Sunday, 31 May 2015

New painting: Tea with the Bean an Tí.

Let me introduce you to the Bean an Tí, the woman of the house, who continues the old tradition of hospitality for which Ireland is renowned.
This custom stems from ancient times when along the major roads of Ireland there stood houses of hospitality set at the junctions which were open to all travellers.
The Ban an Tí  always has the kettle on to provide visitors and family with a good, strong cup of tea often accompanied by home baking.
The willow pattern tea set she uses was common in many homes and is still sold today.
My grandmother owned a set, as I do, and sometimes when digging in the garden I find broken pieces of crockery of the same design faded over the years and discarded  by previous occupants.

My kitchen shelf
In the past it was considered a sign of hospitality and respect to offer a visitor a cut of  new bread
still warm from baking.
Soda bread recipes were passed down through generations of women and are often a closely guarded secret but in common with all homemade soda the dough is shaped into a round and using a knife,
is marked with an equal-armed cross before baking.

This cross allows the bread to rise evenly without splitting but is also believed to let the fairies out
and protect the bread from mischievous spirits so that the loaf doesn’t burn.

Cooking on the hearth ©
Soda bread would originally have been baked on griddles or in a black iron pot over a turf fire on
the hearth.The first written recipe in Ireland dates from 1836 and soda bread was made throughout the country because it was the least expensive bread to put on the table.

 Making the Brigid's cross Pic © Séan Gilmartin.
You can view us making the crosses HERE

Up until the last century, on the eve of  Brigid's day, the Bean an Tí made a Brigid's cross then passed
it around her body three times.
She would walk outside to circle the house three times then the cross would be welcomed into the front door by the family and hung over the kitchen door as protection from fire, fever and famine.

In Kerry it was customary for the Bean an Tí to put a pin into the brídeog, a home made representation of Brigid, when it was brought in to the house & leave it there as offering.

In many areas the original role of the Bean an Tí has almost disappeared with many women choosing or needing to work outside the home.
However, within the Gaeltacht, Irish-speaking areas, the Bean an Tí has risen in importance as woman take in students who wish to learn Irish in a family setting.
They not only provide lodging, meals and education but are an important source of income in these mostly rural areas and can be seen as protectors of the Irish language and culture.

The tradition of hospitality, so vital to our ancestors, is still important today when Ireland extends a welcome to thousands of visitors each year and it continues in homes where the Bean an Tí puts the kettle on to boil for a pot of tea.

You can watch Jack from Killorglin, Kerry make a traditional loaf & talk about soda bread:

If you would like to try your hand at making soda bread you will find a basic recipe here:
Soda bread recipe


  1. A great pair of hands that baker has and watching him makes me want to reach for the butter. For there is nothing like a few slices of home-made soda bread washed down with a cup of Barry's tea.

    An excellent and very informative blog post Jane.

  2. Thank you Heron - I could smell the bread baking as I was writing it.

  3. What a lovely post to read on a cool June morning... a perfect morning for making tea and baking bread. Thanks for the background and the stories, and the recipe.

  4. Thank you Carol- glad you liked it. Enjoy your tea & bread!

  5. Oh Jane, I'm a twit! I wrote my comment in the email box! Well you will receive it and know that I loved this post and why! A wonderful warm tradition and with that baking…who could go wrong? I adore Soda bread too!

  6. PS Your painting is magnificent! She positives speaks to us from the canvas!

  7. Hi Valleypee - thank you for your comments - all 3 of them!
    Glad you liked the painting and that you too appreciate soda bread & a good cuppa. x


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