RECIPES: Savor the spirit of Ireland

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

A St. Patrick’s Day menu, with flavors of the old country made new.

Several years ago, while researching her family tree, Judith McLoughlin made a startling discovery. A hundred years before she and her husband, Gary, left Northern Ireland for Boston, her great-grandparents made the same journey.

In 1896, Etta McGarvey set sail from County Donegal at age 21 in search of a better life. Soon after, John McNeill, the youngest child of eleven on a hardscrabble farm, took a similar gamble. They both wound up in New England, and met in the elegant home where Etta worked as a maid, and John was a carpenter. Eventually they married, settled in Boston, and started a family.

But unlike other poor Irish who’d weathered so much hardship to reach their dream, the McNeills returned to Ireland in 1900 thanks to an unexpected land inheritance. They passed down the spirit of refined hospitality they’d acquired overseas to their progeny.

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Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

McLoughlin, a chef and cookbook author who now lives in Roswell, was among the recipients of that tradition. She tells how her grandparents’ story shaped her own in the newly published “A Return to Ireland: A Culinary Journey from America to Ireland” (Hatherleigh, $30).

McLoughlin grew up on a farm in County Armagh, and learned to cook in her grandmother’s bed and breakfast alongside her mother and two sisters. My dad raised primarily sheep and some beef cattle,” she said in a phone interview. “Our neighbors grew all kinds of fresh vegetables — carrots and leeks and such. We would have so many beautiful varieties of potatoes, each with unique flavors particular to the regions where they were grown.”

After college, McLoughlin’s sisters founded a restaurant with outside catering in an old schoolhouse, and McLoughlin pitched in. She married the son of a local baker in a small 18th-century chapel nearby, and in 1996 the couple moved to Boston for career opportunities. They planted roots in metro Atlanta the following year.

To ease their homesickness through the transitions, McLoughlin cooked the dishes they missed from Ireland, sometimes blending them with flavors they’d come to embrace in the modern American South and shared them with new friends and neighbors.

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That passion eventually led her to start a catering business, The Shamrock and Peach, and offer cooking classes around the city and beyond. Gary, meanwhile, developed his photography skills, and in 2011 they produced a coffee table cookbook by the same name, with Gary’s sweeping Irish landscapes accompanying his wife’s traditional and cross-cultural creations such as Irish Stout Braised Short Ribs with Georgia Peanuts, Shallots, and Champ and Banoffee Pie with a Southern Pecan Crust.

McLoughlin traveled the country promoting the book, sometimes cooking alongside top chefs, and now leads cultural tours through Ireland, such as the ones she has planned in May and June through the southern peninsula and along the entire coastline (visit for details.)

These experiences led her to delve deeper into her own roots and and write a follow-up volume with more recipes and photos that paint a fuller picture of the immigrant experience, and bring the flavors of the old country to the present. If she’s in town for St. Patrick’s Day, she’ll likely celebrate the holiday as she usually does, by having some neighbors over for storytelling and a feast that takes her back home.


Here are some ideas for a St. Patrick’s Day menu you can easily execute at home, with recipes adapted from “A Return to Ireland: A Culinary Journey from America to Ireland” by chef, cookbook author and Roswell resident Judith McLoughlin (Hatherleigh, $30).

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Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Black Velvet Cocktail

Instead of a mug, elevate the classic brew of Ireland in a flute with bubbly and a splash of black currant liqueur.

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Dublin Coddle with Bangers and Bacon

Practically every Irish kitchen has some version of this one-dish meal of sausages, potatoes, onions and bacon, says Judith McLoughlin. Though her mother often served it as a spontaneous family meal, it also makes for an easy-to-assemble company dish, especially with a garnish of quick-fried and salted sage leaves.

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Armagh Orchard Salad with Apple Thyme Vinaigrette

Apple trees dot the countryside of the county of Armagh where Judith McLoughlin was raised. This salad is a celebration of that beloved ingredient.

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Credit: Gary McLoughlin

Coconut Oat Truffles

Judith McLoughlin developed these easy, energizing treats using staple Irish ingredients for classes she teaches several times a year for the Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness program at Piedmont Hospital. While these truffles are great for teatime or after-meal treats, she also likes to make them to pack up for trail hikes with her husband, Gary.

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