So let’s hear it for the potato! Here is a quote I’ve always liked:

Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food,
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good,
But don’t forget the potatoes.
(From J.T. Pettee, Prayer and Potatoes)

Now let’s raise a glass (it does not have to be an alcoholic beverage!) to St. Patrick on his feast day.

Here is a grand poem—often sung as a hymn—which is attributed to St. Patrick: his “Breastplate” or Lorica. It us a great poem to learn by heart.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.


  1. An absolutely beautiful poem, thank you!

  2. One of the most famous legends, of course, is the one about St Patrick's Purgatory!
    And indeed - sometimes the most simple, humble food, if cooked with a little imagination, can be as delicious (or almost as delicious)as the complicated dishes prepared from fancy, expensive ingredients by distinguished chefs.