From music, art and film through to food and drink, the Irish have made countless contributions to the world – including many Christmas ones. However, some things are so synonymous with the festive season that you may not have given much thought to the people behind them and their origins.
Here are just a few of the Christmas gifts that people with Irish roots have given the world.
Miracle on 34th Street
In the original production of this beloved Christmas film, Dubliner Maureen O’Hara plays the starring role of Doris Walker – a Macy’s employee who unknowingly hires the real Santa Claus to perform in the store’s Thanksgiving parade.
Although Miracle on 34th Street was originally released back in 1947, the film is still considered one of the best Christmas films of all-time. (It places 8th on IMDB’s list and 3rd on Rotten Tomatoes’).
While the film was still in production, O’Hara received American citizenship. This wasn’t unusual for Irish people living in America at the time. However, her insistence that she be recognised as Irish, rather than English or British, before obtaining her citizenship meant that she became the first person in the US to be officially recognised as Irish.
Other Hollywood stars with Irish roots include Home Alone’s Macaulay Culkin, How the Grinch Stole Christmas’s Jim Carrey and Love Actually’s Alan Rickman.
The Guinness Book of Records
This popular stocking filler has been released just in time for Christmas every year since 1955. The idea for the book was the brainchild of Sir Hugh Eyre Campbell Beaver, who was born in Johannesburg to an English father and a Galway-born mother.
When he came up with the concept, back in 1951, he was the managing director of Dublin’s Guinness Brewery. His lightbulb moment occurred during a hunting trip in county Wexford. He got involved in a lively argument with his shooting partner over which game bird was the fastest – the golden plover or the red grouse. Their disagreement continued into the night as there was no way to verify who was right. That’s when Beaver realised that a book of records to settle barroom rows could prove a hit.
Brothers Ross and Norris McWhirter later heard of his idea and made it a reality. Since then, successive editions have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
Speaking of world records, did you know the best-selling Christmas song of all-time was sung by an Irish-American? According to the Guinness Book of Records, “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby has sold over 100 million records around the globe, including 50 million singles, since it was released in 1942.
Crosby sang many Irish tunes throughout his career. He even visited Ireland from time to time and released a movie entitled Bing Crosby in Dublin, which celebrated his Irish roots.
Crosby’s maternal great-grandparents hailed from Schull in county Cork, where a single wall of their old home still stands. They originally emigrated to Canada in 1831.
Other Christmas hits recorded by Irish-American artists include “All I want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Judy Garland.
Irish doctor and collector Hans Sloane is credited with bringing cocoa to the western world. While living in Jamaica, he recorded local customs and built a collection of more than 1,000 plants, animals and rocks. (Though much of the collecting was actually done by slaves.)
It was here that he came across cocoa, which locals mixed with water. But he added milk to make it taste sweeter. That’s why the British Natural History Museum credits Sloane with the invention of chocolate milk. Sloane brought this mixture back to England where he marketed it as medicine. Later on, Cadbury’s used his name to promote its own drinking chocolate.
Irish emigrants are associated with two other popular winter warmers too. Chef Joe Sheridan is said to have concocted the recipe for Irish coffee at Foynes Airport in county Limerick before emigrating to America. While a Dublin-born doctor named Robert Bentley Todd is sometimes credited with dreaming up the Hot Toddy. While this isn’t true, he did prescribe it to lots of patients at his medical practice in London.
Want to find out more about how Irish emigrants and their descendants have shaped the world? Visit EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum this December.