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.

Day 4: Tess in a Mess

With a population of around 90,000, Limerick is the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland. Located on the Shannon Estuary, it was once a Viking settlement. Most Americans know the City of Limerick for the verse form that bears its name, or from Frank McCourt, who wrote Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis. McCourt grew up in Limerick in poverty. When he was a young man, he moved to New York and taught writing in several high schools. Later he was joined in New York by several of his brothers, including Malachy, who was an owner of the bar “Bells of Hell” and a well-known raconteur. Late in life, Frank was urged by friends and former students to take up writing himself, and he did so with great success, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Angela’s Ashes. After a walkabout in Limerick, Laetitia presented the day’s limerick at dinner.

A Limerick lady named Tess
At a picnic, got into a mess
As she cooed like a dove
In the arms of her love
Naughty urchins ran off with her dress.

Day 3: Slinky Love

No tour that features limericks would be complete without a journey to County Limerick itself. Today Laetitia took her group to Adare, in County Limerick, which its residents claim is Ireland’s prettiest village. The original town of Adare on the River Maigue near Desmond Castle was a casualty of wars during the sixteenth century; the present town dates from the nineteenth century. The area features beautiful stone buildings, medieval monasteries and ruins, and a picturesque village park. Laetitia and her group went to a pub for lunch, where the day’s gossip was about two young lovers from the town whose enthusiasm got them into a predicament and made them the subject of the limerick of the day.

In their haste making love in Adare
Two young lovers fell out of a chair
Though both thought it kinky
To love like a slinky
Rolling end over end down the stair.