Who, thinking of limericks, could approach Limerick without picturing a cheerful town”

“Who, thinking of limericks, could approach Limerick without picturing a cheerful town”

Heinrich Böll, who visited Limerick in 1972

Heinrich Theodor Böll ( 21 December 1917 – 16 July 1985) was one of Germany's foremost post–World War II writers. Böll was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.

“Who, thinking of limericks, could approach Limerick without picturing a cheerful town”

Heinrich Böll, who visited Limerick in 1972

Heinrich Theodor Böll ( 21 December 1917 – 16 July 1985) was one of Germany’s foremost post–World War II writers. Böll was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.

For many Limerick, Limericks and poetry are difficult to separate. For some, the Limerick may have been their introduction to poetry, for others they never moved beyond the fun of the Limerick to enjoy the breadth of opportunity offered by poetry.

It is widely thought that Edward Lear invented the Limerick, although this is probably incorrect.

The Limerick as a form was popularised by Edward Lear in his first Book of Nonsense (1846) and a later work, More Nonsense, Pictures, Rhymes, Botany, etc. (1872). Lear wrote 212 Limericks, mostly considered nonsense literature. The humour is not in the punch line ending but rather in the tension between meaning and the lack of meaning.

In one of his typical Limericks, Lear wrote:

There was a Young Person of Smyrna
Whose grandmother threatened to burn her.
But she seized on the cat,
and said ‘Granny, burn that!
You incongruous old woman of Smyrna!’

Whether he invented it or not, Lear certainly made the Limerick popular. The Oxford English Dictionary first defined the word Limerick in 1892, four years after Lear’s death. But as OE Parrott makes clear in the opening pages of The Penguin Book of Limericks:

The Limerick’s birth is unclear:
Its genesis owed much to Lear.
It started as clean,
But soon went obscene.
And this split haunts its later career.

But in Limerick, it is said the five-line verse probably originated from the Limerick-makers of Croom, known as the Maigue poets, who worked in the 18th century. They were school-teachers, priests and self-styled persons of letters, living within 30 km of Croom. Their gatherings and revels in pubs and inns were said to resemble the ancient Irish bardic schools, conducted in Greek, Latin and Irish.

One of the Maigue’s first-known Limerick-writers was a publican, John O’Toumy, who was born near Croom in 1706. Of his own business practices, he bemoaned:

I sell the best brandy and sherry,
To make my good customers merry.
But at times their finances
Run short as it chances,
And then I feel very sad, very.

To this another Maigue poet, Andrew McCrath, quickly retorted:

O’Toumy! You boast yourself handy
At selling good ale and fine brandy,
But the fact is your liquor
Makes everyone sicker,
I tell you that, I, your friend, Andy.

Ronald Knox caricatured the philosophy and theology of the I8th century Irish bishop George Berkeley in a pair of Limericks:

There was a young man who said, ‘God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no-one about in the Quad.’

And the reply, according to Knox was:

Dear Sir:
Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Sincerely observed by, Yours faithfully, GOD.

The poet WH Auden, whose literary corpus is marked by thoughtfulness and solemnity, seemed to find release in the humour of the Limerick:

T.S. Eliot is quite at a loss
When clubwomen bustle across
At literary teas,
Crying: ‘What, if you please,
Did you mean by The Mill on the Floss?’


Hillforts, Ringforts & Hoards: The Archaeology of Ardagh, Co. Limerick

Know Thy Place Blog

Know Thy Place Director Damian Shiels recently took the opportunity to explore some of the archaeology of the place where he grew up, near the village of Ardagh, Co. Limerick. The area is extremely rich in later prehistoric and early medieval heritage, and was the find spot of one of the most famous artefacts ever discovered on the island of Ireland.

I was very fortunate to have an ‘archaeological view’ when I was growing up in Co. Limerick. Directly across from our front door it is possible to take in c. 2,000 years of history in a single glance. The first monument to catch your eye is the impressive banks and ditches of an early medieval ringfort, one of the many such homesteads that are dotted around the area. The view is dominated by the ‘Black Hill’, which overlooks this part of Limerick and from which you can see five…

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#OTD in Irish History – 6 October:

Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland

1175 – Under the Treaty of Windsor, concluded on this date, Rory O’Connor recognises Henry as his overlord and agrees to collect tribute for him from all parts of Ireland. Henry agrees that O’Connor can be king of the areas not conquered by the Normans. But O’Connor cannot control the territories of which he is nominally king, and Henry and his barons annex further land without consulting him.

1216 – The union of the diocese of Glendalough with that of Dublin, having been promulgated by Pope Innocent III last year, is confirmed by Pope Honorius III.

1798 – Grattan removed from Irish Privy Council, falsely charged with being a sworn member of United Irishmen.

