March 17th celebrates St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. Roman-named Patricius was a British sixteen year old lad in 403 AD when Irish pirates kidnapped him and carried him off by sailboat to Ireland to be a slave shepherd. He had to learn to care for sheep and the language and culture of Eire all at the same time. The Irish called him “Padraig” Did he get homesick? Did his ears long for the sound of English voices? Or did he get really, really tired of a diet of cabbage, leeks, and lamb?
Legend tells us that after six years of shepherding he heard a voice in his head saying, ”Go back to Wicklow. There will be a ship there that will take you to England.”
He did escape his slave masters, find his way to Wicklow, the Irish port where his captors had brought him into Ireland. At Wicklow he found the captain of a ship bound for England and talked his way to free passage. He and a group of other people disembarked at an English port, but he was still far from his home and family. Twenty-eight days of walking brought him home, no longer a teenager but now a sturdy young man of twenty-two. He credited and thanked God for helping him get home, and joined a monastery. Presently he found himself in France and training to become a priest. He must have reasoned that the Irish who had many gods and goddesses, but only the mystic Druids to look after their morals and spiritual welfare, needed Christianity and there wasn’t anybody but himself who could teach them. After being ordained a priest, and then a bishop, Patrick a.k.a. Padraig returned to Ireland bringing a few other Christian missionaries.
The Christians also brought better seeds for Irish farmers. Patrick’s ability to speak to the Irish in their own language, and the seeds that produced better vegetables and oats than they’d ever had before, opened the way for Christianity to take root in Ireland, Patrick is said to have lived 120 years; born in 387 AD, he died in 507. The cabbage, potatoes, and leeks or green onions must have agreed with him.
The first time I ever ate the Irish cabbage and potato dish Colcannon was when my Oregon daughter Jeannie served it and gave me the simple recipe. Her husband Don is of Irish descent. It may be an old family recipe. Try it. You’ll like it.
½ pound green cabbage, finely shredded
1 bunch green onions, chopped
½ cup milk
2 pounds potatoes, boiled, peeled, and mashed
Salt and pepper
Boil the cabbage. Simmer the onions in the milk. Beat into the mashed potato. Drain the cabbage and stir into the potato. Stir in the onions and milk. Transfer to a serving dish. Make a dent and put a gob of butter in it, Let each diner add another dab of butter to his/her serving.