Everybody in Dublin knows what “gurriers” means. It’s an old word for street kids — with the implication that they’re the kind of kids who’re usually getting into mischief: messers, troublemakers, kids living on their wits.
There’s a lot of discussion about where the word comes from, but — despite attempts to derive it from the French guerrier, it looks like it’s Irish after all — born of an old word for a hatchling hen, gor. There are enough other European languages that have slang words for small children that come from references to young birds, especially chickens, so this should probably be no surprise.
To “go on the gur” was to mitch off / play hookey / cut class / ditch school. It’s possible that gur cake, one of our featured Irish desserts, got its name from being a favorite cheap snack for a kid out on the street for the day. It was always the cheapest thing in the bakery, usually a penny a slice (and indeed its modern or more upmarket name is “fruit slice”).
Gur cake could be as cheap as it was because it was a way to use up ingredients that hadn’t sold the previous day. It’s therefore a cousin of sorts to the famous Polish confection “Kremówka Papieska” or “Papal” Cream Cake”, so popular with Poles that it was nominated to be sent to the EU’s 50th birthday celebrations as one of the two “national birthday cakes”.
Gur cake, though, isn’t the kind of thing you’d send to anybody’s birthday party. Period writers describe it as the kind of thing you just wanted to buy a slice of, hot from the bakery, and eat out of hand– the way the street kids of Dublin did. Try our recipe and see if you like it as much as the Dubliners of old. (And the new ones too — because all of a sudden bakeries across the country are making it for customers who want to be reminded of the Good Old Days….)