Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Cultural and economic geography, Interdisciplinary, History, Folklore studies

Publication Details

Mac Con Iomaire, M. and P. Gallagher (2009) 'The History of the Potato in Irish Cuisine and Culture' in Friedland, S. (ed) Vegetables: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2008, Devon, Prospect Books


Few plants have been as central to the destiny of the nation as the potato (Solanum tuberosum) has been to Ireland. Ireland was the first European country to accept the potato as a serious food crop. From its introduction in the 16th Century, the potato has held a central place in the Irish diet, and by extension, in the culture of Ireland (Choiseul, Doherty et al. 2008:3). Potato growing is very suited to the Irish climate and soils, although both excessive and insufficient rainfall at certain times of the growing season can pose disease risks, the biggest of which is potato blight Phytophthora infestans (Lafferty, Commins et al. 1999:77). The potato’s influence is to be seen in diverse spheres ranging from place names (Ballyporeen – the town of the little potato), folklore, literature, and poetry to the paintings of Paul Henry. This paper will discuss the introduction of the potato from its South American origin into Irish cuisine and culture. We will outline the stages of development from introduction to acceptance as a winter vegetable, to widespread acceptance, moving on to overdependence and the subsequent famine. The paper will discuss the varieties of potatoes used, the methods of production at all levels of society, and will discuss a number of quintessentially Irish potato dishes including boxty, champ, and colcannon which will be compared with similar potato dishes in other cultures. This paper will combine secondary sources with primary sources including oral histories and data from the Irish Folklore Commission.