Most people do not know that the most cherished of Irish saints was a British Roman. He was captured at the age of sixteen and made a slave, forced to tend sheep in the Irish countryside where he learned the local language. Six years later he escaped back to his family in Briton, where he heard the call to ministry to return to Ireland and share the love of Christ with his captors.
When he arrived back in Ireland it was Easter and he built the traditional Easter fire, which is still part of the Easter liturgy today. He lit his fire on the top of a prominent hill called Slane, and it was visible for miles.
The druids also had a tradition of lighting a spring fire. Their custom dictated that the first fire of spring was to be ignited by the local high king, because whoever lit the fire would rule all of Ireland. Upon seeing St. Patrick’s fire, the druids sent an army to extinguish it, but tradition says it burned all the more.
It did not take very long before Patrick was indeed the ruler of a new form of Christianity that overtook the entire Celtic world. He embraced a love of nature, using the shamrock to teach about the Trinity, and the turning of the seasons to teach about the life of Christ.
There is a much beloved poem attributed to him called, St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It is both a petition for protection and a centering prayer. Here is just a part of it:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
For St. Patrick’s Day, we are making a traditional Irish soda bread to compliment our Celtic feast. Soda bread uses baking soda or as they say in Ireland, “bread soda” instead of yeast. This makes this bread quick and easy to make. The use of soda allows one to use different types of flours that contain little to no gluten, but still allows the bread to rise. There are many styles of Irish soda bread, but we are adding some Guinness and molasses to give ours a rich, almost chocolatey, flavor.
Guinness, the most famous of Irish beers, has links to the Methodist movement in Ireland. Mr. Guinness, upon hearing the preaching of John Wesley, wanted to make a vitamin rich and low alcohol beer to combat the excess of the “Gin craze.” He also followed Mr. Wesley’s advice “to give all that he could” to those in need, and became the most important Irish philanthropist. The addition of Guinness makes this soda bread taste like Ireland and is the perfect way to celebrate Patrick. It will make you want to dance the jig!
St. Patrick is depicted in a stained glass window at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Guinness Soda Bread
1 cup + 1 Tbsp Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour
1/2 cup Rolled Oats (more for topping)
1/2 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
1 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 cup Whole Milk
1/4 cup Black Molasses
1/2 cup Guinness
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Lightly grease an 4” x 8” loaf pan with butter and line with parchment paper.
- Combine 1 cup + 1 Tbsp Whole Wheat Flour, 1 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour, 1 1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda, 1/2 cup Rolled Oats, and 1/2 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt in a large bowl.
- Using your hands, add the 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles small crumbs.
- Using a wooden spoon, add the 1 cup Whole Milk, 1/4 cup Molasses, and 1/2 cup Guinness, and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Smooth the top surface with the back of the spoon.
- Sprinkle with oats.
- Bake for 45–50 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool for 5 – 10 minutes before removing from the pan.
- Finish cooling on wire cooling rack.