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There Once Was a Poet from Limerick . . .

So how exactly did a genre of bawdy pub poetry come to be associated with Limerick? The answer seems buried nearly 300 years in the past. Nobody really knows who wrote the first sharply worded, five-line poem, but the format became popular in the 18th century, due to a group of poets who lived in the town of Croom in County Limerick. Known as the Fili na Maighe, or the “Gaelic poets of the Maigue,” the poets wrote sardonic, quick-witted poems in Irish that soon became all the rage. Their style was adopted across the region, and within a century, everybody was doing it. Anthologies on the subject list 42 poets and Irish scholars in the county in the 19th century, whose limerick-style compositions covered a range of topics—romance, drinking, personal squabbles, and politics.

But it’s possible that the scathing, satiric limerick style we know today rose from an 18th-century battle of wills between a poet and pub owner, Sean O’Tuama, and his friend Andrias MacCraith. Boyhood friends O’Tuama and MacCraith grew up in County Limerick. After a spectacular falling-out (nobody quite remembers over what), they vented their wit in a series of castigating verses about each other. As these became enormously popular, the modern limerick was born. In retrospect, they’re kind of cute, although the meter was sometimes a little stretched. As MacCraith once wrote:

O’Tuama! You boast yourself handy,

At selling good ale and bright brandy

But the fact is your liquor

Makes everyone sicker,

I tell you this, I, your good friend, Andy.

If the Story Fitz...

“Honey Fitz” was the nickname of John Fitzgerald (1863–1950), maternal grandfather to President John F. Kennedy. Born in America to Irish immigrants (his father was from Limerick), Fitzgerald was twice elected mayor of Boston.

 

According to the biographer Robert Dallek, Fitz had a reputation for being “the only politician who could sing ‘Sweet Adeline’ sober and get away with it”—hence the nickname, in praise of his sweet singing voice. Between Adare and Limerick, the small town of Patrickswell is home to the bijou Honey Fitz Theatre (www.loughgur.com/honeyfitz; 061/385386). This is the main venue for the Lough Gur Storytelling Festival, a 5-day event in late October that celebrates the art of the good yarn, through a program of music, drama, and poetry. The theater was opened in 1994 by Fitzgerald’s granddaughter, Jean Kennedy Smith (who was then U.S. Ambassador). Naturally, “Sweet Adeline” was sung during the ceremony.

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