1891 – Death of Charles Stewart Parnell, champion of tenants rights and co-founder of the Land League; often called the “Uncrowned King of Ireland”.

1901 – Birth of C. S. ‘Todd’ Andrews, revolutionary and public servant…

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Tracing the stucco art  of Pat McAuliffe on the  streets of Abbeyfeale

The former O’Connor’s on Main Street is Pat McAuliffe’s most extravagant work in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017) 

Patrick Comerford 

Tracing the stucco art of Pat McAuliffe on the streets of Abbeyfeale

Some months ago, I wrote about Pat McAuliffe (1846-1921), the stucco and architectural artist who lived and worked in Listowel, Co Kerry, and his decorative stucco work in Listowel. I had walked through the streets of Listowel, and had been enthralled by his hotel façades, detailed shopfronts and pub decorations.

His work is a wonderful and eclectic mixture of classical, art nouveau, Celtic and Byzantine influences. They are important examples of the late 19th century pan-European quest for a national style, and they remind me of the style of stucco work by my great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), at the Irish House on Wood Quay and the Oarsman in Ringsend, Dublin.

But there are significant examples of Pat McAuliffe’s work too in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, and recently I spent a rainy but enthusiastic afternoon there exploring the surviving parts of his work.

From the early 19th century, Abbeyfeale – like Listowel – grew in importance and expanded as a market town and commercial centre. A new Market Square was laid out, with new streets leading off it, and the building trades found a new demand for their skills.

In Abbeyfeale, Pat McAuliffe plastered and roofed many of the new buildings in New Street, and he renovated shopfronts and pub-fronts, embellishing them with his decorative stucco work.

McAuliffe’s most extravagant and best-known work in Abbeyfeale was at O’Connor’s on Main Street. This building was an example of how Abbeyfeale grow as a business town in the 19th century. The original building was probably erected in the 1850s, and originally housed the family townhouse, with a drapery shop and a branch bank at ground-floor level. In time, it came to accommodate a drapery, public house, grocery, hardware, builders’ suppliers.

Large-scale renovations were carried out in 1905-1910, and McAuliffe probably did not work on the ground floor, where there was already a large shopfront, an entrance to the family residence and a pub-front.

Instead, McAuliffe worked on the two upper floors, where his stucco decorations are eye-catching and riotous.

The first floor has nine pilaster-style strips with inter-lacing Celtic designs that are mainly interspaced by the windows, while the second floor has ten large imposts that, along with the window keystones, are decorated with animals, Biblical allegories, including a mammoth, a wolf, a frog, a peacock, Eve in the Garden of Eden, a dove elephants and lions’ heads.

A Latin aphorism and an Anglo-Saxon blessing on O’Connor’s on Main Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The focal point of McAuliffe’s work is found at the corner of the top floor, which he decorated with a segmented curved mass. In bold clear lettering, a Latin citation stands out: Vita Brevis Ars Longa – ‘Life is short, art is long.’ This is a Latin version of an aphorism originally in Greek, quoting the first two lines of the Aphorismi by the classical Greek physician Hippocrates:

Ὁ βίος βραχύς,
ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,
ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς,
ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή,
ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή.

Life is short,
and art long,
opportunity fleeting,
experimentations perilous,
and judgment difficult.

The familiar Latin translation quoted by McAuliffe reverses the order of the original Greek lines. In plainer language, Hippocrates is saying: ‘It takes a long time to acquire and perfect one’s expertise and one has but a short time in which to do it.’

Below this, McAuliffe has a three-lined scrolled text that reads:

Hal, wes bu, folde, fira modor Beo, bu, growende on Godes ferfine Fodre grefylled, firum to nytte

This is said to be a 10th century Anglo-Saxon agricultural charm, and has been translated:

Hail to thee, Earth, Mother of men!
Be fruitful in God’s embrace
Filled with food for the use of men.

McAuliffe placed an angel on the corner above the texts, but this has been removed in recent decades. The upper floors now show signs of neglect, with layers of paint peeling away from the façade, although much repainting and repair work was carried out on this majestic building in 2004.

McAuliffe turned the former Georgian shopfront at JD Daly’s into a typical expression of his tastes in decoration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

JD Daly’s is a three-storey, two bay building on Main Street, Abbeyfeale, that was a public house, grocery shop and guesthouse, first built in 1853 on Georgian architectural principles.

McAuliffe’s expressive work on this building dares from about 1890 and included Corinthian capitals, Egyptian gorge moulding, arabesque features, Latin scrolls, Hiberno-Romanesque bearded men, lions’ heads, and Italian diamond-pointed quoins.

When the gable end was replastered in the 1960s, it meant the destruction of an embellished text on a curved scroll that quoted the motto on the great seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum.

