Limerick, You’re a Lady. So goes the lyric immortalised in song and as written by Denis Allen back in 1979. But 33 years later how has the lady changed? As we move further into the 21st century, there are questions to be asked about the levels of etiquette among both sexes in Limerick.
One very modern Limerick lady, the model Madeline Mulqueen, says a measure of respect and courtesy has been lost since she was a girl growing up.
“I think the younger generation in Limerick is a lot cheekier than before,” says Madeline, who shot to fame after appearing in the hugely successful Rubberbandits video for their hit song Horse Outside. “I remember when I was growing up we had more respect for people. Nowadays they just don’t care.”
Currently living in Dublin, Madeline has noticed big cultural difference between the two cities: “In Dublin people are a lot more reserved but there is less interaction. Limerick might be ruder but it’s also more relaxed.”
So is that more relaxed environment a good thing, or does the decline of good manners really matter? The founding president of of the University of Limerick, Dr Ed Walsh, is in no doubt that the values of good etiquette are fundamental to a civilised community.
“Etiquette is the lubricant of society,” he says. “It isn’t a frivolous thing, it’s an important thing that helps us to interact with each other without offending. Over the years people have devised ways of communicating with each other and interacting with each other. Society is a happier place if people respect these rules.”
Ed agrees that the modern society is more aggressive and less respectful - “absolutely so”, he says. However he sees positives, too, in the changed environment. And not all of the lost rules of etiquette are to be lamented.
“Young people are better than they were in my day because they are thinking for themselves. They have stripped away all the nonsense rules; a lot of etiquette is no longer relevant in modern society.”
Accentuating the positive, Dr Walsh says the majority of his interactions with young people have left him impressed.
“The vast bulk of students I have had the pleasure of working with in my 28 years at UL were considerate, thoughtful people. Of course, like anything else it’s the one or two who stand out.”
So what makes the difference between a perfect gentleman and a boorish yob?
“It depends on the environment in which they grew up. Some people are absolutely loutish - we have all had occasion to encounter them, maybe packed into a Ryanair flight. It is unfortunate to be next to people who have no sense of these guidelines.
“There is increased separation and single parent families and it is a lot easier for two people to do a job than one. The guidance that children look for is consistency and when both parents are not together, different things are allowed in the different environments. Consistency is easier to implement with two people in agreement.”
Local style queen Celia Holman Lee is also convinced that Limerick folk retain good manners in the modern age.
“Etiquette is alive and well - maybe not as much as I would like, but it is there,” she says.
The model agency boss thinks our modern, fast-paced society has contributed to people not being as nice to one another as they used to. “Everything is supposed to be done yesterday. There isn’t even a chance for people to think at times about others. Everything is just too quick.”
The introduction of new technology has had an effect too, in an era where a text message is often a substitute for a more considered ‘thank-you’ note and a world where most use their mobiles phones to tell others that they’re going to be late.
Increasingly sophisticated mobile phones may be changing the world, but they can be also be a massive irritation for many.
Limerick model Becky Costello says: “Phones are definitely a huge distraction when you’re trying to talk to someone. I try not to do it because it is bad manners but when I first got my iPhone I was obsessed. I remember I went for dinner with my boyfriend and we had both just got iPhones. We just spent all our time on them - it was ridiculous!”
Back to Celia: “I find when I’m in company with a certain age group, they are all sitting down glued to their phones. If we’re travelling, or getting ready to work, they are all on their phones, iPads, whatever. I hate it, it’s desperate.”
So what does the future hold for good etiquette in Limerick? The answer, perhaps, is not the death of etiquette but its transformation for the digital era.
Good manners now means you don’t answer your phone when the person you’re with is in full flow. It means that you respond to texts and emails, but you also try to take every opportunity to meet people face to face, whenever possible. And if you can switch that phone off while you’re talking, then all the better.
She may have changed, but Limerick is still a lady.