Eating is an important social event in everyday life and humans are the only animals that cook their meals. During my time in Ireland, I had to eat out very often, and as part of my study abroad program, my study abroad group got together for what Professor Navarra called communal dinners. Communal dinners, as she defined them, were meant to allow both classes to share the highlights of the trip up to that point, unwind, and just have some plain-old-fun. These communal dinners were at Doolin, Galway, and Gleann Cholm Cille. The Doolin and Galway communal dinners were at a local pub and a restaurant respectably, while the one at Gleann Cholm Cille was homegrown and home cooked. The dinners provided the opportunity for us to sample popular Irish cuisine and also have fun together. The staple foods for Irish cuisine are: potato, bread, cheese, meats, seafood, soups and stews. These staples have remained at the heart of Irish food, but “thanks” to the advent of globalization Ireland has adopted fast-food chains and other western foods such as pizza. Among the fast-food chains that I recognized are: McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s Pizza, and Starbucks.
Despite the westernization and globalization that Ireland has undergone, in recent years, one can find authentic Irish food at the pubs and local hotels. For our communal dinner, in Doolin, my study abroad group went to Fitzpartick’s Bar. The ambiance was family-friendly, festive with good music, great food, and above all it was fully accessible (dining and bathroom). For me, this communal dinner was a welcomed respite from my previous encounters with Irish food. My dish for the night was a succulent “Baked Fresh Atlantic Salmon” marinated in strawberry yogurt and served with pesto & herb crust. In addition, I had chips (potato fries) to accompany the fish. This was my own variation on a popular Irish fast-food dish called Fish and Chips. Classic Fish and Chips consists of battered fish, Atlantic cod or haddock, and chips. This fast food meal is consequently of English origin, highlighting the “legacy” or English colonization.
As for my study abroad group’s second communal dinner at Galway, we went to the Westwood Hotel. At the Westwood Hotel we enjoyed western style fine dining, yet this meal featured homegrown and harvested seafood. Galway and Western Ireland are famed for their seafood and fish. Of course, you can probably guess what I had for dinner, yes it was baked salmon again!
Aside from the maritime menu, one of the highlights of this communal dinner was a pre-meal session of Irish story telling. A story telling session is not only the exchange of mythological tales but also a part of dinner meals where each person at the dinner table has the option of sharing a piece of art such as: a poem, a joke, a brief synopsis of play, play an instrument, or sing. Art, as I said before in any of its forms, is a quintessential part of the Irish identify and culture. My favorite share of the night was a poem read by a fellow student Mary Mullan, who also is an English major and has her own blog, a lovely little flower. The poem that she shared is as follows:
“Digging” by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
My study abroad group’s last communal dinner was at the hostel that we stayed at in Gleann Cholm Cille. This dinner marked of our last day in Gleann Cholm Cille because the next morning we would be heading back to Shannon, where we started our Irish trip. This dinner was true to its name, communal, because it was cooked by my fellow students to celebrate the end of the study abroad program. To help us “acclimate” to American life again we had the radio blaring and set on WKTY radio station. My favorite song of our farewell party was “A Team,” by my fellow student and Music major, Luke Curry, who played his acoustic guitar, accompanied by Fine Arts and Graphic Design major, Rebecca Kollmer, who kept the beat by drumming on the table, followed by English major, Kenni O’Donnell, who was the lead singer and also kept the beat by drumming the table along with a metal coffee-pot. The song is written by Ed Sheeran.
Our farewell party was a long one, I stayed up until 1:00 A.M., but my study abroad group extend the party until 6:00 A.M. waiting for the dawn.
I had a great time…