Two, large Byzantine urns that once crowned the façade – one at each side of a large bracketed cornice – were removed in the1970s, supposedly for insurance reasons. In more recent years, Daly’s former pub has become a drapery shop, and then a private residence, resulting in the loss of McAuliffe’s fascia board.

Tangle’s was once a pub and retains much of McAuliffe’s work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tangle’s Hair Salon on Main Street is a former pub that has retained its render quoins, a decorative sill band, window surrounds and pilasters. The elaborately decorated shopfront demonstrates the influence of classical design ideas on McAuliffe’s work, and he used the pilaster as an economic substitute for cut stone.

McAuliffe’s work can be seen on Fuchsia Hair Design on Main Street, (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

McAuliffe was possibly also the stucco artist who decorated the premises now known as Fuchsia Hair Design on Main Street, with its large amount of render decoration to the façade. There are heavily-rusticated quoins coupled with a dentilated cornice and interlacing motifs that create a striking composition.

McAuliffe’s work at Cryle’s is an eclectic mixture (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Cryle’s Dry Cleaners and Laundrette on New Street was built as O’Mara’s public house. This is a two-storey, three-bay building, and McAuliffe’s work on the façade was an eclectic mixture of exaggerated classical detailing, combined with Celtic, Byzantine and Middle Eastern influences.

The Byzantine influences are seen in the eight urns, each topped with a cross. The first storey is framed by pilaster strips of Celtic tracery, each topped with foliated capitals designed by McAuliffe himself. The three windows on this floor are linked with large moulded bands, and above these bands is a pair of radiating starbursts, flanked on the outside by interlaced Stars of David.

When the building was replastered in 1990s, the fascia detailing was lost along with the ground-floor pilasters with their interlacing strapwork.

At MJ Moloney’s, McAuliffe was influenced by Classical Revival styles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

At the former MJ Moloney’s pub on Church Street, now a takeaway food shop, McAuliffe’s work was influenced by Classical Revival styles, and the designs for the shopfront includes plants and circular motifs enlivening the frieze.

There are more premises throughout Abbeyfeale that seem to be McAuliffe’s work, or that were influenced by his stucco art. I may need to return on a sunny afternoon this summer to see if I can identify them.

Adare, Co. Limerick, Uncategorized

Bringing the bodies home:  JJ Murphy and the ‘Pickled Earl’

The monument to Lady Eva Constance Aline Bourke (1858-1940), Countess of Dunraven, in Saint Nicholas’ Church, Adare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

by Patrick Comerford 

I was in Saint Nicholas’ Church, Adare, Co Limerick, last week to preach at the Harvest Thanksgiving Service.

Throughout this beautiful church, there are many monuments to the Wyndham-Quin family of Adare Manor, Earls of Dunraven. One monument recalls, Lady Eva Constance Aline Bourke (1858-1940), who became the Countess of Dunraven when she married Windham Wyndam-Quin (1857-1952), the 5th Earl of Dunraven.

Lady Eva was born in the Chief Secretary’s Lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, now the residence of the US ambassador. She was the elder daughter of Richard Southwell Bourke (1822-72), the 6th Earl of Mayo, a former Governor-General of Mayo, who became known as the ‘Pickled Earl’ due to the circumstances surrounding his state funeral.

A similar funeral story involves Jeremiah James Murphy (1795-1851), who died in Pisa. He was part of a prosperous and adventurous merchant family in Cork involved in the Murphy distillery in Cork. His family members included John Murphy (1772-1847), Bishop of Cork, the Biblical scholar, the late Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (1935-2013), whose obituary I wrote for The Irish Times, and the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor (1932-2017), former Archbishop of Westminster.

The death of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor last month [1 September 2017] reminded once again of the story of JJ Murphy’s funeral.

I told the story of both Victorian funerals last year in ‘Bringing the bodies home: JJ Murphy and the ‘Pickled Earl’,’ which was published as Chapter 40 in Death and the Irish: a miscellany, edited by Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell, 2016), pp 151-154.

Palmerstown House, the former home of the earl of Mayo. Photo: Patrick Comerford, 2016

Bringing the bodies home:
JJ Murphy and the ‘Pickled Earl’ 

 by Patrick Comerford 

Air travel has reduced the stress when grieving Irish families have to arrange to bring home the bodies of loved ones who have died on foreign shores but want to be buried in their native soil.

It was not so easy in Victorian days, though, and families either had to accept someone was going to be buried overseas and or had to find innovative, sometimes even irreverent, ways to bring home the bodies for burial.

Jeremiah James Murphy (1795-1851), of Lota Park, Co Cork, came from a prosperous and adventurous merchant family in Cork who lived in Ringmahon House. His father, James Murphy, with two of his brothers, established the Murphy distillery in Cork, while his uncle, John Murphy (1772-1847), was Bishop of Cork.

