What was Irish cuisine like before the introduction of the potato?

Potatoes didn’t come to Ireland until the 1600s; given that they rather thoroughly permeate what we now consider Irish cuisine, what did people on the island mostly eat prior to that?

According to my book “Potato - How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World”, it says:

Shortly afterwards this is called the “oat-butter diet”, and it’s appallingly bad. Now, this is not to say that the Irish did not eat meat - fish, pork, beef - as well as fruits and vegetables. But according to what I I read in the book, those were secondary or “opportunity foods”. They mention having oaten and “mixed cereal” breads, but also say that these were not a major part of the Gaelic Irish diet.

Yeesh. No wonder the potato became so popular when it was introduced.
Goes great with whey.

Surprisingly, for an island nation, Ireland has never relied heavily on fish for its diet.

I was watching an Irish cooking show once and they had a recipe for some sort of fish and crusty bread breakfast dish (yum), when my mother, with 6 generations of Irish blood in her veins, passes by exclaiming “Fish! for breakfast?!?!”
I always thought her Irishness had grown stagnant in Kansas for too long. Guess she was right on track with her Irish center :wink:

Weren’t several coastal Scandanavian groups the same way re fish.

As an aside, a British newspaper (I’m thinking the Daily Mail :rolleyes: ) suggested that the potato famine only seemed so bad because the Irish population wouldn’t have grown so quickly without potatoes.

That would be a terrible way to say it, but I think there is a nugget of truth in there; the widespread culture of potatoes did fuel a population explosion in northern Europe, especially Ireland. The relative ease of growing it made also dependence upon it an easy state to slide into.

I’d imagine quite a lot of turnip, mutton and pork, like England at the time.

Seaweed, known as “dulce”, was eaten on the west coast. As Walloon says, fish were largely ignored. There was a small-scale fishing tradition, but culturally the food wasn’t very popular. My ex brother-in-law, a contemporary west coast fisherman, used to get very exercised on this point: according to him, villages on the coast packed up and left for the cities, or died in situ, while fish, oysters, prawns, mussels, and other protein-rich food sources were teeming within yards of them. (This doesn’t, of course, excuse the cash crops being grown under British auspices for export while half the nation starved.)

Is it true that the British government of the time was so enamored with the free market, and obsessed with letting the ‘hand of the market’ solve every problem, that they believed the famine would also be solved by market forces?

That’s the gist of a documentary I watched on an Indian famine under British rule. Although I’m not too sure how it was supposed to work. If there was more of a demand for grain, surely it would push prices up and out of the reach of those who need it most?

Yes and no. The British government tried to let market forces help by repealing the protectionist Corn Laws, which prohibited importation of cheap grain. But they also bought and sold subsidized grain, made piblic works employment available, and opened poorhouses and soup kitchens.

They did at the behest of Irish MPs and a few compassionate English, but too little, too late, and in the teeth of serious opposition from conservatives and Conservatives. See contemporaneous commentary from Punch magazine for the conservative POV.

Was it malice or political ideology that led the opposition?

I am not well enough read to give a definitive answer - and I suspect that even if I were, the answer would still be rather controversial - but IMO the portrayal of “the Irish” as subhuman savages in the linked cartoons weighs towards your former guess.

Parsnips took the place of the potato before the spud was introduced. However, obviously not in the kind of quanity potatoes acheived.

There was also barley of course, and cabbage.

I have had stew with parsnips. eh.

Strange how some of the cartoons criticise government policy, but then turn on the Irish as not that ill done by.

Parsnips are rather nice (IMO), but they were not really used as a staple in the same way that potatoes became used; they just happen to superficially resemble parsnips in some ways.

Potatoes replaced or supplemented grain as a staple food.

I’m not sure anyone who’s not been to Ireland grasps just *how *“staple” the potato is, even today. On one visit, I had a pub meal which included 5 forms of potatoes: whipped potatoes on top of the cottage pie (which contained chunks of potatoes), and on the side boiled potatoes, baked potato wedges and chips, as well as sweet potato wedges, which almost count. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single meal there that didn’t include some form of potato. The introduction of the potato must have competely changed their recipe books.

The book I cited covers that over about 100 or so pages, and while that’s an oversimplification, it’s essentially true. What’s also not typically mentioned in the popular press, however, is that Ireland did suffer from several famines over the centuries preceeding the “great famine”, some of them quite deadly.

While you’re mostly correct about fish and seafood, what citation are you relying upon that the above is true? My reference does not indicate that those items made up a significant portion of the Gaelic Irish diet in the 1700’s to mid-1800’s.