Ireland’s Love for Tea

Below is an article that I found and thought it interesting…my love for tea must be in the genes!  Visit my website to find some delicious Irish tea.

There’s no doubt that the Irish are mad for their tea. Drinking hot tea became popular among the wealthy in Ireland in the 18th century but high prices kept the average Irish person from enjoying the new beverage. Tea sales blossomed in Ireland once Irish traders, spear headed in 1835 by merchant Samuel Bewley and his son Charles, began to import tea directly from China. Luckily their gamble paid off – the Irish importers were able to lower the price and hence discovered a very receptive market for tea in Ireland. By the mid 19th century tea was commonly found everywhere in the Emerald Isle. Popular teas are now produced by several Irish companies, including Bewleys, Barrys and Lyons. Incredibly, the Irish now drink more tea per capita than any other country in the world.

Tea in Ireland is above all things a social tradition and one which blends well with the time-honored rules of hospitality which go back to the ancient Celtic ancestors of the Irish. Upon entering an Irish home or even a business, it is a common courtesy to greet visitors by offering them a cup of tea. Ireland’s frequently damp climate makes hot tea a welcome beverage to the traveler, who often gladly accepts. A cup of strong Irish tea helps to warm up and get the conversation going. Conversation is an important part of Irish social life, whether it be in the pub over a pint of stout or virtually anywhere over a cup of tea. Tea is drunk by everyone – men, women, children and adults.

Tea may be taken at any time of the day but traditionally around 11 am and 3 pm there is a tea break, often with cookies or cake. On special occasions the afternoon tea may be a fancy tea served with an impressive variety of finger foods – tiny sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, cookies and cake. The evening tea around 6 PM is essentially the evening meal – a hot meal served with good strong, black tea. The Sunday evening meal however is usually a late afternoon tea accompanied by something savory and delightful like a roast chicken and mashed potatoes.

Why take a break for tea that is not a meal? Much like we stop for a cup of coffee here in the US, the tea break is a chance to relax and enjoy some conversation with friends or co-workers. Everyone needs to recharge the mental batteries and tea of course offers that little extra kick of caffeine to help you finish the day without dragging your feet.

Tea in Ireland is brewed strong and served with lots of milk, or “lashings” of milk, to “color the tay.” Sugar may be added to taste. When I was in school in Ireland I drank my tea black with no sugar or milk and people looked at me askance, for this was not a proper cup of tea! I’ve since learned the error of my ways.

Copyright Janet McGrane Bennett 2010

Janet McGrane Bennett has run and operated Celtic Reader Irish Bookstore since 2002. Her life long passion for Irish history and literature encourage her to share this love of books and all things Irish and Celtic. She is a graduate of Drew University English Literature undergraduate program and studied Irish history, theatre and literature at St Patrick’s College Maynooth in County Kildare, Ireland. Every year she travels to Irish and Celtic festivals on the East Cast of the US to set up her traveling book shop under the sunny summer skies. Visit Celtic Reader Irish Books & Gifts online at

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May 10, 2010 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

Love for “the auld sod” and American soil!

Uncle John & Friendsby John Gallagher

To the best of my knowledge my dear old Irish Dad never told a lie in his life.  However, he did employ wonderfully fractured truth, fancifully decorated in delightful deceit that profoundly transformed black into white and then Kelly green.  It was called blarney.

He explained it by saying blarney was originated by an angel named Sean to put God in a good mood after the Lord was angered by the transgressions of those two British people in the garden of Eden.

Himself filled me with wild stories from the time I was old enough to climb on his knee until I went off to college–where I found the profound conceit and stupidity that I was smarter and wiser than he.   After all, who could swallow his contention that it was an Irishman who invented the submarine, that more native-born Irishmen won the American Congressional medal of Honor than any other ethnic group, that St. Brenden the Navigator discovered the New World 287 years before Columbus, that the song “Dixie” –called the national anthem of the American South–was written by a native-born Irishman, that Irish Brigades fought for freedom in 13 other countries in addition to their own, and that the largest statue in Peru honors Irish legions who won freedom for the peasants.

