Food of the ordinary people 16th century Ireland.

How do we know what food the Farmer, labourer, the garden may have had access to in sixteenth century Ireland, for this I am using food, livestock, bread and cake, fish , cereals, honey , poultry, beer that was used to pay their rent. This was known as rent in kind, this was also paid along with days of service for, sowing, reaping, saving and hauling cereal, turf and firewood, weeding, cleaning mill ponds, cleaning mills, and general service to their landlord.

I was asked at a class at Raglan, why a lot of recipes had no eggs, my reply the ordinary person in Ireland may have paid their rent using poultry. They may not have exactly what was deemed necessary to pay rent and would gather what they could give or sell to make up the shortfall. Whether the rent was to a lord, chief or monastery or king.

So there is written evidence of food rent, here is an example , it is a group of

22 cottages; 12 plough days, 12 cart days, 12 boon days, 12 weeding days, 12 hens; from every brewing of beer1 gallon of the better beer,12 cakes; a quarter of beef at Christmas, from each flock number 7 or more, 1 sheep and 1 pig, (White, 1943,194)

Other rent in kind includes turf, goat, pepper, wax, candles, honey, linen. If you live on the coast herring would be part of the rent as is salmon and eels as lots of said weirs were rented out or owned in part by others.

Cereal was an important part of rent in kind, pecks of corn and oats, beans, peas and barley (White1943 186)

For some tenants they just worked for the victuals and roof over their head.

A portion of butter was weekly rent between 3 rd of May and 4 th of September by the tenants a portion , a bigger dish of butter at Easter to the Franciscan house of Castledermot and a dish of eggs, more beer and cake for Easter celebrations.

This information is taken from a time where the Dissolution of Monasteries and Ecclesiastical lands by King Henry VIII in Ireland.

Life was changing yet again in Ireland and the lands that had not already been rented or sold by ecclesiastical houses and monasteries now came into the ownership of King Henry VIII.

So back to food, we know food consisted of pottage of cereals with vegetables and greens from the garden or fields, cheese and butter from the milk, cooking for the ordinary tenant was hearth cooking, so flatbreads, oatcakes, upturn pots for cooking cakes, breads,hard and soft cheese, puddings as in blood from the killing of pigs and sheep, according to a butcher I know, sheep blood makes the best black pudding., butter and milk of all types but that a story in itself. Unfortunately the poor tenant sometimes went hungry to pay the rent, their food remained simple, cereals, sometimes aided with fruit like apples and blackberries were often stable part of their diet along with brassicas and some salted meat and fish. The hen probably produced plus 50 eggs a year so not a lot of eggs available either. Fish played it’s part on days of fast and during lent. Even if the monasteries were abolished, customs and religion feasts were celebrated.

Having visited a number of monasteries and castles this Summer I thought ye might like to see who receive the rent in kind.

Loved Fore Abbey
Holy cross Abbey a parish church today
Portumna Abby
Castles also received rent in Kind

So to finish off the style of cooking for the ordinary tenant did not change so much and I hope that their pot was always full. The potatoe was coming and it was about to change the lives of the ordinary tenant, another day, another story


Lynch,B. 2010 Monastic Landscape of Ireland, America,Xlibris. UK

White,N.B.1943. Extents of Irish monastic possessions 1540-1541 from Manuscripts in public records office London:Dublin, The Stationary Office

All photos taken by me

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