Sheepless pie and other stories

Valerie O’Connor is struggling to come to terms with one of her boys moving out of home. Luckily this moreish ‘sheepless shepherd’s pie’, with lentils instead of meat, offers some comfort

The Anam Arann Soul Festival is peaceful retreat for your body and soul.

Mammies and Daddies across the country are staring into empty bedrooms in their homes as their younglings have moved out. All of a sudden, there is a big, wide open, empty space looking back at them.

As I found myself deep in a confused pit — feeling lost and directionless for most of the week — it occurred to me that, of course, my boy, my eldest puddin’ is no longer in his room.

The madness that precedes a child moving out of home overtakes any sense you will have of the sudden crash that happens when you no longer see them coming in and throwing their bag down on the floor, despite always having given out to them for leaving their stuff everywhere, or the state of their personal hygiene.

For 20 years I’ve been a mum to my two boys and most of that time, I’ve reared them single-handedly. I’ve never experienced a time when they didn’t want to be in my company and neither of them has given me any gyp about anything, except for the very occasional sulky “yes!?” or “what?” said in impatience.

I’ve found nuclear reactors of unwashed clothes and their own versions of Fr Jack’s underpants hampers, in the form of a large bag of unwashed socks that someone was “meaning to put in the machine”.

I’ve dragged the pair of them across Europe on buses to film festivals and we’ve gone to Star Wars screenings at midnight and had long, long picnics on beaches in the rain.

I’ve done what all families do. Now that my boy is living in an apartment with other people he knows, I’m missing him, I’m worrying will he manage.

I miss him. Did I already say that?

I’ve cooked every day in that time, but when I worked as a press photographer in Dublin we probably had an unbalanced amount of takeaways eaten in front of the Simpsons.

We moved back to Limerick when the arse fell out of the economy and there was little work, but, in the long run it meant more time with the kids and, of course, less money.

From that grew a skill of feeding myself and my boys well, for little outlay. I went back to college to study organic horticulture and life took on a different direction.

Cooking for someone and then not cooking for them leaves a gap, my youngest son eats a lot of sausages, and as you might know, I don’t eat meat.

I’m trying to get him to have a few meat-free meals and so I made a sheepless shepherd’s pie in an attempt to get some lentils into him. He was having none of it, but I think its really tasty.

It’s warming and comforting and the closest thing to ‘normal food’ you will get as a plant muncher. Sometimes you just need a big, huge, steaming pile of something with mashed potatoes on top, and lie on the couch with a good movie and the fire on, and the plate on your chest.

Enjoy! And look forward to the bag of washing coming through the door at the weekend.

Sheepless Pie


  • 250g green or puy lentils
  • 1 onion- chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic - chopped
  • Oil for frying
  • 2 carrots - diced
  • 2 sticks celery - diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 spring rosemary
  • 1 spring thyme
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 1/2 tin tomatoes, or use the whole thing if you like it tomatoey
  • 500ml-700ml vegetable stock
  • 2 lb potatoes or a mix or parsnips, spuds or sweet potatoes for the mash


Heat about 3 tbsp of oil in a heavy bottomed pot and soften the onion and garlic for a few minutes, add in the carrots and celery and cook for about eight minutes on a low heat until they are softened.

Add the lentils to the pot and stir them to coat, pour in the wine and bring up the heat to burn off the alcohol, bubble fiercely for a few minutes

Add the stock and tomatoes with the herbs to the pot and bring everything to a bubble, simmer it all for about 40 minutes, making sure it doesn’t dry out — if it’s looking dry add some water.

Season well with sea salt and pepper.

While the sauce is cooking, make your mash by steaming your choice of mixed root veggies.

White potatoes belong to the nightshade family and cause many people inflammation and sore joints, so maybe swap them for celeriac or parsnips, mashed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 180C and then pour the sauce into a dish and top it with the mash, making those familiar lines with a fork.

Bake it in the oven for about 40-50 minutes until the brown sauce squeezes through the mash and the whole thing gets deliciously gooey. Eat the whole thing yourself!

Anam Arann Soul Festival offers a chance to open up to the energy of the Atlantic Ocean and of Inis Mór. Hosted by Árainn’s resident yoga teachers and alternative therapists, the 2017 event will run from Friday, September 29 to Sunday, October 1.

Over the course of the weekend participants will get the chance to immerse themselves in yoga, mantra, voice work, shamanic journeying, and more with Deirdre Ni Chinneide, a Celtic songstress and sound therapist; Monika Schulderbacher, founder of Earth, Sky, Sea Yoga; and Jacinta Carey, shamanic journeyer, yoga teacher, and healer. Cost of the weekend is €195 excluding accommodation.

For further details contact: Arann Yoga on Facebook or call Jacinta 083 3353609


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