Day 8: Irish Coffee

Foynes is a town of about 600, located on the south bank of Shannon Estuary. It was a large seaplane port during the 1930s and 1940s, when seaplanes were used for transatlantic crossings. Before the port was established, Charles Lindberg made survey flights from Foynes to establish transatlantic routes.

Tradition holds that a transatlantic flight left Foynes only to be turned back because of bad weather. Local chef Joseph Sheridan served the bedraggled returning passengers coffee laced with whiskey. An American passenger is said to have noted the unusual taste and asked it the beverage was Brazilian coffee and was given the answer, “This is Irish coffee.” And so Foynes claims the distinction of being the place where Irish coffee was invented.

Laetitia and her group visited the Foynes Flying Boat Museum and stopped in a pub for an Irish coffee. After Laetitia placed the order for the group and returned to their table, a couple of elderly ladies demonstrated a unique way they had found for staying off the dole. The bartender told Laetitia that they were also good for the pub business.

Two fine elderly ladies from Foynes
Were quite fond of exposing their groins
And creating hubbubs
In the neighborhood pubs
While they raked in large showers of coins.

Day 7: Canticles

Sipping a cup of freshly brewed Guatemalan dark roast, Laetitia once again browsed the Emerald Victorian’s library, trying to decide where to go on the day’s tour. She never knew what she would find on the shelves, and on this day she was surprised to come across a leather-bound illustrated edition of the Song of Songs.

How the Song of Songs, (also called Song of Solomon, or Canticles) came to be part of the Hebrew Bible and later the Old Testament is a bit of a mystery since it is not an overtly religious text. Both Jewish and Christian scholars sometimes interpret it allegorically as representing God’s love for Israel or God’s love for the church, respectively, but phrases like “he shall lie all night twixt my breasts,” “the joints of thy thighs are like jewels,” “thy belly is like a heap of wheat,” and “thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins” don’t seem to support that interpretation. Laetitia put the book back on the shelf and moved on to the task at hand.

After browsing several guidebooks and maps, she came across Killaloe and decided to go there. Irish King Brian Boru was born in Killaloe in the tenth century. He united divergent Irish factions against the Norsemen in Dublin and Limerick to first become ruler of Munster, and he later ruled throughout a greater portion of Ireland. Like most Irish rulers of his time, Brian Boru had a personal bard. His bard’s name was Mac Laig. In Brian Boru’s time, bards were highly educated poets steeped in oral history who kept the traditions of their clan and its leaders alive through their poems and songs. Later the term “bard” was applied more generally to famous poets. Thus, William Shakespeare is often known as “the bard of Avon” and Robert Burns “the bard of Ayrshire.”

Laetitia and her group visited St. Lua’s oratory, built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and St. Flannan’s Cathedral (now Church of Ireland), built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. After an afternoon boat ride on Lough Derg, Laetitia dropped her group off at the bed and breakfast in Killaloe where they were staying. Then she went early to the pub where they were meeting later for dinner to have a Guinness and come up with a limerick for the day. She sat at the bar next to a young man that she judged to be just over 18, the legal drinking age in Ireland for one not accompanied by an adult. He told her he was a poet and was known to his friends as “The Bard of Killaloe.” He produced for her a sample of his work consisting of several love poems and asked her to comment. She demurred, saying that she wasn’t a poet and couldn’t judge his work. She smiled as she handed back the young man’s poems and thanked him for letting her read them. He had given her the limerick of the day.

“Thine eyes are as black as the sloe
Soft and round as the eyes of a doe”
But this “Song of Songs” ends
Sans “young roes that are twins”
‘Tis the song of the “Bard of Killaloe.”

Day 6: Bike Dike

The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland. In the past few hundred years, it has been reengineered with locks and canals, and it now carries a lot of commercial traffic. Laetitia took her group to the source of the river on Cuilcagh Mountain—where it is little more than a trout stream—and followed it downstream until it became more commercial than scenic. Along the way, Laetitia stopped to talk to some of the residents in the area, who gave her a story that became the day’s limerick.

On the banks of the Shannon young Mike
And young Tess made wild love on a bike
And they thought it was swell
But it didn’t end well
When they rode off the edge of the dike.

Day 5: Bollocks

On her fifth day as a Mind’s Eye Limerick Tour leader, Laetitia was still getting used to the library of the Emerald Victorian. The collection was quite eclectic. When she had reached to pull an Irish guidebook off the shelf, she found it next to a book on the castrati. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, women were banned from the stage, making it necessary for high parts to be sung by pre-pubescent boys. The ever-resourceful Italians came up with the idea of preserving the high male voice into adulthood through castration. During the Baroque Period, from 1600 to 1750, approximately 70 percent of operatic singers were castrati, as were some of the singers who performed Handel’sMessiah when it premiered in Dublin in 1742. After scanning the castrati book quickly, Laetitia put it back on the shelf and pulled out the Irish guidebook and began planning the day’s tour.

Not far from the city of Limerick is Kilmallock, an important town during the Middle Ages whose strategic location made it the frequent target of invading armies. Laetitia and her group visited the ruin of the local Benedictine priory, destroyed by a Parliamentary army during the English Civil War. Then they did a walk around the Kilmallock’s old town wall, about 70 percent of which remains standing.

Laetitia arranged for her group to meet her at a pub for dinner and then went there early to have a pre-dinner drink and think of a limerick for the day. Sitting at the next barstool was Colm, a former professor of music history from University of Limerick, who had forsaken the faculty ghetto around the campus when he retired and moved to Kilmallock. As it turned out, his research interest was the castrati. He also had a hobby of collecting memorabilia associated with wooden sailing ships. The juxtaposition of his two interests had led to a funny story. When he was having drinks at a pub with some male friends and told them he had purchased a bollock—a pulley-block at the head of a topmast used to haul up sails on wooden ships—his friends thought he had bought the severed body part of some famous castrato, sort of like the body parts of saints that became relics and were the prized possessions of the pious. The story provided Laetitia with the limerick of the day.

When Colm said he’d purchased a bollock
At a flea market down in Kilmallock
All the men were aghast
Though ‘twas one from a mast
That was used for the mainsail to haul up.