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As a whimsical Irish engineering academic, I have for many years been intrigued by the possibility of using the Limerick as a medium to encapsulate the principles of several branches of engineering science, for the instruction and amusement of my students. I am certainly not alone in this. In his marvellous, but often bawdy book, “The Lure of the Limerick” (Panther, London, 1970), W. S. Baring-Gould gives a few scientific Limericks and quotes an essay by Clifton Fadiman: “There are few poetical forms that can boast the Limerick’s perfection. It has progression, development, variety, speed, climax and high mnemonic value.”

The Limerick is a five-line verse, having rhyming scheme aabba, with about nine beats in lines one, two and five, and about five in lines three and four. Minor variations from this pattern are allowed, if tolerated by the listener’s ear. The Limerick lends itself readily to being sung. Occasionally, in moments of madness, I have presented them so to my long-suffering students.

The name “Limerick” undoubtedly comes from Ireland’s City and County of Limerick. How this came about is a matter of controversy. One school of thought is that the “Wild Geese”—soldiers in our beloved Patrick Sarsfield’s army—who emigrated with him from Limerick to France after defeat by King William the Third in 1691, found the form there (in French, of course) and brought it back home. This theory is discussed by Baring-Gould (op. cit.). Whatever about that, there is no doubt at all that two County Limerick poets of the 18th century, Seán Ó Tuama (1706-1775) and Aindrias Mac Craith (1723-1795) had an exchange in the Irish language using that form. Here, for example, is the third stanza from a poem written by the innkeeper Ó Tuama, praising the quality of the drink sold by him, and the conviviality and hospitality of his hostelry:

“Dob ait liomsa ceolta na dteampán,

Dob ait liomsa sport agus amhrán,

Dob ait liomsa an gloine

Ag Muirinn dá líonadh,

Is cuideachta shaoithe gan meabhrán.”

Ó Tuama writes lines three and four as one, but I have separated them to display the Limerick rhyming scheme more clearly.

For readers not fluent in Irish, here is a metrical translation of the above by the Irish poet James Clarence Mangan (1803-1849):

“I like, when I’m quite at my leisure,

Mirth, music and all sorts of pleasure:

When Margery’s bringing

The glass, I like singing

With bards—if they drink within measure.”

Ó Tuama’s friend, Mac Craith, responded with a marvellous ten-stanza put-down, again rendered into English by Mangan.  The third stanza sums up what may well have been the reaction of my own students to my outpourings:

“Again, you affect to be witty,

And your customers—more is the pity—

Give in to your folly,

While you, when you’re jolly,

Troll forth some ridiculous ditty.”

Over my forty-two year career as a full-time academic, I taught courses and did research in various areas, including electricity and magnetism, control theory, renewable energy and biomedical engineering. These interests are all reflected in this collection. There are also a few exercises in pure electrically-based whimsy. For example, 112—Electrical Retaliation—recalls how in The Irish Times on February 9, 1959 the great Irish humorist Brian O’ Nolan (Brian Ó Nualláin=Myles na gCopaleen=Flann O’Brien=George Knowall, etc.) attacked my fellow runners and myself in Clonliffe Harriers following our 1956 invasion of an estate in Santry, County Dublin, which he imagined as his ancestral home. I picture Myles using some electrical expertise to bring us down. Then there is 114—Yacht race at Kingstown—which recalls the first ever wireless coverage of a sporting event, and the fact that, after we regained our independence from Britain, the port town of Kingstown had its name restored to the old Irish form, Dún Laoghaire (the fort of  Laoghaire).

Laoghaire was High King of Ireland when St. Patrick began his mission in 432 a.d. Patrick’s influence is to be seen in the cartoon illustrating No. 59. He is reputed—despite the lack of any historical evidence—to have used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate to the Irish the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. Hence my absurd “Trinity Mill”. Being aware that every collection of Limericks worthy of the name had to include the Lady from Ealing in slightly risqué form, I had to bring this compilation to a close with No.118.  

Annraoi de Paor,

Lios Mór Mochuda, Contae Phort Láirge, Éire.

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