Jeremiah’s nearest brother, John James Murphy (1796-1883), led an extraordinary life. As a teenager, John sailed the South China Seas and supposedly fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. In his 20s he went to Canada and become a frontiersman for the Hudson Bay Trading Company. While he was in Canada, John was elected chief of a tribe and became known as ‘The Black Eagle of the North’. He returned to Liverpool in the 1820s to go into the family business, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Rome in the late 1830s, then studied for the priesthood, and eventually became Archdeacon of Cork. When he died, he was buried in the Murphy family plot in Carrigrohane.

That spirit of adventure rubbed off on John’s elder brother, Jeremiah, who was in his 50s when he went on the grand tour of Italy. During that tour, he died in Pisa on 29 November 1851. But getting his body home to Ireland proved difficult for his family because the sailors at Naples feared taking the coffin would on board would bring them bad luck at sea. The Murphy family proved resourceful, however, and outwitted the Italian sailors by putting Jeremiah’s body in an upright piano which they then shipped back to Ireland. He was buried almost two months later, on 18 January 1852 in Carrigrohane, Co Cork – still in the upright piano. His widow Catherine (Bullen) lived on until 1872, and his sons set up James J. Murphy’s Brewery in Cork in 1854. The descendants of this branch of the Murphy family include Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and the Biblical scholar, the late Jerome Murphy-O’Connor.

Richard Southwell Bourke (1822-72), of Palmerstown House, Co Kildare, was the sixth earl of Mayo. He was murdered in India in 1872 and is buried in Johnstown Churchyard, near Naas, Co Kildare. He is known as the ‘Pickled Earl’, since his body was preserved in a vat of rum on the long journey back to Ireland following his assassination.

Bourke was born in Dublin in 1822 and educated at Eton and Trinity College Dublin. He was descended from the de Burgo family; his great-grandfather, Joseph Deane Bourke, the third earl of Mayo, was the Church of Ireland bishop of Ferns and Leighlin (1772-82) and archbishop of Tuam (1782-94); and his grandfather, Richard Bourke, was bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1813-32).

A Celtic cross marks the earl of Mayo’s grave in Johnstown, Naas, Co Kildare. Photo: Patrick Comerford, 2016 

From 1849, Richard Bourke was known as Lord Naas, a courtesy title in his family. In County Kildare his tenants saw him as a good landlord, and during the famine he attended public meetings and supported the Dublin Central Relief Committee. After travelling in Russia, he entered politics and was elected Conservative MP for Kildare in 1847, and later sat as MP for Coleraine, Co. Derry.

He was three times chief secretary of Ireland (1852, 1858-9 and 1866-8), and in 1867 he succeeded his father as the sixth Earl of Mayo. Two years later, he became the Viceroy and Governor-General of India in 1869. Before leaving for India he gave instructions that should anything happen to him his body was to be brought back for burial in Johnstown.

In India, he was known for his reforming legislation. He consolidated the borders of India, reorganised finances so that a budgetary deficit was turned into a surplus, planned widespread irrigation, built roads and railways, undertook India’s first census, and founded Mayo College, since known as ‘India’s Eton’.

In 1869 he negotiated a close alliance with the Emir of Afghanistan, Shir Ali Khan, to offset Russia’s influence in the region. But while he was visiting a convict settlement at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, he was attacked by an Afghan convict, Sher Ali Afridi, who murdered him with a knife on 8 February 1872. His dying words were words of forgiveness.

Lord Mayo’s partially-embalmed body was shipped home to Ireland, but in order to delay decomposition, his body was placed in a rum-filled cask … and so he became known as ‘the Pickled Earl’. To add spice to the story, when the cask was opened the body was there but there was no rum. Had it leaked out? Had it evaporated? Had it been drained off by the crew?

After a state funeral in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Lord Mayo was buried on 26 April 1872 in Johnstown churchyard. He is commemorated by the large Celtic cross in Johnstown and the ‘Mayo Window’ at the east end of the North Aisle in St Patrick’s Cathedral. There is a statue to him too in the Cumbria fishing town of Cockermouth, where he was MP before he went to India.

His son, Dermot Bourke (1851-1927), seventh Earl of Mayo, became a member of the Senate of the Irish Free State. While he was a senator, Palmerstown House was burned by the IRA in 1923.

Apart from Mayo College, there are Mayo Halls in Allahabad and Bangalore, and a Mayo Hospital and a Mayo School of Arts in Lahore.

● Bringing the bodies home: JJ Murphy and the ‘Pickled Earl’ was first published as Chapter 40 in Death and the Irish: a miscellany (ed Salvador Ryan), Dublin: Wordwell, 2016, pp 151-154.