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18/10/2021

Limerick’s ‘edge and grittiness’ comes to life in new work from poet John Liddy

Limerick’s ‘edge and grittiness’ comes to life in new work from poet John Liddy

Tom Muldowney, Limerick Writers’ Centre; Dominic Taylor, Revival Press and John Liddy at the launch of Liddy's latest work

A NEW poem by John Liddy is one of the most powerful ever homages to Limerick.

It is ambitious in its range, taking in events and incidents in Limerick’s past and more recent past and featuring many of the familiar places and characters who gave the city its edge, colour and grittiness.

“I just hope what you have in your hands is a poem that sings of people and place. I hope it works for you the reader,” John said when the book was launched at the Limerick City Art Gallery earlier this month.

“I have been writing this book-length poem all my life. I am still not finished with it,” he went on. “I am not finished with it because the relationship with Limerick continues for as long as I am alive.”

John, who was reared in Limerick and has been living and working in Madrid for several decades, has always retained his link to the city.

And it is Limerick city, and to a somewhat lesser degree, the county, that is the star of this poem, according to Dr Eoin Devereux of UL in his foreword to Arias of Consolation.

It works, he says, “like a multi-layered mind-map of the city and county” and “is a paean to a place which has been shamefully maligned and stigmatised too many times”.

The poem abounds with people and places still remembered with affection. Here is “Dodo Reddan wheelin’ dogs a pram’” or Frankie Flynn singing There is an Isle or “the fresh air gang going the extra mile for apples in the Lemon Field “.

Here too is reference and story for Casey’s Fish Shop, Nonie Meagher’s, The Tholsel and Joe Mahone’s.

And Limerick’s own distinctive vocabulary is given its own place: “crawthumpers who were only gaggin for it with a nobber in the gob, urging you to be wide of being nabbed by a ghoulbag when coggin’ the ekker”.

The city’s lanes find their own place as do tiny nuggets of stories from Ashford, Bruff, Kilfinane, Knockfierna Ballingarry and so many more places.

But as Dr Devereux points out, John Liddy does not gaze at the city and county through a nostalgic lens. Instead, the Arias, written in eight sections, unveil the poet’s “thorough warts-and-all knowledge” of Limerick. “While echoes of the past ripple through the poem, Liddy is as comfortable writing about 21st century Limerick as he is thoroughly knowledgeable about its long and complicated past,” asserts Dr Devereux.

“It is, arguably, the most important poem written about Limerick since the publication of Bard Hogan’s Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady in 1861”, he declares.

The poem, John Liddy himself explained, went through 20 drafts and there was a lot of work involved in what to leave in and what to leave out.

It is difficult to write an epic poem and maintain it, he continued. But what helped him was finding the structure, the three-line structure which he said he got from the late poet Derek Walcott.

He also thanked artist John Shinnors for the wonderful drawings he did and which are on the cover and inside pages of Arias of Consolation.

Dominic Taylor of the Limerick Writers Centre which published the book under its imprint Revival Press, said it was “another very important addition to the canon of Limerick literature”.

“This book, I believe, will stand the test of time and be a rich source of enjoyment, reference about the social history of Limerick and its people for many years to come, as well as being great poetry.”

Arias of Consolation is available through the Writers Centre at limerickwriterscentre.com or in bookshops.

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