The Irish Breakfast Roll (and Breakfast Roll Man)

A typical Irish breakfast roll
Bernd Biege

The Breakfast Roll (or its non-identical twin the Breakfast Bap) was created through the adaptation of the full Irish breakfast for the modern, mobile generation. Basically, most ingredients that constitute an Irish breakfast are forced inside a demi-baguette (roll) or soft bun (bap). The process of preparation involved cutting the bread base half open, buttering it and then inserting (as a standard) sausage, bacon, and black pudding. A fried egg may be added to the whole concoction - this usually ends in tears if the egg is still runny, and then makes a spirited attempt to re-design upper garments. Customers will often be asked about added sauce - either ketchup or brown sauce are the standards. Both spell danger for clothing.

In Irish Popular Culture

The breakfast roll became a surprise addition to the canon of Irish popular music when comedian Pat Shortt managed to dominate the Irish single charts and airwaves with his novelty song "Jumbo Breakfast Roll" in early 2006 ... six weeks in the number one spot was the reward. According to the song lyrics the jumbo breakfast roll would be made up of "two eggs, two rasher, two sausages, two bacon, two puddings, one black, one white", with added sauce. The inclusion of both "rashers" and "bacon" (essentially the same, rashers of bacon to be precise) seems to be due to artistic considerations. The eggs are described as "runny", which would make this a very dangerous concoction that could easily soil clothing (which seems to consist of a "luminous vest" in this case, hinting at the typical image of builders and similar types going in for the roll). Shortt is, however, advised by his doctor that he is swallowing an "artery blocker" and turns vegetarian. With cravings. 

It is also immortalized through the works of economist David McWilliams, who named a certain section of Irish society "breakfast roll man" in his seminal book "The Pope's Children" and not referring to indecent goings-on in the Vatican, but to the generation that grew up after John Paul II's visit to Ireland in 1979, which left marks in Dublin's Phoenix Park, in Clonmacnoise, in Knock and in the collective Irish psyche).


There are, however, two definitions that have developed for Breakfast Roll Man in recent years:

The most common definition is a tradesman working on a building site or in other construction-related businesses (hence the need for the "luminous jacket") and, at least during the boom years before 2008, earning more money than he could sensibly spend. Food was taken on the run and in copious quantities (but often with low quality), as not to interfere with the main task of earning more money. If not sitting in a petrol station "diner", this breakfast roll man would more than likely be sitting in a white van, hastily gobbling down food and drink.

Another definition was offered in 2007 by Colin Kerr, writing in the Irish Medical Times blog:

That’s the guy who leaves his house in Portarlington or Cellbridge at 6.30 am every morning, grabs a bacon buttie roll in the 24 hour garage on the way to work and eats his lunch at his desk.
When he gets home he works out how he’s going to manage paying the mortgage and bring his wife and kids on a foreign holiday.
Breakfast Roll man is young, fit and healthy, so he hasn’t spent much time in hospital. His main concern is the economy and that’s why the Fianna Fail candidates got his number one and number two votes.

Quite a contrast.

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