There is no more a monolithic Limerickman than there is a Dubliner who hasn’t read Ulysses yet who is supposed to be more Joycean than Joyce himself.But imagine that such a superman of the Shannon once existed and became victim of a Big Bang and is now diffused throughout the city, his gemlike qualities coated in strata of ordinariness.
Consider the boiling pot from which he came:Viking, Dane, Norman, English, Dutch,German,Scottish;the milieu in which the brew was stirred: imperialist and republican godparents;and the assorted ingredients that were added:the pictures, the music hall, the light opera, sport, faith.
How can he be put together again?
Employ the indefatigable exertions of Frankenstein-Igor more steam-and the indiscrimination of The Three Stooges to throw everyone who is not nailed down into the pot.
The trawl for components is most likely to be rewarded among those in their sixties who still manifest the traditions that shaped them though the inheritence is odds on to have been somewhat stultified by television’s global village.
Unlike all the king’s horses and all the kings men, having succeeded in putting Limerickman together again, here he is-though he is not the man he was. Wherever there are two or three gathered together in anybody’s name he will grab the first chance he gets to tell them how he once danced with Movita in the old Rink while she still wore one of the black eyes that Jack Doyle gave her backstage in the Savoy. He’s told the story so often he believes it himself. And, this whopper of a kite still in the air, he follows on as the three-thousandth claimant to have broken the nose of Richard Harris on the rugby pitch.
He has free travel now and deservedly so because in the bad old days when times were tougher for some than others his wife would nudge him on the bus when the conducter approached: Don’t let Mrs O’Brien pay-she has a houseful. Like his wife he is indoctrinated with a slew of Limerickisms the provenance of which is rooted in the garrison city influence. Such as:when his blood pressure rises and he momentarily forgets that he was young once himself he roars at larky children:go on hop it or I’ll give you a fong up the hole. From the thong on the soldier’s boot that the Cockneys couldn’t pronounce when they were stationed here. Sassoon and Graves served in the old Strand Barracks. There is nothing of the Brits Out mentality infecting Limerickman.
He is not the man he was in many ways and none more so than in the statistic:he used to sing. He used to sing everywhere,that ubiquitous accomplishment explicable by the fact that Limerick is one half pub and the other half church. He has recieved the best compliment he could dream of-dubbed a great public house singer. Let the other guy have Carnegie Hall. Having put politics, sport and religion to bed a voice would call on him:Limerickman, give us an oul song. And by way of seconding the motion the publican would come in: Quiet please. A bit of order.Limerickman is about to sing. And his audience could depend upon it being an oul song.
Nobody could put the ngnaw into remembering you like a Limerickman, and for an encore dip into The old refrain or Oft in the stilly night or whatever you fancy from Maritina, The bohemian Girl, The lily of Killarney. His wife invariably obliged with I dreamt I dwelt in the marble halls.
He is very close to his new wife now. Since his bypass he has rediscovered the childhood sweetheart whom he had begun to take for granted as someone handy to have around the house to cook and answer the rosary. Now she is again his indispensable companion- – along with the stick and the dog? to accompany the walking regime imposed by his doctor.
But they?re not asked to sing anymore. Shhh is only heard now in the pub when the young turks can?t hear the commentary on the seven days a week soccer matches. What about Kilkee where they haven?t missed a holiday in fifty years, surely they still sing in Kilkee? No. Panicky new breed publicans hire greyhaired guitarists? thats how entrenched the rot is? bolstered by speakers and microphones to provide sing-along ballads.
He may not be the man he was in the singing stakes but there is the odd sighting. When there is an electricity supply board industrial dispute or a night of the big wind and the candles flicker strategically in the Stygian pub and the customers fidget and scratch their heads trying to remember how they lived before they were brainwashed an atavistic longing is given expression again: Limerickman give us an oul song.
Though he is an authority on rugby? as is his wife and dog? he will die happy in the knowledge that he has left his children a love of hurling. Where the greatest game in the world is concerned he is riddled in inferiority. He passes on what has been handed down to him : You have to be twice as good as cork to beat them. But when he talks about rugby he allows his megalomania out for a walk. Any fifteen Limerick players would beat that Irish team. Not quite a delusion of grandeur on his part because as his wife and dog will corroborate: it?s true.
He is a much travelled man who has been to Cardiff Arms Park, Murrayfield, Twickenham, Lansdowne Road, Ravenhill, Templehill, Templeville and recently Santa Monica where his youngest son, the software engineer, has been headhunted. Limerickman sits silent upon a deckchair in California staring at the pacific with a wild surmise unlike that of Stout Cortez : what in the name of god am I doing here. His wife and family knocked all his objections to the visit with the sworn promise that civilization had reached the coast at last in the shape of draught guinness on tap. He could no longer hold out.
So he sits crucified with hospitality as only the openhanded Americans can inflict it : sunshine, cold cans, hot dogs, berbecued steak while he licks his lips homesick for the Limerick rain, a warm pint of guinness, donkey fordes fish and chips and his own bed. He came back from his honeymoon in Salthill, Galway to the rented room where the two eldest were born qualifying for a council house where three more came into the world. All that time he could lay claim to have broken more teeth in Limerick than anyone without using his fist while he worked at the manufacture of the world famous Cleeves toffee. He put in extra hours at night as a telephonist so that he could at last buy his own home, an abode he kept in better nick than an Englishman would his car on a Sunday morning. It took a lot of time, a lot of rearing and a lot of hard work. Yet along comes this shakings of the bag of the youngest son, hardly with a foot outside the graduating gate of Limerick University and he?s living it up in a mansion in the sun like a film star.
