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The best and worst Irish things ever, in one photograph

Best. Guinness

Ah, wonderful, smooth, nourishing Guinness. Beer of the Gods, “black stuff” of legend, actually kind of ruby-red if you look at it closely enough. A pint of plain is your only man, as Flann O’Brien wrote. (Other, very fine stouts, such as Cork’s Murphy’s and Beamish, are available).

Stout and porter were not invented in Ireland. They were first brewed in London, and brought back across the sea by Arthur Guinness. Like Christianity (and indeed St Patrick himself), Guinness wasn’t Irish to begin with, but we took to it enthusiastically, for better or worse.

Bonus fact: It is claimed that porter was first served in a pub called The Last, in London’s East End. That pub is now known as the Old Blue Last, and is owned by hipster media empire Vice.

Worst: The Tayto Cheese And Onion Chocolate bar

In a  straw poll we carried out on the web this morning asking “What's the greatest thing Ireland has given to the world?” the most common answer was “Taytos” (followed by “me” and “my dad”).

It’s not just that Irish people like crisps, or that foreigners like our crisps: flavoured crisps were invented in Ireland. The Tayto cheese and onion crisp was one of the 20th century’s greatest innovations. As the Daily Telegraph’s obituary of crisp magnate Joe “Spud” Murphy pointed out, crisps until then had been insipid affairs - “the only ‘flavour’ available was salt, which had to be sprinkled from a little bag sold inside the packet”.

One of Spud’s employees, Seamus Burke, perfected the flavoured, cheese and onion crisp in the late 1950s, and nothing was ever the same again.

But in April 2013, for reasons best known to themselves, Tayto decided to combine cheese and onion crisps and chocolate in a bar. The result don’t know, man, you weren’t there. Cheese, onion, potato and bad quality chocolate do not mix well. The cheese and onion chocolate bar was variously described as having “ the texture of a Nestle Crunch, but an aftertaste of the cinema” and tasting “like Sunday afternoons spent playing pool in a pub”. The bar did not stay on the market very long, and somehow the Tayto company survived the disaster.

Bonus fact: Tayto has a crisp-based adventure park, Tayto Park in Ashbourne, Co Meath, where, among other things, you can experience the Potatohontus Native American Village.

Bonus bonus fact. Mr Tayto, the crisp mascot, released his autobiography, The Man Inside the Jacket, in 2009. Southern Irish Mr Tayto is not to be confused with his Northern cousin, Mr Tayto, who lives in Tayto Castle, where Northern Ireland Taytos are made. Connoisseurs and sectarians claim to be able to tell the difference between Northern Ireland Taytos and Republic of Ireland Taytos in blind tests.

Bonus bonus bonus fact: Legend has it that if homesick Northern Irish people abroad write to Tayto Castle, they will be sent a free box of Taytos. I have no idea if this is true.

(By the way, the above picture was taken in The Quays on Holloway Road, London, which will be jumping tonight if you’re looking to celebrate St Patrick's Day).


Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.

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