Later in life I found out that these “stories” were indeed true, although his contention that the Irish discovered the wheel, atomic energy, the north pole, butter, nylon and Coca-Cola could not be verified.  In addition, his restructuring of history, I admit was, at best, faulty.  He claimed that Betsy Ross ran out of emerald cloth.  Otherwise the American Flag would have been red, white and green–which was more baloney than blarney.

But it wasn’t the tall tales that were short on facts that made the immigrant lad from County Leitrim a charming hero in his own house and community.  It was the truth he wove in the tapestry of his life, in parables uttered with a slight Irish brogue and, above all else, his gentle example every step of his life on his journey to God, a road less taken by those who followed him because it was often too difficult to follow, too easy to go with the flow, or easy to go along to get along in the society where morality is subjugated to monetary success.

If his love of the old sod was in his bones, American was in his heart, and St. Patrick’s Day was his Thanksgiving Day with an immigrant’s mindset and a Celt’s sense of appreciation.  America took him in, offered opportunity to prosper with hard work, provided the grass root chance to vote, protest, join a union, build a neighborhood, disagree with the establishment or media by writing a letter without fear, and be able to bond with those of other faiths and nationalities…even an Englishman if he choose–and he did.

Despite his passion for the freedom of all Ireland, to himself America, even when it was imperfect–more of a boiling pot than a melting pot–was the city On The Hill where his children and their children’s children might see and appreciate what was provided though they would never fully understand or recognize the sacrifices made for them.

He went to God 35 years ago.  The reason I never go to his grave is simply because he is not there.  But when I see an old man in the back pew of a darkened church working with the beads, he is there.  When I hear the distant rumble of a train, and see the face of an old locomotive engineer with a pipe decorating his face…it is he.  When there is the piercing shrill of pipes and the thunder of drums and the musical chant of “The Minstrel Boy” or “The Men of the West,” himself is alive and there is no reason to mourn.

To cherish the past and appreciate the present is the best bond of heritage.  There will be 132 parades in America honoring the Great Saint and the Irish, not merely the 11 in New Jersey and major urban areas, but also in places like Savannah, Georgia, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Puerto Rico, and–God help us–Beverly Hills.  The grand old guy would smile in shy appreciation and a touch of amazement that other ethnic groups would share in celebration of a saint from a country so small it could fit in one county of Texas. 

Himself was something…and that’s no blarney.  He could not have cared less if your name ended in a ski, a vowel, or was prefaced by a Mc or an O’.  On this St. Patrick’s Day he would wish you this:

“May you  have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you’re going, and the insight to know when you’ve gone too far.”

From Himself and myself–Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

November 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

Celtic Symbols–Trinity Knot (Triquetra)

Trinity Knot

Trinity Knot

The Triquetra, more commonly known as the Trinity Knot, is a Celtic symbol of ancient origin and one of the earliest symbols of Christianity, predating the crucifix by hundreds of years.  The triquetra is most simply represented by three interlocking circles.  Often the triquetra is found illustrated with three fish in a similar shape.  This three in one concept could have symbolized earth, air an water, or mind, body and sould.  When Christianity was introduced to Ireland, the Triquetra became known as the Trinity Knot which symbolized three  persons in one God:  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

You will see many Trinity Knots in Celtic/Irish Jewellery in the form of necklaces and rings.

October 25, 2009 at 2:11 pm 1 comment

Celtic Symbols–Celtic Knots

Celtic Knot Necklace

Celtic Knot Necklace

Celtic knots date back to the 5th century and were used extensively by ancient monks in illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and Book of Durrow.  The Celts did not record the meanings behind the designs they created but scholarly speculation is that the symbols represented basic tenants of life, mankind, and spirituality.

The continual looping of the designs suggests themes of eternity and interconnectedness.  Interwovenfigures of people and animals may have represented the interdependent nature of life.  Two or more knots laced together symbolize lovers, hunters and their prey, God and man, and so on.  Some ancient Celtic symbols have changed in meaning over time, having been influenced by the introduction of Christianity and the influence of other cultures.

