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A Celtic Christmas

By Tim Hazell

Iron Age Celts (600BC to the Christian era) are noted for their ornaments, weapons, and ritual vessels of extraordinary beauty. Their presence in Ireland centered around the Fine or clan, from the Irish/Gaelic for “children of the family.”

Ancient Ireland was a patchwork of kin groups, or túatha, ruled by a rí túaithe (king of a túath). Several kin groups, or mór túath, were ruled by a rí mór túath, and provinces formed of several mór túatha were ruled by a provincial king. Interrelated families were constantly engaged in volatile liaisons, wars, and intermarriages.

Irish-Celtic roots for Christmas celebrations can be traced to rituals observed during the advent of the winter solstice between December 20 and December 23. Druids, the priestly class in Celtic society, consecrated the festival of Yule at this time by gathering mistletoe from oak trees, a practice described in the writings of Roman historian Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79).

Irish beer (coirm) is steeped in history, dating back to the beginnings of Ireland’s agriculture, when fertile soil, gentle rains, and fresh breezes proved ideal for barley cultivation. A recently discovered ancient Celtic brewery dating from about 500BC consists of six oblong ditches containing thousands of charred barley grains intended for the production of high-quality malt.

Ireland’s Guinness, the world’s most famous dark beer or “stout,” owes its deep color and aroma to the introduction of roasted unmalted barley. Here it infuses a rich and memorable Irish stew, perfect for your holiday guests!


Guinness Irish Stew


3 cups Guinness stout

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp fresh rosemary

2 bay leaves

3 lbs beef stewing meat, cubed

3 tbsp oil

3 tbsp butter

2 large onions, sliced

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 carrots, thickly sliced

1 large potato, cubed

1/2 lb mushrooms, scrubbed and sliced

1 tbsp flour

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups beef broth

1 cup water

2 tsp salt

Black pepper to taste

1 tbsp brown sugar

Parsley garnish



Combine the Guinness, mustard, rosemary, and bay leaves in a large bowl. Add beef cubes. Toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator overnight. Drain the meat and reserve marinade. Measure flour onto a plate, season to taste with a touch of salt, pepper, and rosemary. Add beef cubes and coat with the flour mixture. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter and oil and brown meat for 3–5 minutes. Transfer to a casserole dish. Gradually add remaining butter and oil to same skillet. Fry onions and garlic until translucent and slightly browned. Add to the casserole. Repeat the process for the celery, carrots, mushrooms, and potatoes. Add them to the casserole, followed by the marinade, beef stock, water, and sugar.

Simmer for two hours partially covered until meat is tender, stirring occasionally. Add more Guinness or beef broth if liquid looks too reduced. Taste and correct seasonings. Garnish with parsley. Serve with traditional Irish apple mash, colcannon, or potato-leek bake.


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