Rushowen, a village, with a small population of about 875, lies tucked away between the undulating hills of the most beautiful countryside in Ireland. Its name is derived from a compilation of two Gaelic words, rush from rois meaning wood and abhainn meaning river, and reveals its natural environment. However, Rushowen was once a bustling town, a summer getaway for the gentry and nobility of the capital city, were as now finally it is left to slumber in forgetfulness. As I walk through the surrounding woodlands and hills I pass many great houses, some still inhabited, and ooze the history and arrogance of their past residents, while others remain just empty shells, ruins without souls, forming silent witnesses of their violent pasts. At one time Catholic gangs targeted these houses, and tried to burn them to the ground, hoping to deter other potential immigrant landowners. In fact, this area has always been in the middle of conflicts, ever since King Henry VIII converted Ireland to Protestantism and Catholics began to fight for their religious rights, equality and independence. However, they had to resort to extreme measures, risking their lives they tried to achieve better living conditions for themselves and their families. Traces of these bloody battles remain, and still dapple the countryside like painful scars.
Delicate and mild to the palate, unsurprisingly, homemade potato soup is made from the famous, and universally known potato, and has been enjoyed by many generations, throughout the last four centuries in Ireland. But, unknown to most, the potato has changed the course of Irish history.
The Spanish Conquistadors who while conquering the Americas in the sixteenth century were very impressed by their healthy and strong adversaries and quickly concluded that this was due to their main food source: the potato. Being very impressed by the nutritious value of this brown muddy vegetable, they took the potato back to Europe offering it to the Spanish Royals; who consequently weren’t very impressed by its taste at all. The potato was probably introduced in Ireland in 1586; at a time that the country was in great crisis. In fact, this is the era when the British wish to conquer Ireland was seriously enforced after centuries of small and irrelevant skirmishes. Henry VIII taking no half measures confiscated lands from the Catholics and enforced new laws making it impossible for them to own land. Indeed, the majority of Irish Catholics were now forced to change their religion to Protestantism; refusal resulted in banishment to the infertile west coastal regions, or death. Continue reading →