They are trying to excavate and bring the remains of Irish-Franco hero Patrick Sarsfield back from Belgium to bury him in his native Lucan and of course he is the man that led our thousands of wild geese out of Ireland after losing the battle of the Boyne and the treaty of Limerick. So what has this to do with food?
Well there is a hidden history in all this that I only learned about on a wine course in France over thirty years ago and the story is still not really recognised here by the general public. As we traipsed around wineries the owners were only too happy to tell us how much France admired the contribution of Ireland to their wine industry.
Later again when I visited St. Emillion and Bordeaux I was regaled the same appreciation especially when visiting one of the Irish chateaux. Ireland has of course taken to wine in this century like ducks to water but the irony we played a big part in the history of wine itself. In a nutshell it is some of the twenty thousand Wild Geese families that settled in Bordeaux that really kicked off the big wine labels and the brandy business.
The French certainly recognize the role of the Irish in their story of wine, naming streets after some of them and the dozen or so high end world famous chateaux they founded in their names.
Families like Lynch, MacCarty, Coppinger, Dillon, Barton and Kirwan, never mind the Hennessy’s with their cognac are all held in the highest regard. These families literally set down roots from the late 17th century that still flourish to this day. They even produced a president MacMahon from our lot for their new country.
You see there was always wine in our isles via the Romans and Celts, then the monks and saints got into it planting vines all around Europe, indeed our own St. Killian from Cavan is a patron saint of wine in Germany. The monks can take credit for the cheese making too which they had mastered and taught to locals all over the continent and now we have come full circle with our own world class cheeses.
Some of the Wild Geese were already in the international trading world beforehand in Ireland and very familiar with the wine business. So as they had a few bob they saw the chance to get involved with the production end, buy up a few of the better vineyards while they were in the vicinity and the rest is history.
Distilling was also in the Irish blood as was farming so these boyos were ready to take on the French at their own game and they even invented the corkscrew while at it to get the bottles opened. Ireland then became the global centre of the wine trade for a hundred or more years mainly from Cork, indeed they even have a wine museum in Kinsale to showcase the whole story.
The Irish had probably the best palates in Europe back then; we certainly out drank the English, consuming five times their imports but then they had all their ales so they were just as merry. Water was unsafe until a century ago so alcohol you see was consumed morning, noon and night as the standard beverage.
So there you were thinking that there was no wine in Ireland before Blue Nun and all we drank was whiskey and porter. These days we produce it too with one grower in North county Dublin making a thousand bottles a year and others in Cork and Waterford. But I think we need a bit more of the aulde sun for it to be more widespread.
If you ever do get to Bordeaux make sure you let them know you know it was literally the travelling Irish army that painted the town red with wine they produced themselves and you can raise your glass to that. Come on then you other boys in green.