I woke up early this morning to mix up a loaf of Irish Soda Bread to enjoy today as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a day early. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family in a community surrounded by other Irish Catholic families. If there were to be a contest for the most Irish Catholic in the neighborhood the prize would have certainly gone to the Sullivans.
They were a family of eight living in a modest home which was a magnet for the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. It helped that for every age group of child in the neighborhood the Sullivans had a match. With all of the kids running around what were a few more anyway. There was always someone to play with and always something happening. If we got hungry we would throw together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the economy sized tubs of peanut butter and jelly in the kitchen. We would wrap our sandwiched in a paper towel and eat it somewhere outside in a tree or other hideout.
The Sullivans were a very strict Catholic family that followed many traditions. There was a Virgin Mary statue in the front garden surrounded by white alyssum. When we entered their house there was a small font of holy water to bless ourselves as we went in and out of the house. By the time I was ten, the two oldest boys had already left the family home for the seminary to become priests.
If a kid got caught at their house at the right time of evening they would be handed a set of rosary beads and expected to kneel down in the living room and recite the rosary with the Sullivan clan. Honestly, I tried to avoid this. Although I was Catholic, the whole rosary thing made me a bit uncomfortable but I would politely kneel down and mumble along. Now that I think back on it, it was a calming time of day for the whole family to be together.
In addition to the eight Sullivan children and two parents there was Nanny Sullivan, the Irish grandmother. She still had a thick brogue even though she had been in the US for close to half a century. She was a little hard to communicate with because the combination of the brogue and shaky elderly voice made it hard for us to understand her. She was always a presence in their home. She moved slowly around the house due to arthritis and she never went far from home except to go to church. But, when it was time to pray the rosary she kneeled right down on the floor with the rest of us.
One of Nanny’s specialties was Irish Soda Bread. As we played around the yard, the familiar sweet smell would waft across the yard calling us in. She would set out a plate of slices which we would smother with butter and gobble up. Around St. Patrick’s Day she would give me a loaf wrapped in aluminum foil to take home to my family.
Each year when I make the Irish Soda Bread, I think back to Nanny Sullivan and her old Irish ways and myself running wild around the neighborhood with the Sullivan children. The tradition is carried on as my children gobble up Irish Soda Bread slathered in butter.