FoodCult is the first major project to establish both the fundamentals of everyday diet, and the cultural ‘meaning’ of food and drink, in early modern Ireland.

Exploring the period c. 1550-1650, one of major economic development, unprecedented intercultural contact, but also of conquest, colonisation and war, it focusses on Ireland as a case-study for understanding the role of food in the demonstration and negotiation of authority and power, and as a site for the development of emergent ‘national’ food cultures. Moving well beyond the colonial narrative of Irish social and economic development, however, it enlarges the study of food and identity to examine neglected themes in Irish historiography, including gender, class, kinship and religious identities, as expressed through the consumption and exchange of food and drink.

Taking advantage of exciting recent archaeological discoveries and the increased accessibility of the archaeological evidence, the project develops a ground-breaking interdisciplinary approach, merging micro-historical analytical techniques with cutting edge science and experimental archaeology, to examine what was eaten, where, why and by whom, at a level of detail previously deemed impossible for this period in Irish history.

Such questions will be explored in a comparative British Isles context, situating Irish developments within a broader analytical framework. As a corollary to this research, the project will produce the first major database of diet-related archaeological evidence for this period Mapping Diet: Comparative Foodways in Early Modern Ireland, in addition to making accessible the only existing household and institutional accounts, a hugely significant, and previously overlooked, quantitative and qualitative source for dietary trends.

Together, these resources will shed light, not just on consumption patterns, but on Ireland’s broader economic and social development, whilst significantly furthering research agendas in early modern historical and archaeological scholarship.

The project will lead to unparalleled cooperation and collaboration across the sciences, humanities and heritage sectors in Ireland, and by nature of the broader popularity and accessibility of food as a theme, will deliver extensive opportunities for public engagement and outreach.


  • Establish the fundamentals of everyday production, preparation and consumption in Irish households/institutions and compare diets at regional; social; occupational and ethnic levels.

  • Investigate the comparative nutritional quality of diet in various regions by examining the relative calorific intake from meat, dairy, grains and alcohol and the quality of produce available, as evidenced by documentary and archaeological material.

  • Assess the impact of key social and economic changes on food related consumption, including the reformation, colonisation, globalisation and demographic change/social polarisation at a regional level.

  • Establish the cultural significance of food and drink in maintaining and negotiating intercultural relations in early modern Ireland.

  • Explore the ‘meaning’ of food both in and beyond its colonial context, including the construction of gender, class and religious identities, thus situating the Irish experience within the broader historiography of food and identity formation.

  • Examine food interactions to consider the role of food in the development of political, kinship and community bonds.

  • Explore and implement ways to make Irish food history relevant and accessible in diverse non-academic contexts.


FoodCult is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program. The ERC runs an annual competitive call to fund investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, based solely on the criteria of scientific excellence.

In the 2018 Starting Grant Call, the Principal Investigator, Dr Susan Flavin, won an award of just under 1.5 million Euro to support this research (Grant Agreement 803486). This grant will fund Dr Flavin’s research, a team of interdisciplinary collaborators based at institutions across the UK and Ireland, and four post-doctoral researchers, for a period of five years commencing in February 2019.