A stick of rock! Who remembers these tubes of hardened sugar, we savored as kids. In Ireland these traditional, cylindrical, boiled sweets were usually dyed pink and white, or sometimes festooned in our patriotic colors of green, white and orange.
When a friend or relative was heading to the beach, or seaside as we say in Ireland, we would always place a request:
“Bring me back a stick of rock.”
“Bring me back a rock”
Now we weren’t referring to a rock from the actual seashore. We liked more colorful, sweet rocks of the candy variety.
A stick of rock was a well-loved sweet or candy of my childhood.
As a child, whenever my family visited a seaside town, we would get a stick of rock before heading for home.
Bray in County Wicklow was a great place for Dublin kids to buy a rock. In England kids may have loved Blackpool rock, but in Ireland we loved our sticks of rock from Bray.
Each stick of candy was wrapped with a little paper note ….
“A Gift From Bray”
or from wherever in Ireland you bought your candy rock.
I loved my stick of rock. But I can’t remember if I ever actually finished eating one of these hard tubes of candy.
“Hard as a rock” is an understatement when describing the texture of these sweets. I’d hazard a guess, many a tooth was cracked in Ireland and England, biting into these not-so-tooth-friendly confectioneries.
I loved how the name of the town, or county we visited, was spelled out in letters around the inner edge of this rock hard candy.
These letters ran the whole length of the stick of rock, and no matter how you chose to eat your stick of rock, either by licking it, or by cracking your teeth trying to bite off chunks, those letters were always clearly visible.
The name of the town could be read on both ends of the stick, but at one end the lettering was reversed.
As a child I was always amazed how the name remained legible even after the stick of rock had been mangled, chewed or smashed.
As I was writing this piece I grew interested in the whole process of making rock candy.
I soon learned producing these sweets is a very skilled craft, and rock is hand-made by two sugar boilers, even to this very day. Letters are painstakingly formed by combining thin strips of colored and white toffee. Initially the face of each letter is much bigger than the final stretched tubular product.
Lettered rock was the creation of Ben Bullock, an ex-miner from Burnley in the UK. He created the first sticks in his Yorkshire-based confectionery factory in 1887. Inspiration for the product came from time he spent in Blackpool.
Some of his initial batches of lettered rock spelled out none other than the words “Blackpool”. Retailers in the seaside resort were very impressed, and the tradition of seaside rock was born.
Blackpool Rock was soon flying off vendors’ shelves.
The practice of selling seaside rock spread throughout the British Isles, and still continues to this very day in places like Brighton and Blackpool in England, and Strandhill in County Sligo, and Bundoran in County Donegal.
And oh boy, are those sticks of rock sweet, sweet, sweet.
Pure sugar with a hint of mint or menthol.
Sticky, and pretty difficult to rewrap and save for later.
Oh, such sweet memories of an Irish childhood.
The Moody Blues even mentioned rock in their song “Floating”….
“The candy stores will be brand new,
and you’ll buy rock with the Moon right through!”,
In the future they believed rock will be sold at a resort on the Moon, with the letters M-O-O-N incorporated in the treat – gives a whole new meaning to the term “moon rock”.
I’m sure many of you have fond memories of sticky hands and faces from trying to lick a stick of rock. Or perhaps some of you have not-so-fond memories of cracking a tooth on this rock hard candy.
I hope if any of you notice these colorful candy canes on your next trip to Ireland, you’ll smile, remembering they’re a tradition over one hundred years in the making.
And if you’re packing for a trip to Ireland this year, and a friend asks you to bring back a “stick of rock”, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for.
Slán agus beannacht!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
P.S. In an earlier post I explored the differences and similarities between Irish and American candy bars, so if this post piqued your interest why not check out my American-Irish Candy-Sweet dictionary.