The cultivation of oats is particularly suited to Ireland's climatic conditions and therefore oatmeal became a staple food of the Irish from prehistoric times until the seventeenth century. Vast quantities of oatmeal were consumed in the form of porridge or stirabout (a thick mixture).With the introduction of the potato in the late sixteenth century, the prevalence of oatmeal porridge declined as potatoes superseded oats as the staple diet and only in times of poor potato harvest did it temporarily regain its pre-potato status. However, despite the prevalence of the potato, oats maintained a strong foothold in the national diet until well into the late nineteenth century.
Most households also held stores of oatmeal for the production of porridge, bread - and importantly - as an ingredient for the manufacture of black puddings.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries oatmeal became increasingly popular when it was mixed with whiskey as a cure for the common cold. In this period porridge increasingly became a breakfast dish and this was promoted by the establishment of the commercial oatmeal producers, Flahavan's, in the eighteenth century.
Despite the establishment of bacon and eggs as the "traditional Irish breakfast" in the nineteenth century, porridge still retained its place as a regular breakfast dish. The popularity of breakfast porridge is well illustrated in the culinary advice offered by George Bernard Shaw in his 1904 publication John Bull's Other Island :
"Boil oatmeal porridge for 20 minutes; and if you think the result mere oatmeal and water, try boiling it for two hours. (If you still think it as unpalatable as dry bread, treat it as you treat the bread; stir up a bounteous lump of butter in it, and do not forget the salt.) In eating oatmeal porridge, remember that there's nothing so becomes a man as moderation and an admixture of stewed fruit."
Copyright: - Ireland's Traditional Foods - An Exploration of Irish Local & Typical Foods & Drinks by Cathal Cowan and Regina Sexton - Published by Teagasc- The National Food Centre, Dublin, 1997.