He thought he?d see one but they?re all dead, those he might have recognised. Boys town, there was a picture. They don?t make them like that anymore. He shook hands with a filmstar once, Rock Hudson, outside St.Josephs church, when Rock was here to make Captain Lightfoot. Also in Limerick he shook hands with three presidents of the United States and one pope. Yet even though he has shaken hands with the pope he no longer thinks of himself as the paterfamilies in the religious stakes where this youngest hot shot son is concerned. Or any other stakes if he is to be honest. It started early enough with this youngfellow when he was fourteen and the wife asked did you get mass and he answered I was at half seven in the fathers, only devotions. Well, the young fellow insisted and it checked out he was telling the truth the priest was there in all his gear, it seemed like mass to me. But then the boy had shown earlier signs of a liberal education when he had no school on the eight of December which fell on a Tuesday that year and in answer to his fathers probe: what feast day is it, answered with an educated guess : pancake night ?
How did it happen overnight? Where?s it all gone? Gear? Alb, cope, chausable, surplice, biretta, he?d been taught all that in senior infants. Forty years a member of the Arch?confraternity of the holy family in the redemptorist church he could still sing for you now: faith of our fathers, through jesus? heart all burning with fervent love towards men, soul of my saviour, tantum ergo, confraternity men to the fight, sweet heart of jesus, hail queen of heaven, o mother I could weep for mirth this last maybe appropriate when he accepts that there isn?t a hymn among all the young men today.
Boys town. The knowalls used to point out that it was a true story, that there was a real Father Flanagan.Hmmmph! All he knew was there was a real Spencer Tracy and that the boys of boys town were as real as the boys from Limerick when Limerickman was a boy and that they stayed out of trouble with the help of authority in the form of parent, teacher, priest and hollywood. He asked his son ? the oldest, not the youngest: whats the name of hopalong cassidys horse and he had a supplementary clue at the ready (you ll be a topper if you get it ) but the boy answered : whos hopalong cassidy?
Youngest son was born standing on Limerickmans shoulders and his inheritance was a state of the art university, a state of the art rejuvenated city through whch a mighty river flows that is in the process of being reclaimed for swimmers once again. Assuming youngest son will wake up and tear himself away from the pacific to come home and dive into the Shannon. He will, he will. Limerickman clings to that. Of course he will. Although the night they had the farewell party for Limerickman in Santa Monica, with all the American pals in, and they demanded: Limerickmans youngest son, get out the guitar. And he could sing, why wouldnt he coming from a singing family. But born in the USA? even if he did do a damn fine job of it. They cant help it, Limerickman told himself as the night grew older and the guitar was passed around, they dont know any better. Until the youngest son showed that he was a damn fine boy as well as a damn fine singer: mam, what about Marble Halls? Limerickman only listened to herself until he was sureshed grabbed them and then he set about clearing the throat of his soul. He was ready when the youngest son a little shamefacedly half?asked: what was the one you used to sing dad? Used. By god did he give it to them. Closed his eyes and imagined himself back home where the humblest messenger boy who?d duck into the concert hall and hang by the ankles from the rafters would have a better ear than the cognoscenti of London, Paris, Milan. Remembering you of course. He knocked them out. The youngest son who had reddened in anticipation of sophisticated thumbs down from his American pals blinked a tear back and swallowed with pride. Limerickman, to show he wasnt all fogey, and to shake them out of his spell, chose the bouncy encore I?ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts and then tried to shrug off the California seal of approval: hey, your dad can sure whack it.
No religion, no old songs, doesnt know the name of one cowboys horse from another no more than the older brothers, is this youngest son his pride or his despair? Then again didn?t Father Spencer Tracy himself say that there was no such thing as a bad boy. And now he thinks of it when he compares youngest son with anyone else but himself isn?t the boy a topper like hopalong?s horse. It?s just all this change that confuses Limerickman. He can?t help missing the old slums, the old lanes, the old heavy hand of authority that gave a certainty to his life in his obedience, the old frugality, the old rotten teeth and consumption and emigration and joblessness even though he knows its madness to be nostalgic simply because the old package was wrapped up in old songs.
Look on the bright side youngest son will come home. He will flash the same open orthodontic smile that he brought with him from Limerick to California and he will stand a little beefier from the celebrated American excess in the cuisine department and look authority straight in the eye with his own authoritative in-built hypocrisy detector and he will have no chip on his shoulder other than the positive awareness? thank god for Dell? that Limerick has its own Silicone Valley. He will stand tall as befits one born on Limerickmans shoulders and he will grow to become Limerickman himself. And some day when he has it all he will notice something is missing as will everyman experience the niggling lack of proper fulfillment. Limerickman nurtures the dream that the catalyst might appear in the form of a late night showing of Somebody up there likes me. Youngest son would cop on: they don?t make them like that anymore. It might give him a taste. What with all those late night movies not to mention the video shop?s he might yet learn the names of all the cowboys horses. He might begin to think that there was something in what Limerickman used to say after all. Maybe even in that old religion. Come back Shane and all the homesteders going to church. Maybe even in the old songs.
Meanwhile, as youngest son shapes up to become the new superman of the Shannon, present incumbent Limerickman marks time. You?d have to kneel on his chest and pull it out of him with a foreceps that he shook hands with John F. Kennedy, RIchard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul the second. Let the other fifty thouand have that celebrity. Let Rick and Elsa have Paris. He?ll always have Movita.
Michael Curtin author of a number of books depicting his local Limerick and the many characters living there. Among his works are: The Self-Made Men; The Replay; The League Against Christmas; The Plastic Tomato Cutter; The Cove Shivering Club and Sing.
A Limerickman in America