Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Irish Potatoes

Irish Potatoes

Irish potato noun
A variant forms arsh potato, arsh tater 
B The common white potato (with Irish added to distinguish it from a sweet potato).
1939 Hall Coll. Roaring Fork TN This was a good country for arsh potatoes…They’d take the potatoes to Knoxville, two hundred bushels from one acre. (E. L. Reagan) 1942 Hall Phonetics 44 = the common white potato. 1991 Haynes Haywood Home 77 Jut would say… Arsh taters (Irish potatoes) and other idioms common to uneducated mountain people.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I know all about arsh potatoes because I grew up eating them. Granny even taught me to make an Arsh Potato Cake-my all time favorite cake!

I take great exception to the last part of the definition. I mean, seems pretty smart to differentiate between arsh potatoes and sweet potatoes to me. But since I’ve never read the book maybe the quote isn’t quite what it sounds like.

How about you: arsh poatoes, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, or just taters?


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  • Reply
    March 18, 2015 at 6:10 am

    We love potatoes,, our daughter will eat potatoes when she don’t feel like eating anything else, sometimes after a night of seizures that’s all we can get her to eat,, and there’s been a lot of potatoes eat around here..

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Seems like the question is what one’s education covers; think we know where the writer from Haynes Haywood Home 77 is lacking in education . . . .

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    I guess you heard about the fellow getting mad at the teacher. He found she was trying to get his kids to spell taters with a ‘P’ and maters with a ‘T’.
    Growing up all white potatoes were Irish potatoes unless they were the small red ones mom liked. Now I like the Yukon Golds best. They seem to grow better in my garden than Kennebecks.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    I agree with Steve in Tn., taters
    are my favorite food. That is one
    food I never get tired of, and I
    love ’em anyway they’re fixed.
    Around here everybody I know grows Kennebecs (from Maine), but my favorite is the Idaho Potato. They won’t grow good at all here.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 17, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    My mother used to grow long slender white sweet taters. They were much sweeter than the common orange ones. She grew them from slips she grew herself in the kitchen window.
    She would bake them until the skin was beginning to char. Let them sit for a bit and the skin would peel right off. I liked them cold without butter. They were not the same as the white sweet potatoes you find today.

  • Reply
    Gary Fletcher
    March 17, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Of course, the word “potato” originally referred to what we call the “sweet potato”:
    1560s, from Spanish patata, from a Carib language of Haiti batata “sweet potato”. Sweet potatoes were first to be introduced to Europe; in cultivation in Spain by mid-16c; in Virginia by 1648. Early 16c Portuguese traders carried the crop to all their shipping ports, and the sweet potato was quickly adopted from Africa to India and Java. The name later (1590s) was extended to the common white potato, from Peru, which was at first (mistakenly) called “Virginia potato”, or, because at first it was of minor importance compared to the sweet potato, “bastard potato”. [Online Etymology Dictionary,]
    “Irish potatoes”, which my Western NC kin always used to refer to what we now call “potato”, seems to me to be a little like the term “rabbit tobacco” (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium). The plant is not related to tobacco. Anyhow, many different starchy tubers are eaten the world over.

  • Reply
    mary Lou McKillip
    March 17, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Aren’t we glad some of our ancestors came to America when the Irish potatoes failed to yield in Ireland?
    Wearing of the green a grand symbol for today. We do have the luck of the Irish/Scots as well.
    Irish potatoes can be fixed so many ways. If we were out of spuds,taters and many of us knew it, we didn’t have a meal planner. I used to start by peeling some potatoes . I have gotten away from them in later years knowing how many pounds they do contribute to body weight.
    Potatoes candy was a favorite of mine still is.course the small potato held the powder sugar together to roll out and spread with peanuts butter and slice.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    March 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    An Irish joke for the day:
    Irish Alzhiemers = Forget everything except the way to the pub!
    Toast = May you be a half hour in Heaven before the Devil learns of your death.
    Happy St Patrick’s Day.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    100s of ways to cook an Arsh potato. When I used to cook actual meals, there was always some type of potato on the menu. Missed your Butterscotch pie yesterday…a must try.
    I must agree that it is not pleasant when I see my Mountain people belittled. It is no longer politically correct to malign any group of people except Appalachian Americans. At least we are now able to easily separate the knowledgeable from those unlearned. It reminds me of when I was a small child and loved to read. Our classroom bookcase was filled with out of date books that had been there since the turn of the century. I absorbed them like a sponge. I had visions of the Dutch running around in wooden shoes, and Native Americans shooting bows and arrows to get their food. I still recall when much of this unraveled After a trip to Cherokee, and a magazine that portrayed Holland, I became a wiser reader. I learned the wise lesson of separating fact from fiction. My Sociology professor once said, “The more educated you become the less likely you are to stereotype.”