A general rule of thumb is that the shape of the design often determines the meaning of a knot.  Circles represent eternity or the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.  Triangles and trefoils represent the threefold dominion of earth, sea and sky.  Squares or four-sided shapes are shield knots, symbols of protection from spririts.  Interlaced animals and men represent relationships, or emphasize the interdependence of manking and nature.

Celtic knots are extremely popular in Celtic jewellery.  From necklaces (shown above) to rings and bracelets, they make a lovely accessory as well as (now that you know) a good conversation piece.  When you see someone wearing a piece of jewellery with a Celtic knot, you can explain to them what it means….because they probably don’t even know!

October 21, 2009 at 9:02 am Leave a comment

Celtic Symbols–Celtic Crosses

Celtic Cross Crystal Block

Celtic Cross Crystal Block

Ancient Celtic crosses, some dating back to the time of the Druids, can be seen throughout Ireland’s countryside and cemeteries.  The Celtic High Crosses were probably the most important achievement in the entire history of Irish sculpture.  Generally sculped from sandstone and reaching a height of twenty feet, Celtic crosses are characterized by the circle connecting the four arms of a standard cross.  Early examples of the Celtic high cross depict abstract decorations, but by the 9th century their illustrations broadened to include elaborate scriptural scenes.

Interpretations of the parts of the cross vary.  Some believe that the horizontal portion of the cross represented the earthly world and the vertical portion, heaven.  The joining part represents the unification of heaven and earth.  In other explanations, the number four holds great significance with the four arms of the cross representing north-south-east-west, fire-earth-air-water, and mind-body-soul-heart.

Others will point out that the Celtic cross was also known as a Sun Cross or Sun Wheel and was a symbol of Odin, the Norse god.  The circle in the Celtic cross is now widely known to represent the sun.   Modern interpretations view the circular portion as a symbol of eternal life and God’s infinite love.

In Irish legend, St. Patrick is credited with introducing the first Celtic cross.   The  Celts told him of the sacred stone they worshiped, representing the moon goddess.  St. Patrick sade the mark of a Latin cross through the circle and blessed the stone, creating the first Celtic cross.

October 18, 2009 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

Celtic Symbols–St. Brigid’s Cross

St. Brigid's Cross

St. Brigid's Cross

St. Brigid, “Mary of the Gael,” abbess and patroness of Ireland, and founder of the first Irish monastery in Kildare, was born near Dundalk in 450 A.D.  Tradition tells us that her unbounded charity drew multitudes of the poor to her door and much enraged her father Dubhtach, a Leinster pagan Chieftain and a stubborn disbeliever.  As he lay on his deathbed, she sat by him and whiled away the time weaving a cross from the rushes at her feet.  Her father asked her to explain its meaning and was so overwhelmed that he became a Christian before his death.

It is piously believed that this rush cross, which became her emblem, keeps evil and hunger from the homes in which it is displayed.  For centuries, it has been customary on the eve of her feast-day for the Irish to fashion a St. Brigid’s Cross of straw or rushes and place it inside the house, over the door.

St. Brigid’s feast day falls on the first of February, the day on which she died in 524 A.D.  Her body lies at Downpatrick beside the graves of St. Patrick and St. Columba.

October 16, 2009 at 10:47 am 2 comments

Celtic Symbols–Irish Harp

Harp Candle Holder

Harp Candle Holder

Based on the ancient lyre, the Irish harp is one of the world’s oldest instruments–dating back to the 14th century.  The ancient Irish kings employed harpists to entertain them.  At one sad point in Irish history, conquering invaders made it illegal to possess an Irish harp–setting out to burn them all in a failed attempt to kill the “Irish spirit.”

The national emblem of Ireland, one of the oldest harps–dating back the the 14th through 18th centuries–is currently preserved in Trinity College, Dublin.  It appeared on the first unofficial flag of Ireland until the Tricolor was named the national flag in 1919.  It also currently serves as the flag of the President of Ireland and appears prominently on all of Ireland’s Euro coinage.

You can find the harp on much of the Irish jewelry, including rings, necklaces and lapel pins (  It is also part of the GUINNESS logo.

October 15, 2009 at 2:19 pm 4 comments

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