Never mind the bed, where's the breakfast?


We should celebrate the full Irish breakfast in all its greasy glory as a part of what we are, instead of furtively washing it down with a big cup of guilt, writes Derek O'Connor

The full Irish breakfast certainly isn't a wholly Irish creation but it is one we've embraced as our own. As culinary experiences go, the full Irish is a brutally frank one, a choice that continues to transcend any notion of fashion and class and remains a guilty pleasure for even the most discerning of gullets.

We're talking basic fuel, the dirty big fry which can assist the most heinous of morning-after heads, or perfectly complement that leisurely trawl through the Sunday papers, chugged down furiously or savoured (and topped-up) at length.

The basic formula, to be improvised upon at will, goes a little like this: two rashers of bacon, two sausages, one grilled tomato, one fried egg (usually overcooked), one piece of black pudding, one piece of white pudding and plenty of toast, ideally complemented by a bottomless mug of hot, sweet tea. It's a veritable design classic, poetry on a plate.

This gloriously greasy celebration of cholesterol-soaked dining continues (in its numerous subtle variations) to remain a favourite Irish feed, never more so than during this holiday season, when hotels and guesthouses across the nation spread the full Irish gospel to visitors from every corner of the globe.

Indeed, the continental punter may not normally indulge - particularly the more diet-conscious kind - but, faced with the option of an unprepossessing bowl of Corn Flakes or a fry, few will pass on the big feed, though many foreign visitors may have a hard time warming to the concept of black pudding. That said, the full Irish's Caledonian counterpart, the full Scottish, offers haggis, so maybe we're getting off lightly.

The delights of the dirty big fry are endless. While the preparation and serving might not immediately suggest much by way of imagination or artfulness, even the most casual diner will be able to tell you the difference between a good fry-up and a bad one.

"It's all in the ingredients," says B & B owner Sheila Sweeney, "good bacon and decent produce. Some places will just use the cheap stuff, and you can tell it a mile off. You can't eat it."

This woman knows her stuff: Sweeney's Ardcrone House is situated on the Dungloe coast in north-west Donegal and is a landmark for the many thousands of hardcore Daniel O'Donnell fans who land in the area every year.

"You have to be on form for a full Irish," she muses.

"Say that you wake up fresh and all ready to go - a big fry sets you off properly for a full day. You can go out and about, go climb a mountain. It tucks you up until the evening."

While there's no imaginable reason to suggest that the full Irish will fall from favour anytime in the foreseeable future, a particular dining experience has slowly but surely begun to drop off the radar, in our capital at least: the reasonably priced greasy spoon.

Every Dubliner has their favourite cheap and cheerful café option, but over the past decade, many of those beloved institutions have disappeared off the map, to be replaced by generic sandwich bars and sterile takeaways.

Instead of a reasonably priced all-day breakfast, to be enjoyed at leisure with a newspaper and a spattering of semi-decent company, it's increasingly likely that you're going to be faced with (a) an overpriced, underwhelming, upmarket version of the aforementioned feed (particular venom reserved for those places that charge per rasher, sausage and slice of toast) or (b) a variety of novelty sandwich options, complemented by the omnipresent handful of crisps.

"They're gone, for sure and Dublin is worse off for it", says historian and author Lorcan Collins.

"Take all the cafes you used to find in and around an area like Smithfield, most of which have died off - where else would you have found barristers eating beside barrow boys? The great greasy spoons were the ones that opened at six to feed the early delivery crowd and the lads coming off night shifts, and saw every walk of life though its doors over the course of the day.

"There's no equivalent, nothing to replace that. These days, if a builder wants his greasy fry, he pops into the local 24-hour shop and grabs a breakfast roll and a tin of Coke. It's the McDonaldsisation of breakfast culture in a way."

Ultimately, our heightened sense of health-consciousness - and the government-imposed standards that came with it - put paid to much of the old café culture: we don't like our greasy spoons that greasy these days.

The Full Irish lives on, though, a thriving throwback to our old, unfit, unsophisticated selves.