Young blood recruited for Old Limerick journal

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

THE OLD saying ‘Praise the young and they will prosper’ (Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí) has been taken to heart by the latest instalment of the Old Limerick Journal.

THE OLD saying ‘Praise the young and they will prosper’ (Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí) has been taken to heart by the latest instalment of the Old Limerick Journal.

Indeed, the annual tome, now in its 46th edition, has been demonstrating precisely how this Irish proverb may be successfully applied through the medium of the written word.

Tom Donovan, the current OLJ editor, explains: “This is the second year that the Old Limerick Journal has taken on a transition year student under the guidance of Brian Hodkinson in Limerick Museum and Mike Maguire from the Limerick city library. We hope to encourage younger people, with an interest in history, to contribute to the journal while successively teaching them to research and reference new subjects.

“Jennifer Brosnan, from Ballybunion, chose the lesser known portrait painter, William Palmer, as her topic. Jennifer explained her choice of subject when she wrote:  ‘The image of a sad looking man, who had locks of his hair woven into his self-portrait, invited further investigation.’ It is hoped to continue this youth project, mainly because, apart from the benefits accruing to the students, it also dramatically reduces the average age profile of the contributors.”

Although Jennifer was born in Kerry, her mother is from Glin. She undertook her Primary Education in St Joseph’s National School and went on to attend secondary school also in St. Joseph’s, in Ballybunion. She was always interested in journalism so when the opportunity to go on work experience (under the Leaving Certificate Vo-cational programme) presented itself, she decided to apply.

Jennifer says: “I liked the idea of being a published writer but found it difficult to research my subject, Limerick artist William Palmer, as there was not very much information available on him. I also hoped to develop my academic skills before applying to the University of Limerick as I will be faced with similar research problems at third-level.

“History, as a subject, does not get nearly enough attention, especially among the younger generation, today. People are overly focused on the future and in the process often forget about the past, which is a shame, because it is a vital part of our lives. It was my uncle, Tom Donovan, who gave me the opportunity to learn about Limerick history while engaging in research outside the environs of UL.”

The Old Limerick Journal, founded by Jim Kemmy in 1979, has always had an amazing network of contributors, including local historians like Kevin Hannan and Willie W. Gleeson. The late Limerick TD made a great number of contacts around the country during his political career while also looking out for some good stories to include in the next edition of the journal.

However, he was not merely interested in ‘stones and bones’ but rather in an increasingly modern depiction of Limerick’s traditional ‘faces and places’. His single, all encompassing, achievement was to bring popular history to local people in a readable and interesting format. When Jim Kemmy died Larry Walsh took over as editor of the journal and Tom Donovan in turn succeeded Larry.

Today, the journal is a self-funding voluntary publication which does not carry advertising. It is not grant-aided either and any profit accruing goes directly towards the cost of the next publication. The typesetting and printing of the journal are done locally by Intype Ltd., of Moylish, under the careful stewardship of Kevin Fitzgerald and Audrey Barry.

Typically, the fruit of their efforts is brim full of diverse historical topics. The subjects covered in this edition include, Freemasonry in Limerick, the murder of the O’Donovan Brothers at Blackwater Mill, the life and career of Limerick City’s Chief Police Magistrate, T.P. Vokes, the rise and fall of Georgian Limerick, Biddy Early’s Limerick connections, a war about a property (Hut) Tax in Sierra Leone (1898-1899), the life of Limerick-born mystic, Dr. William Leonard, a visit by Michael Collins to Limerick and the 1932 Eucharistic Congress. Coincidentally, one of those who met General Collins was the same, Willie W. Gleeson, who had initially encouraged Jim Kemmy to found the OLJ.

A history of Na Fianna Éireann, which had its centenary celebrated in 2012, is also covered together with the murder of the Reverend Charles Dawson in 1835. Famine riots in Limerick, in 1830, and a Limerick Meteorite, are examined together with the lives of Augustus Stafford O’Brien Stafford MP and the teacher, James M’Carthy. There is also a rare Limerick Chronicle paper by John Ferrar (1774).

While Jennifer Brosnan makes her own writing debut with a study of the Limerick Portrait Painter, William Palmer, the current issue has been greatly enhanced by a range of historical luminaries. These include the OLJ’s longest contributor, Des Ryan, the Freemason Provincial Grand Master of North Munster, G. Hugh Milne, the Director of Limerick Museum, Brian Hodkinson, and the OLJ’s current editor, Tom Donovan.

A cosmopolitan feel is provided by Californian Lucey Bowen, along with well-known Limerick author Denis O’Shaughnessy. There are further contributions by Noel Murphy, John Curtin, Des Long, Tom Toomey, John Leonard, Noreen Curtis, Bernard Stack, Paul Huddie, and Ursula Callaghan.

Newcomer, Jennifer Brosnan, comments: “Oscar Wilde once said ‘Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it’. More people should be involved in historical writing as it is a very interesting and knowledgeable field of study. People should be encouraged to appreciate the past much more and to be grateful for what it has bestowed on us today. There are so many different areas that can be explored making the subject even more interesting for enthusiasts.

“Although, there are fewer opportunities for History graduates in the current recession it is very important that we know more about our past. By getting involved in historical writing we acquire a greater insight into ourselves. For example, there are many ways of using history in every-day life. Indeed, if the people who oversaw the economic boom and the creation of the property bubble studied history, we would be far better off today.”

Jennifer Brosnan hopes to broaden her own appreciation of history by travelling the world after graduation. She has already travelled extensively over the years, visiting such countries as the UK, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

Indeed, she undertook a student exchange to the latter country when she was only in third year experiencing the German way of life, for herself. While the opportunity also helped her to improve her adopted language skills there is clearly more than one string to her bow.

“Like my subject, William Palmer, I have a great interest in art,” she states. “I love to be creative when it comes to drawing or painting. It gives you a licence to express how you feel, about a particular topic, without it being either right or wrong to do so. Art is expressed in a myriad of different ways, which is one of those things that I really love about it.

“My parents have been the greatest influence on my life down through the years. They have always guided me in the right direction and supported me both at school and at home. I am currently a member of our school choir which is rehearsing for the annual carol service (a major Christmas event) in Ballybunion. It attracts a great crowd every year and the whole town looks forward to it. The event involves people of all ages, making it even more of a community wide experience.”

She added: “People who do good deeds are my inspiration in life. For example, I recently saw footage of a New York police officer who bought a pair of boots for a homeless person. He did it out of the goodness of his heart and was embarrassed by all the hype that followed.

“Similarly, organising more community activities to bring greater numbers of people together could really help Ireland, right now. Such events would also provide an opportunity for communicating ideas to others which is, ironically, what writing is all about!”

The latest edition of the Old Limerick Journal is available from local newsagents and book stores.