Finn McCool's Irish Stew

Brian Murphy Master Plumber

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By William W. Lawrence

"Now understand that Fionn MacCumail, who is better known today as Finn McCool, was not a swishy lightweight. He was an ancient Irish leader, a true son of the old sod.

According to the Fian creed, a member of the clan was obligated to "stand and fight odds of no less than nine to one." And he was expected to win the fight.

According to legend, and this does sound a little far-fetched, Finn awoke in a bad mood one morning. He growled, snarled insults at some of his closest friends, then pulled up a clump of sod and hurled it 35 miles into the Irish Sea. That clump of sod is known today as the Isle of Man. The hole left by the clump eventually filled with water and is now Loch Neagh, one of the largest lakes in Erin.

One day Finn went hunting and in a couple of hours knocked off so much game, he did not know how he was going to carry it all home. Suddenly the sun was blocked out. McCool looked up and there towering above him was the biggest human, he'd even seen. There was no space between the man's head and the sky.

"May the wind be always at your back," said McCool, "And what can I do for you."

"I'm looking for a master," said the big fellow.

"You got yourself a job," said McCool. He ordered the man to pick up all the game and lug it to his castle. The load was the size of a mountain. When the man dropped it, it shook the castle to its base.

The next day, Conan Maol, McCool's closest advisor, said, "You have to do this fellow in, because if you don't he will destroy all the Fenians."

"Now, how would I do that?" asked McCool.

Send him up north to that loch you made and let him get swallowed by the serpent?"

"Good thinking," said McCool. He ordered the big cowherder to plant grain near the lake. Sure enough, as soon as the giant reached the lake, a serpent came out and swallowed the team of six big bullocks and the plough. The giant pulled the team back out, then fought the serpent for a week. He finally tamed him and took him back to the castle.

"Begorrah," muttered McCool. "Tie the serpent to that big tree over there.

"We gotta get rid of this guy," said Conan Maol. "There is a bullock up north who breathes out fog for seven days, then breaths it in for seven days. Send him up there and let him get swallowed."

"Good thinking," said McCool. He ordered the cowherder to go up and kill the bullock because he needed fresh beef for stew. The cowherder went north, found the bullock and nearly got swallowed. He had to fight the beast for five days and five nights. He finally tamed the beast by hitting him over the head with an oak tree he uprooted.

He took the bullock back to the castle where it was butchered and used to make a delicious stew.

The legend goes on to tell that the giant is not really a cowherder, but in fact the son of the King of Alba (Scotland). He is there to set up an ambush in order to kill all the Fenians. But McCool and his clan prevailed. They lived long and happy lives drinking, carousing and, of course, eating giant quantities of Irish Stew.

Following is an updated recipe of Finn McCool's Irish Stew in which lamb is used instead of beef:

Finn McCool's Irish Stew

2 lb. lamb shoulder
5 lb. potatoes
3 tablespoons butter or bacon fat
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 carrots
2 onions

Wipe meat with damp cloth. Trim fat and cut into one-inch cubes. Dredge with flour and brown in butter or fat in Dutch oven. Add 1 cup water, cover and simmer about an hour. Then add salt, pepper and sliced vegetables, along with another 1-1/2 cups boiling water. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes or until lamb and vegetables are tender. Serve piping hot in bowls. Five servings.

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