Are you of Irish descent? If you answered yes, I'd believe you. Some 10.8 percent of Americans, a whopping 36 million of us, claim to have some form of Irish ancestry. That's just over half of the 70 million people in the world who claim to have Irish ancestry. Not bad for Ireland with a current population of just over 5 million people.
I'm proud to say that I'm among those claiming Irish ancestry. My Irish roots come from my paternal and maternal grandfathers. With a keen interest in my ancestry, I've been researching my paternal great-grandfather Michael Keron Smith, who was born in Birr, Offlay, Ireland in 1889 and arrived in the United States in 1891. My great-great-grandmother Mary Canon Smith, a widow of a year, boarded a boat with her sons, John, 7, and Michael, 2, to make a life in America. It's unclear as to how and why she made her way to Dalton, but a marriage to Robert Dwyer, followed in 1892. Robert, a widower, had two daughters, Anna and Bella. Together, they had three children — Henry, Joseph and Helen. Mary would die several days after Helen's birth. Fortunately, as it was not always the case, my great-grandfather remained in the care of his stepfather until he turned 18.
Michael Smith, my great-grandfather would spend several more years in Dalton, but eventually end up in North Adams, married to Gertrude Lanoue with whom he had three children — my grandfather, Joseph, William and Gertrude. William died on Dec. 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. Gertrude, known most of her life as Sister Mary Bernard, and who I knew as my "Auntie Sister," entered religious life with the Sisters of St. Joseph at Mont Marie in Holyoke at 19. She took her final vows at 22 and lived at Mont Marie until her death in 2001.
My great-grandfather died in 1972, six years before I was born and unfortunately I know only know a few things about his life. He lived in North Adams for 50 years, where, he retired as a night watchman at Sprague Electric. I know where he lived, on Church Street and that when he died, 150 of the Sisters of St. Joseph attended his funeral.
I also know I did not grow up eating corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. This Irish-American tradition did not find its way to me through either side of my family. And some 22 years ago, when I spent St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland, as part of a two-week college travel course, I dined on smoked salmon and capers, while many of my classmates enjoyed a more traditional Irish meal of ham and potatoes.
But who am I to say what you should enjoy on St. Patrick's Day? In fact, corned beef and cabbage, made in slow cooker, is an easy meal to make any time of the year. You just pop it in the slow cooker with the potatoes and let it cook, low and slow for six hours before adding in the cabbage.
SLOW COOKER CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE
(Recipe adapted from mccormick.com)
5 medium russet (or 8 small red) potatoes
5 large carrots (or 2 cups baby) carrots
1 small onion, quartered
1 corned beef brisket, rinsed and trimmed (4 pounds)
2 tablespoons mixed pickling spice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 head cabbage, cored and cut into wedges
Place potatoes, carrots and onion in 6-quart slow cooker. Place corned beef brisket over vegetables. Sprinkle with pickling spice and minced garlic. Add enough water (about 8 cups) to just cover meat. Cover.
Cook 6 hours on low. Add cabbage. Cover. Cook 1 to 2 hours on low.
Remove corned beef brisket to serving platter. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain. Serve with vegetables.