Follow the footsteps of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland, and enjoy some great regional food specialities too!
For Christian scholars and food loving visitors alike, Northern Ireland has a rich history connected to Saint Patrick. The designated Saint Patrick’s Trail of this region includes key sites linked to our famous and treasured Paddy!
The North Down Museum provides a great start to the trail. A Christian Heritage site to which many worshipers flock from all over Europe. From here, the journey takes in Bangor Abbey, once the place of learning for over 3000 monks. Saul Church in Downpatrick Co. Down is said to be the place where Saint Patrick first began his mission to convert Ireland to Christianity. Not far away, the Saint’s remains lie in the graveyard at Down Cathedral. St. Tassach’s Church in Raholp was founded by Saint Patrick and is also where he was given the last rites before his death. The holy wells at Struell are reputedly the place where Patrick stripped naked and sang psalms all night long!
These and many other great sites of the Saint are embedded in a region which is also famous for its traditional foods and culinary heritage. Here are some gourmet highlights to look forward to as you follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s Patron Saint in Northern Ireland.
SAINT PATRICK AND SALMON
Irish wild salmon has ties with mystical happenings of saints and legendary heroes of Old Ireland. At one time, wild salmon were plentiful in all Ireland’s rivers. It is said that the vibrant life and energy of wild salmon was bestowed upon the fish by Saint Patrick himself.
In old Irish folklore and myth, Fionn Mac Cumhaiil (Finn MacCool) grew to be a mighty giant credited with the creation of the Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim coast. The famous Salmon of Knowledge gave the very young Fionn Mac Cumhaill his great strength, when he was instructed to cook the big fish caught by the great Seer Fenneigeas. Finneigeas had waited several years to catch this exemplary fish, so he could eat it and gain infinite wisdom and strength. He left the fish with Fionn, instructing him adamantly to cook it but not to eat one mouthful. But while Fionn was cooking the mighty salmon, he accidentally burnt his thumb which had the fish juices upon it. Poor Fionn immediately sucked his thumb to soothe the pain and was at once bestowed with the great strength, knowledge and vision which enabled him to become one of Ireland’s great Giant heroes with a big connection to Northern Ireland.
With these magical powers, Fionn Mac Cumhaill went forth. The awe inspiring Unesco World Heritage site of the Giant’s Causeway may have firm geological data to justify its age and existence. But it is not called the Giant’s Causeway for nothing! In old Irish tales told to youngsters at bedtime for centuries, the story of the mighty giant Fionn Mac Cumhaill ripping up huge chunks of rock to create these hexagonal stepping stones across the sea, so he could fight a Scottish giant who was threatening his beloved land, is one that is still has children wide eyed to this day. You can decide for yourself whether the Causeway really is a work of legend, on our exclusive Causeway Coastal Route Food Experience . See the magical handiwork of an Irish mythological hero in this breath-taking area of natural beauty. And of course, enjoy some superb local fresh salmon and other seafood while you’re at it!
NORTHERN IRISH DRINKS FOR ‘POTA PHADRAIG’
Saint Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, when strict fasting was observed. But the rules of fasting and abstinence would be lifted for this one special day. Meat could be eaten and Catholics were allowed just one drink of their favourite tipple to wet the Saint’s head! This was called Patrick’s Pot or ‘Pota Phadraig’. Traditional drinks in Northern Ireland include stout, cider and whiskey.
Bushmills village close to the Giant’s Causeway associated with Fionn Mac Cumhaill, is also home to famous Bushmills Irish Whiskey. Here you can tour the distillery to learn the history of one of Ireland’s most famous whiskeys. Bushmills Whiskey is showcased with pride at our luxury culinary accommodation Bushmills Inn and Restaurant also in the village. This Saint Patrick’s Day, you can be sure the Saint will be celebrated at Bushmills Inn with a dropeen or two of the local whiskey!
In a traditional centuries old Irish custom, Bushmills may well be the whiskey of choice in other regions of Northern Ireland for ‘Drowning the Shamrock’. This tradition requires that a clump of shamrock, the green plant associated with the feast day of Saint Patrick, be placed in the last glass of whiskey of the night, which is swigged quickly after toasting Paddy. This is supposed to be the last drink of a great day. But of course rules are made for breaking on March 17th!
Homebrewed cider was also used to honour Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland, where prolific orchards produce home-grown apples, now used for award winning artisan handcrafted ciders, these speciality brews have enjoyed a revival in recent years. You can enjoy a range of Northern Irish ciders from The Armagh Cider Company or DJ’s Juices and Ciders.
POTATO FARLS AND BOXTY
Potatoes can be said to be the ultimate vegetable representation of Ireland! In the north, home-grown spuds are used for a variety of potato based dishes which hark back to times gone by. Boxty is a fried or griddled potato dish made from recipes handed down by mothers to daughters for centuries. So famous is this traditional dish it even has its own rhyme: Boxty on the griddle/Boxty in the pan/if you can’t make Boxty/You’ll never get a man’! So that’s how all the girls in Northern Ireland get themselves a husband! Saint Patrick’s Day in many Northern Irish homes and hotels may start with a hearty breakfast which includes Boxty.
If not, it could be Potato Farls, also a famously delicious speciality of Northern Ireland. Potato Farls are a mix of mashed potato and flour made into a potato bread, griddled then served with an Ulster Fry of local sausages, rashers and eggs. Potatoes were also used with local apples to make Potato Apple Cake. The Glens of Antrim are famous for potato growing.
WHERE TO STAY AND EAT GREAT REGIONAL FOOD IN NORTHERN IRELAND
The Hastings group of hotels which includes Europa, Culloden, Ballygally Castle, Slieve Donard, Stormont and Everglades all serve great cooked breakfasts with potato farls!
Newforge House in Maherlin Co. Down is renowned for good honest simple country house fare based on the produce of the immediate locality.
Bushmills Inn, Bushmills. Showcasing the local whiskey in the bar and a superb array of local produce in the restaurant.