Champ – a St. Patrick’s Day Tribute to my Irish Ancestors

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been acutely aware of my Irish heritage. I’m not really sure why. It was something that everyone in our family was aware of, but it wasn’t emphasized that much. It was just always there. Ireland – that mystical far off land – was simply a part of me and I was a part of it. And even though I had no idea that I’d ever have an opportunity to travel there, I longed to see it. To experience that magical place.

Years ago, long before I started blogging, I had another hobby. Genealogy. I spent a lot of time tracking down ancestors. It was so fascinating! Finding out the names, births, deaths, and places that are a part of my heritage. People who lived very long, rich lives, and those whose time here was short. Like all families there were both funny stories and sad stories. Stories of regular people with regular lives. But they were my people and that made those regular lives all the more fascinating.

I found some huge families – one with 18 children – and some small. Some who were married multiple times and some who lived their whole lives without a spouse. Funny names, too – little twin girls named Comfort Always and Content Always, and a grandfather named Leonidus Fernandus. We have no idea where that name came from.

William "Irish Billy" Dunn

William J. “Irish Billy” Dunn

Throughout all the research, though, the one branch of the family that most interested me was my Dunn family from Ireland. It wasn’t difficult to find my Irish great-great-great-great grandfather William J. Dunn. Always known as “Irish Billy” to our family, all we ever knew about him was that he came to America at a very young age as a stowaway on a ship. The family tale was that he jumped on to the ship on a whim on his way to school one morning. His mother never knew what happened to him and grieved for her lost little boy all the rest of her life.  However, as so often turns out with family stories, our William Dunn’s tale wasn’t entirely accurate. After years of researching, here’s what I found out about William Dunn. He was born in 1807. His parents were Michael Dunn and Elizabeth Entwhistle Dunn of Derryaghy Parish, Antrim, Northern Ireland. He sailed on the ship Vesper in 1835 with 4 of his 10 siblings. There is also some evidence to suggest that he had been here for three years before he traveled back to Ireland bring them here with him.

I still don’t know how Irish Billy wound up in southwest Georgia. From what I’ve seen, his other siblings mostly settled in Illinois around Chicago. In 1843, William married Charity Elizabeth Faircloth in Miller County, Colquitt, Georgia. William and Charity had nine children, one of which was my great-great-great grandmother Ella Fain Dunn. Pretty name Ella Fain, isn’t it? Ella Fain was the mother of George Washington Carter who was the father of Guyte Carter who was the father of Pauline Carter who is my mother’s mother. More than you ever wanted or cared to know about my ancestry, I’m sure.

A few years ago, BeeBop and I were talking about celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary. We tossed around a few ideas and then BeeBop said, “why don’t we just go to Ireland?” It took me about 2.3 seconds to agree. Let me tell you all – it was the trip of a lifetime! We spent ten days there and when it was time to board the plane to return, I thought my heart would break. From the moment the plane landed in Shannon until we departed from Dublin, I’ve never felt so much at home in my life. Besides the breathtaking beauty of the countryside, the people are the most warm and welcoming I’ve ever encountered anywhere. We just thought we had the corner on hospitality in the South! Given the chance, I’d go right back to Ireland on the next flight leaving Atlanta. It’s simply where my heart lives.

I know that no one wants to look at vacation photos, but I’m going to share a few with you just this one time. I took more than 1,500 photos in those ten days in Ireland so you can imagine how difficult it is to choose just a few, but these are some of my favorites.

So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and as a tribute to all my Irish ancestors, I’m sharing a very simple, very Irish recipe – Champ.  Why is it called “champ?” I wondered about that, too, and after a little research found that it’s because the word champ means to bruise, pound, or smash. Makes more sense now.

champ-mashing-potatoes

Champ is simply cooked, mashed potatoes combined with scallions, milk and lots of butter. Cook your peeled, cubed potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain them and return them to the pan with a clean tea towel on top to help absorb extra moisture. Mash the potatoes thoroughly.

champ-milk-and-scallions

While the potatoes are cooking, simmer the milk and scallions together for about five minutes. Do not let the milk boil, keep it at a low simmer only.

champ-finalmix

Add the hot milk and scallions, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons of the butter. Stir until the butter has melted and everything is well combined.

Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Set aside for serving.

Serve the champ piled high on the plate with a well of melted butter in the center. Eat from the outside, dipping each spoonful into the well of melted butter.

Enjoy!

