Most countries create local cuisine from indigenous ingredients and refine the recipe over generations. Isn't it strange then for an island nation like Ireland to view eating fish as a penance?
The mindset of fish being a penance was introduced by Catholicism. Every Friday Catholics were obliged under 'the pain of sin' to abstain from eating meat. In Ireland this meant Friday was 'fish and chips' night. Not the most demanding penance as the remaining six days were 'dry potatoes and vegetables' nights. Growing up my household diet was so uniform that 'new potatoes' were considered a novelty. New potatoes, as we called them, were harvested during spring and boiled and eaten whole, usually with a little piece of butter on the fork for taste. Regular potatoes were pealed and mashed and seasoned with milk and butter in the pan before eaten. (Exotic delicacies like pasta and rice were introduced during the 90's after my excursion to college.) To this day I avoid potatoes. The Hooligan Hobo described the aversion well: "potatoes are the devils balls that fell onto the earth and grew."
Anyway, back to fish as the Friday penance.
Rules were relaxed a little in 1966 when Pope Paul VI kindly allowed Catholics to choose their own form of Friday penance and so Catholics were allowed their Friday steak in-exchange for extra prayers or charitable donations.
The move is now increasingly seen as mistaken and scandalously liberal. Compulsory absence was reintroduced in England and Wales in 2011 and now Australia looks set to follow:
Where would the sheep be without their shepherd? The article candidly states the primarily motive is not concern for souls but to solidify papist power over people by "promot[ing] stronger Catholic identity" and restoring a "distinguishing sign of our identity as Catholics."“Allowing people to work out some penance was idealistic and unrealistic,” Bishop Elliott said.Since the change, Bishop Elliott said, most Catholics are unaware of or have forgotten the obligation entirely. Having the Church decide what penance should be done would make it easier to remember and would promote stronger Catholic identity, he said.
I am too lazy to research who originally started the practice, but that man must have loved his meat. Or owned a fish mongers. Which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.