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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

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Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?
Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry.
Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.

It's that time of year again. Post-Autumnal Equinox. (I feel sorry for the Americans, since they call it the "fall" they can't use a word like "Autumnal".) Anyway we have less daylight than darkness. Tyrone has won the All-Ireland and the shops are stacked with masks, and all the grotesque trimmings of Halloween. This time of year conjures up images of scooped-out pumpkins, trick-or-treat and silhouettes of a witch on a broomstick partly eclipsing a full moon surrounded by wispy clouds. It is the time when, in bygone times, the veil between this world and the next was believed to be lifted. It replaced the old Celtic festival of Sámhain. Sámhain was the Celtic god of death.


If, like me, you grew up in the rural Ireland of the 'fifties and 'sixties you will be aware of different regional Halloween customs. However the one constant and nationwide feature was Colcannon.

Yes, I know . . .if you Google Colcannon you will get info on a ballad group in Denver , Colorado with Mick Bolger as their lead vocalist.

But the Colcannon of which I write is a simple and delicious dish of few ingredients and no need for lessons from a celebrity Chef for its preparation. 

 Cál ceannann – (white headed cabbage) is a food made from mashed potatoes  and cabbage, butter, salt, and pepper.

In  Canada (especially Nova Scotia and Newfoundland ), a local version of the dish is popular among those raised in rural communities, brought to the provinces by Irish and Scottish settlers.

The Welsh call their leek soup "cawl cennin", but I'm told there's no connection.

Did you ever take potato cake in a basket to the school,
Tucked underneath your arm with your book, your slate and rule?
And when the teacher wasn't looking sure a great big bite you'd take,
Of the creamy flavoured buttered soft and sweet potato cake.


I witnessed the cooking and consumption of Colcannon on rather large scale recently.  At a charity event, in the Wicklow mountains, Martin Byrne was faced with the task of feeding 1,500 people (no, that's not a typo) with colcannon. What did he do? Well, I'll tell you.

 He manufactured a stainless steel trailer 8ft by 4 ft and mounted it on "ground-engaging" metal wheels which he salvaged from a defunct agricultural implement. He fitted a large valve in the rear panel; more about that anon. He then procured a half ton of spuds and the relevant quantity of green cabbage.  


After diligent preparation and the addition of appropriate seasoning the ingredients were put into the "trailer-full of water".

The whole assembly was driven in over an already blazing log fire.

They say "a watched pot won't boil" but this one did.

When it had reached the correct consistency Martin opened the aforementioned valve and the steaming   H2o was released onto the ground.



Then came the mashing. For this job he had designed and constructed  a "two-man masher".

Himself and his assistant Harry Farrington, on either side of the trailer, using plenty of elbow-grease converted the white and green load into appetising fare.


With a number of brand-new shovels one and a half thousand people were fed on Baltyboys hill.



The "loaves and fishes" of the Bible came to mind.


Watching the willing hands around the "colcannon pot" on Baltyboys Hill, I felt at liberty to make an assumption. I think it fair to say that not since the 1840s- the days of the "famine pot"- were as many people fed from one utensil in West Wicklow


If you don't have 1500 people for dinner, at Halloween, and you want to serve colcannon on a smaller scale here's the recipe;

  • 4 lbs (1.8kg) potatoes, or about 7-8 large potatoes ('old' potatoes or russet potatoes are best, waxy potatoes won't do)
  • 1 green cabbage or Kale
  • 1 cup ( 7 fl oz, 240 ml) milk (or cream)
  • 1 stick (4oz, 120g) butter, divided into three parts
  • 4-5 scallions (green onions), chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

                                                             Did you ever go a-courting as the evening sun went down,

And the moon began a-peeping from behind the Hill o'Down?
As you wandered down the boreen where the leprechaun was seen,
And you whispered loving phrases to your little fair colleen

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