. . . is sadly lacking in the United States of America on March 17. Here’s my answer to a query found on Fractured Faith Blog‘s, “Everything You Wanted To Know About Ireland But Were Afraid To Ask.”
. . . They don’t do corned beef and cabbage in Ireland. You’ll see it on the menu only when American tourists are expected (such as for March 17). It’s not a genuine ethnic Irish meal because in ancient Ireland, cattle were a form of wealth like currency is today: see the legends of Queen Medb and Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). The Irish traditionally raised their cattle for dairy consumption, not for their meat (when the Irish could afford to eat meat – which wasn’t often – it was chicken, pork or mutton). After Ireland became part of the British Empire, the British wanted beef, and they bought it from the Irish, who shipped the cattle over on the hoof, and also slaughtered, with the meat preserved in very coarse salt (“corned,” because the bits of salt were about the size of grains of wheat, which in Europe was called “corn” – see also this usage in the term “peppercorns”). The barrels of salted beef were marked that they were the product of Ireland. Thus, it was the British who ate “Irish corned beef,” not the Irish. Irish corned beef was also shipped to America, where the standard of living slowly improved for Irish immigrants, until they began to be able to afford to eat the cheaper cuts of beef (the fatty corned brisket). Imported Irish beef also would have been bought by Americans (particularly of Irish descent) as a sign of support for Ireland, although they were probably buying it from British suppliers who were shipping over their excess inventory.
I learned a lot of interesting stuff like that when I was writing my first novel. I wanted the story to be an authentic reflection of contemporary Irish life, so it took three years to research (including a 2-week backpack trip over there).
BTW, the proper culinary name for the combination of corned beef brisket and cabbage is “New England Boiled Dinner,” which is another hint about its origins as an American dish.