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 11:59 am

    I resent the reference to uneducated mt folk also. Could be uneducated northerners just as well. Actually even uneducated offends me, best to have left the comment unsaid.
    Anyway, we had Id-e-ho’s and sweet taters, and kept them in potato banks (dirt mound) outside. All potatoes are from South America and the Arsh have Sir Walter Raleigh to thank for introducing them there in the late 1500’s. The oricinal I-de-hos were russet burback variety.So much for my uneducated view of taters.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Tipper–I can’t resist drawing on my background as an historian a bit in connection with this subject. The greatest wave of Irish to come to this country was in the late 1840s thanks to the great Potato Famine. Some type of virus affected the crop and shortly after the tubers were harvested they rotted. Since the Irish potato was the mainstay of Irish diet, starvation was rampant.
    Of course most mountain folks with Irish roots trace back to an earlier time connected with troubles in the 17th century.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 17, 2015 at 10:54 am

    As far as I can tell I don’t have an Irish bone in my body. All my ancestors were either Scottish or undetermined. Does this mean I shouldn’t wear green today?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 17, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday, Frederick Douglass and Leonardo de Vinci were also uneducated. That puts me in some pretty good company don’t you think.
    The only reason I call them Arsh taters is because that is what they are. A potato is just a tater in a tuxedo.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    March 17, 2015 at 10:43 am

    For us, though we grew both kinds, it was just “potatoes” if white or Irish were meant, and sweet potatoes for the orange ones.

  • Reply
    barbara Gantt
    March 17, 2015 at 9:34 am

    I grew up on Arsh potatoes. Both sides of my family were Irish. Here in Vermont, it is only potatoes. Hard to find the Irish Cobblers for seed potatoes. My Daddy said they were the best. He grew a lot of potatoes. We eat a lot of potatoes too. Barbara

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 9:31 am

    I love to celebrate this Irish day. I don’t have a bit in my blood, but I make my form of boiled Irish dinner each year – corned beef, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. I also buy the Irish Soda Bread and feast on it for many days. I like to wear green (I don’t want to be pinches) with one of my many Irish costume jewelry pins. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! Oh, I have a Shamrock plant in my garden with flowers.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    March 17, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Taters!!! And we all love them in any form–even used to eat raw slices when Mama was peeling taters.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Mom fixed fried arsh taters for supper nearly every day when I was at home. They were served with soup beans and cornbread, of course. Nothing tasted as good as a big “ice” tater baked in the ashes of our coal stove.

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    March 17, 2015 at 8:50 am

    My favorite fruit and the Irish answer to pasta.

  • Reply
    Cynthia Schoonover
    March 17, 2015 at 8:41 am

    My grandmother always called white potatoes “Irish potatoes,” and she lived in Richmond, Va. I think it was typical years ago to call them Irish potatoes.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    March 17, 2015 at 8:23 am

    We just called them potatoes but my memories are of the cold bin in the basement.
    My Father built large bins to hold potatoes, apples, pears and onions.
    Once a month it was my job to sit on a stool and pick the sprouts off and move the potatoes from one side of the bin to the other.
    By the time I finished it seemed like a new load was arriving.
    Potato digging time on the farm was not one of my favorites.

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    March 17, 2015 at 7:32 am

    So, Tipper, how about that recipe for arsh potato cake?

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    March 17, 2015 at 7:15 am

    Happy St. Patrick’s day!! Up here,we say potatoes or sweet potatoes. Although I am familiar with the term “Irish potato”,I don’t remember anyone actually using it.

  • Reply
    Glynn Harris
    March 17, 2015 at 6:55 am

    Arsh taters here in Louisiana.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 17, 2015 at 6:31 am

    Think I put too many great granddaddies in there…Me thinks there should be only four…LOL
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…the firstin’s frum Ireland settled in White Rock…we think and that is why Momma, when she found one, would tote a white rock back to Tennessee from NC…no matter how little or how big it was….even though she hadn’t visited White Rock since she was a child…It was just something in her mind about White Rocks….so funny! Years later after doing the genealogy trace, we found White Rock…LOL

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 17, 2015 at 6:19 am

    I don’t agree with the statement “Arsh Taters (Irish potatoes) and other idioms
    common to uneducated mountain people.”
    I think the one that made that statement might just be the uneducated one…or frum somewhar else, a foreigner, so to speak!
    All my folks knew that Arsh (Irish) potatoes come from Arland (Ireland) where their folks were frum! That is just the way they spoke of it!
    Think about it…now say Ireland with a roll of the tongue, like Arrrlend…the word just rolls off…now you’re speakin’ arsh (Irish)!!
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Thanks for coming to the USA (merika) Great, great, great, great granddaddy Tweed!

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