Context: The following piece was collected during a casual interview in the informant’s home.
Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the tradition from her parents, who partook in it with numerous other Irish-American families who also lived in Bridgeport, CT.
Collector: So who corns the beef?
Informant:Whoever’s house it was got the meat and they put it in the pot and then somebody else poured in the water and then somebody else put in, like a couple of people would put in the different spices. So it was a group activity if you will, they kind of all … um joined in. Obviously there weren’t jobs for every adult but everybody was there.
Collector: Where do you put it after you season it?
Informant: Okay, you take the meat and you have this huge pot looking thing in a wooden box almost with these long handles so that the men could carry it because it was very heavy. And you would put it either in your basement, um or somewhere cool and dark because it was in Connecticut so at that time of the year it would be cool enough. So one year when we had it at our house we put it in the garage and covered it um because we didn’t have windows on our garage doors.
Collector: What day would you put it in there?
Informant: Always on um Ash Wednesday. And then on Saint Patrick’s Day whoever had the meat at their house, they held the party. And they always like set these incredible tables up with all sorts of decorations and party favors.
Collector: Like what, for example?
Informant: Party favors could be the candy coins. They would make pots of gold to put on the table and use the candy coins. Sometimes they made little leprechauns out of um pipe cleaners and sticks and stuff.
Analysis: I really enjoyed hearing this piece from my mother, as she reminisced about her childhood and the strong tradition that was upheld by her family and numerous Irish-American families in her neighborhood. Irish immigrants, like many other immigrant groups, were subject to negative stereotypes upon arrival to the States. In ritualizing the preparation and consumption of corned beef, a distinctly Irish-American dish, the participants forge pride in their community. The fact that the process begins on Ash Wednesday, a holy day observed in multiple Christian traditions, highlights the shared religious identity of this group as well. All of the families who participated in the tradition were Catholic, a religious identity that is often understood in Ireland as a nationalist political identity as well. The “party favors” on the table suggest touristic representations of Ireland, an idealized and even romanticized conception of the Motherland. Ultimately, the tradition represents the generation of a hybrid, even liminal culture that is neither wholly Irish nor wholly American.