Pinch Me, I'm Cajun

by Donal O'Meadhra

A recent trip back to my native Ireland demonstrated how pervasive Cajun' culture is becoming.

Last year at exactly this moment I diligently typed away at a small piece for IND Monthly with my observations on the influence of the Irish culture on America. It was a labor of love as I attempted to spread some Irish history into the local Cajun landscape and explain a bit on how the Irish have contributed much more than giving beer its own holiday. And Liam Neeson.

A year later almost to the day, my Louisiana-born wife and I are in Dublin, which is not only Ireland's capital but its center of culture.

Settled by the Vikings, who gave the local population its love for drinking, fighting and all things stereotypically Irish, Dublin is the "must see" city in Ireland for anyone wanting to get a true taste of the Emerald Isle.

It's Samantha's first time in Ireland, so I take her to some of the more famous places first, to try to break her in and start us out right.

We head to the Temple Bar Pub, one of Dublin's oldest and most visited landmarks. We've just traveled 4,346 miles and I can't wait to share some of the classic ambiance of the true Irish pubs. The chance to show off some of my favorite drinking holes and restaurants to someone who has never seen a true Irish pub has me anxious and excited as we walk into the Temple Bar area across the River Liffey.

We walk up Fownes Street toward Dame Street to see our first authentic restaurant, Tante Zoe's, with its Cajun/Creole food and live jazz. Ah, the smell of gumbo and jambalaya in the streets of Dublin.

Wait a minute. When did this happen?

The last I remember, this was a nice little Irish local establishment, and now we're looking at a Louisiana restaurant right in the heart of Dublin's Irishness. We had a quick laugh and stopped long enough to take some pictures as evidence of a bit of Cajun Country that made it all the way across the pond to Ireland. Tante Zoe's, we'd soon discover, wasn't the only place in Dublin with live jazz.

Walking along Liffey and Henry streets, we found ourselves hearing familiar tunes played by street musicians and enjoyed a bit of Louisiana in the heart of Dublin.

Several days later I was full of excitement. We were catching the early train to Belfast, where I was born, to show my wife around and take her to a few of my favorite places in the world.

Dublin's brilliant, but Belfast is home.

Immediately upon leaving the train we were greeted with a bit more grey. A bit more rain. The north of Ireland is a completely different world.

We board the train at Connolly Station and head to County Antrim where the nights are cold and the streets are full of ... giant billboards for KFC's new Cajun Chicken Wraps? Seriously? In Belfast? Cajun Chicken? We get off the train in Belfast and this is the first sight we see?

Belfast isn't known for her cultural diversity - even though they've been working hard to change that image in the past few years - and Cajun food was absolutely the last thing I expected to see on my auld sod.

We shared another good laugh and another photo opportunity. Samantha was tickled at the chance to send another photo or two home to Louisiana showing the Pelican State's influence on the Irish palate.

Fighting the rain, we covered up and headed toward the Belfast City Centre anxious to see ... another Cajun restaurant - Bourbon, right on Victoria Street in the heart of Belfast City.

The following night we had reservations at Gordon Ramsay's Powerscourt. I had worked extremely hard at securing the Chef's Table and dining experience by one of the world's most famous restaurateurs. And the menu, oh the menu. Fresh Irish beef. Daily line-caught fish.

Brilliant lamb and ... Cajun Blackened Chicken.

Gordon Ramsay had found the secret to a perfect menu: add a bit of Cajun spice.

Ireland hasn't taken up celebrating Mardi Gras, and God knows you don't want to give an Irishman beads to throw at anything, but for my wife especially, seeing a bit of her home having found its way into mine, well, one couldn't help but be proud.

The heart of New Orleans and Cajun/Creole culture were obvious in every place we visited - none so as much as a gorgeous Thursday morning along O'Connell Street in the heart of Dublin when we witnessed a drunkard dressed head to foot in Saints gear almost fall into the jazz musicians playing along the street.

It seems 4,346 miles wasn't that far to travel after all.

Heading out on our return to New Orleans on our last day in Ireland, I stopped at a snack kiosk at the Dublin Airport and picked up one last souvenir for my father-in-law: Cajun Roasted Nuts, fresh from Ireland.

So, this Saint Patrick's Day as I cook my shepherd's pie with bangers and mash and pour a pint or two in South Louisiana, I can think of old Ireland with her jazz music and blackened shrimp with dirty rice and smile.

Happy Saint's Patrick's Day, Louisiana. Laissez les bons temps rouler and Erin Go Bragh.
Now let's get some black beer and crawfish.


Donal O'Meadhra, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, emigrated to the U.S. with his brother in 1974 to escape civil-religious strife. He now lives in New Iberia with his wife and young son.