March 1999

The big green

By Robert Byrd
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Finn McCool, Fionn Mac Cumhal, or Finn MacCoul (depending on your spelling) looks pretty good for his 1,700+ years, thanks to author/illustrator Robert Byrd. Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife: A Giant of a Tale from Ireland revives the wonderful Irish fable about wit and wisdom overcoming size and power.

Released just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Byrd's version was derived from three sources, which he mentions in the afterword. By taking the most consistent and interesting elements of these sources, Byrd weaves a thorough (but not tedious) tale about how Irishman Finn MacCoul, a powerful giant in his own right, uses his noggin to defeat the even more powerful Scottish giant, Cucullin. Finn's initial encounter with Cucullin sends him running straight home. He tells his wife Oonagh, who is surprised to find Finn at home during the workday, that he left his post because he missed her so much. Oonagh isn't buying this excuse for one second, and eventually unravels the truth from Finn. In some versions, Oonagh is so tiny she can sit atop Finn's hat, but Byrd's version depicts Oonagh as a striking giantess. Oonagh knows all the faery secrets, and Finn has enough wisdom to leave Cucullin's defeat to her cunning. She scoots Finn into a baby's cradle and instructs him on his role in her plan. Readers will delight in the bellowing Cucullin's downfall, thanks to the clever wife and child of Finn MacCoul.

Byrd includes notes about Celtic life, and his colorful illustrations give a more classic look to the pages. Illuminated manuscripts dot the text, giving the pages a more classical look.

Whether you are familiar with the legend of Finn MacCoul or not, Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife is a wonderful way to commemorate St. Patrick's Day and teach children that wisdom is a far more precious gift than brawn, especially when used for noble purposes.

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