Champ – a St. Patrick’s Day Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A traditional Irish recipe for St. Patrick's Day.
Ingredients
  • 4 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 lb. scallions, chopped
  • 10 oz. milk
  • 6 tblsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook potatoes in salted, boiling water under tender.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, simmer the milk and scallions together for about five minutes. Do not let the milk boil, keep it at a low simmer only.
  3. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Place the pot back on the stove with the heat turned off and cover with a clean tea towel to help absorb the moisture.
  4. Mash the potatoes thoroughly.
  5. Add the hot milk and scallions, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons of the butter. Stir until the butter has melted and everything is well combined.
  6. Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Set aside for serving.
  7. Serve piled high on the plate with a well of melted butter in the center.
Notes
To serve, mound the Champ up high on the plate and pour the melted butter into a well in the center. Eat from the outside, dipping each spoonful into the well of melted butter.

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Comments

  1. holly says

    I would love to send the recipe for Champ- A St. Patrick’s Day Recipe to my email recipe folder but you don’t have the email icon, is there any way to have that added, or would you please email it to me from your end? I appreciate any assisstance in getting this recipe Thank-you for your help.

  2. Neena says

    Glad to have the history on William Dunn. Did not know all of this. Of course we have always known that Polly was most definitely Irish. Will try to make this dish for her St Patrick’s Day. Good job and beautiful pictures.

  3. says

    I’m part Irish and I feel some of the same way…a part of this magical, mystical isle that I may never see. But I celebrate it every year with foods favorite to me and guess what I made last night. Really. One guess.

    I hope you were thinking Champ…with a mornay cheese sauce. It’s supposed to be a part of a dish with cod but I had no fish and so my dinner was potatoes and sauce and I was OK with that.

    I’m also curing some corned beef and right now, this very minute I am sipping the cocktail I made for tomorrow’s post. Ahhhh…I love an Irish coffee!! Now I need a nap. :)

  4. says

    How fun to find out about your family history! My Grandmother’s last name was Kelly, so I have Irish in my blood. I don’t make enough treats to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day….I should, but not enough time in a day, LOL! Thank you for sharing your photos! I went to Ireland right before my senior year in high school. It was seriously amazing, I can’t wait to go back with my sweet hubby:-) Your Champ looks DELISH! Hugs, Terra

  5. says

    Very cool. I’ve always wanted to get into genealogy and I’m not sure why I haven’t. I love the idea of uncovering stories like these.

    Love the simplicity of your champ. It looks delicious.

  6. says

    Your champ is going viral on Pinterest, Lana! And it’s no wonder, it’s simple, honest food from a country that many call “home”. We visited the Emerald Isle a few years ago – were in County Cork and County Kerry and Dublin. Unfortunately he had little information about his ancestors other than his grandmother was an O’Rourke and the family emigrated from Cobh, along with millions of others.

    • says

      Yes, Cobh was one of the major emigration ports during the potato famine. And O’Rourke, like Dunn, is probably a fairly common Irish surname. Difficult to trace those ancestors unless you have family documentation that has been passed down.

  7. Miss P says

    My recollection of family lore is that William Dunn was known as “Fighting Irish Billy Dunn” due to the fact that he made his living by the sporting art of fisticufs.

    Or, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Miss P

  8. Neena says

    Their were three Billy Dunns. One was fighting Billy, one was Irish Billy, one was snorting Billy. Fighting Billy was not our relation, snorting Billy was not related & was called that because he had his nose cut off in an Indian fight. Our relative was just plain Irish Billy Dunn, (per history of Miller county GA written by Nellie Cook Davis).

  9. Denise @ Creative Kitchen says

    Lana,

    What a beautiful post! I have Irish ancestors also. On my grandmothers side the come from county cork. I’ve always been intrigued with all of the UK. It’s also my favorite country to visit in Epcot. Love the fish and chips!!

  10. gloria patterson says

    Now I am wanting Champ, BUT to late in the day to fix…………. BUT I will be having these friday.

  11. Stella says

    Lana: Today’s post was most interesting to me in that my maiden name is “Dunn”. I have arrived at my genealogy a little late in life, but I was determined to know something about my beginnings. So far, it has been fascinating. I have leads on a Samuel Fowler Dunn being in my line in early America. Once I heard that our Dunn from Ireland boarded a ship surreptitiously out of Liverpool to America. So that made your story even more interesting.

    • says

      Genealogy is a fascinating hobby, Stella, and one that is really never ending. I just might get my research notes back out one of these days and start it up again.

  12. says

    Loved reading about your ancestors. Glad you enjoyed your time in Ireland, and your photos are very nice. Hubby and I always holiday in the ould country. There is so much to see and even though we retrace our steps we always find some spot we haven’t seen before. As long as you can take whatever the Weather decides to throw at you a great time can be had. Champ is one of my favourite dinners and later in the year when our Kale season is here you can make the same dish with Kale. Yum.

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