Mrs. Mullowney Was Three Weeks in Bed Since She Ate the Fipper Stew
DESCRIPTION: "Mrs. James Mullowney gave A party Tuesday night... They say the table fairly groaned...." Mrs. Mullowney "couldn't eat no more... She swooned off on the floor." After recovering, "just mention fippper stew" if you want to be attacked
AUTHOR: presumably Johnny Burke
EARLIEST DATE: 1960 (Burke's Ballads)
KEYWORDS: food party doctor humorous
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Ryan/Small, p. 125, "Mrs. Mullowney Was Three Weeks in Bed Since She Ate the Fipper Stew" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Johnny Burke (William J. Kirwin, editor), _John White's Collection of Johnny Burke Songs_, Harry Cuff Publications, St. John's, 1981, #33, p. 53, "Mrs. Mullowney Was Three Weeks in Bed Since She Ate the Fipper Stew" (1 text)
NOTES [395 words]: Yes, that's "fipper." A common Newfoundland pronunciation of "flipper," since the dish is made of seal (I find no use of "fipper" [as opposed to "flipper"] in the section on Newfoundland dialect in Young, but England, pp. 134, 315, attests to it, and StoryKirwinWiddowson, pp. 175, 191, list "fipper," "fippar," and "phripper" as variants of "flipper," with "phripper" being attested as early as 1770 and "fipper" by 1822. Their instances of usage also include this song.)
According to Bob Bartlett (who should know; see his biography under "Captain Bob Bartlett"), "The flesh [of the seal] is by no means disagreeable, though it has a general flavor of fish, which constitutes the seal's chief food" (see p. 54 of The Last Voyage of the Karluk, as told to Ralph T. Hale; published 1916; now available with a new introduction by Edward E. Leslie as The Karluk's Last Voyage). Sealers normally ate seal while on the ice, and dishes such as "flipper pie" were known (Young, p. 77).
I do not know if it is significant that the sick woman was "Mrs. Jim Mullowney," and a skipper's wife. Sealing captains ran to dynasties (the result, says Ryan, p. 218, of the contraction of the sealing fleet that followed the introduction of larger ships, which forced many captains and second hands out of their positions), and there were two men named Mullowney (first names unknown) commanded sealers in 1853: one skippered the Primrose and one the Alpha (Ryan, p. 459). Pierre Mullowney was skipper of the the Ranger in 1872-1873 (Feltham, p. 115), and of the Proteus -- at the time, one of the biggest and fanciest sealers -- in 1874 (Feltham, p. 109), but I haven't found a reference to a James Mullowney.
Of the other references in the song, "white-coats" and "harps" are both harp seals; the whitecoats are the infant seals that were the primary target of the seal hunt; harps were the adults.
Bedlamers are second year seals, not yet fully mature but able to care for themselves -- sort of the seal equivalent of teenagers. The title is a description of age; a bedlamer may be either a "harp" or a "hood." The origin of the name is uncertain; some connect it with "bedlam," because they create bedlam, others with French "bete de la mer," "beast of the sea" (Young, p. 33; StoryKirwinWiddowson, p. 37, prefer the "bedlam" sense, and first cite the term from 1766). - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- England: George Allan England, Vikings of the Ice: Being the Log of a Tenderfoot on the Great Newfoundland Seal Hunt (also published as The Greatest Hunt in the World), Doubleday, 1924
- Feltham: John Feltham, Sealing Steamers, Harry Cuff Publications, 1995
- Ryan: Shannon Ryan, The Ice Hunters: A History of Newfoundland Sealing to 1914, Breakwater Books, 1994
- StoryKirwinWiddowson: G. M. Story, W. J. Kirwin, and J. D. A. Widdowson, editors, Dictionary of Newfoundland English, second edition with supplement, Breakwater Pres, 1990
- Young: Ron Young, Dictionary of Newfoundland and Labrador, Downhome Publishing Inc., 2006
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