Tuesday 7 August 2018

New study to examine the food our Irish ancestors ate

A new five year project, led by Tipperary-born Dr Susan Flavin of Anglia Ruskin University, has received €1.5million funding to examine Ireland’s food culture in the 16th and 17th century.

Written records of consumption in this period tend to focus on the island's wealty households and offer few details of the average diet. The project team will therefore include archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, isotope and organic residue analysis experts, who will test pottery and bone to build a detailed picture of what was eaten, where, why and by whom, and its likely effects at an individual level. A database will also be developed to map the archaeological and dietary evidence across different regions of Ireland and different social contexts.

This level of detail into what was on the menu before the Famine has not been attempted before.

The 16th and 17th centuries witnessed significant changes in the Irish diet, with the introduction of new foreign foods to the dining tables of the elite.

Dr Flavin, Senior Lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin University and author of Consumption and Culture in Sixteenth-Century Ireland, said: “Ireland presents a unique case study for understanding the dynamic role of food and drink in a society undergoing political and cultural change.

“There is a perception that Ireland remained isolated from the major dietary changes that occurred across early modern Europe, but my research suggests a much more complex and integrated picture.

“Trade was booming in 16th-century Ireland, there was colonisation and immigration from England, Scotland, Wales, France and the Netherlands, and there is evidence that certain global tastes filtered into the country.

“Foreign luxuries such as sugar, turkeys, pineapples and artichokes found their way into the homes of the elite. We also know that at the lower levels of society the European fashion for hopped beer, and with it continental drinking rituals, was embraced by both men and women. At the same time, new ways of ‘civilised’ eating and drinking were accepted, even among some in the lower classes of society.”

The €1.5million funding comes from a European Research Council Starting Grant, designed to support 'outstanding researchers' lead ambitious projects. Dr Flavin will be supported by academics from University College Dublin, the Institute of Technology Sligo, Durham University and the University of Bristol.

You can read a short 2017 Belfast Telegraph report into Dr Flavin's research into the important role of beer in 16th-century Ireland here.