A Batch of Irish Learics

In a previous post, like this one inspired by Doug Harris, I showed a page of “Irish Literary Learics” from   Idyls of Killowen: A Soggarth’s Secular Verses (London: James Bowden, 1899), by Matthew Russell, S.J.

The same limericks, however had already been published in 1898 in The Irish Monthly, vol. 26, pp. 87-89, so the use of the term “learic” was even earlier than I thought.

Here is a transcript of the text:


FIRST of all, what is a Learic? A Learic is not a lyric as pronounced by one of that nation who joke with deefficulty; but it is the name we have invented for a single-stanza poem modelled on tho form of “The Book of Nonsense” for which Mr. Edward Lear has got perhaps more fame than he deserved. His funny pictures helped his funny rhymes very cleverly. We have not seen it noticed that these nonsense-verses copy the metre of Lady Morgan’s “Kate Kearney.” It is a very amphibrachian metre, to coin an epithet for the occasion; namely, the “foot” that predominates is an amphibrach, consisting of a long syllable between two short ones, like eternal. The whole stanza is made up, first, of two lines consisting of three amphibrachs, then two short lines consisting each of an amphibrach and an iambus, ending with a fifth line the same as the first two. Mr. Lear’s verses are largely geographical. Here is his nonsense-verse about almost the only Irish town that he has thus honoured:—

There was an Old Person of Newry,
Whose manners were tinctured with fury:
He tore all the rugs
And broke all the jugs
Within twenty miles’ distance of Newry.

The following will fix on the youthful mind that the spot which determines our first meridian is pronounced Grinnttch.

There was a Young Lady of Greenwich
Whose garments were bordered with spinach;
But a large spotty calf
Bit her shawl quite in half,
Which alarmed that Young Lady of Greenwich.

It will be perceived that Mr. Lear uses one rhyme twice. It seems a more skilful feat to find three distinct rhymes; and the more ‘difficult the rhyme the better, if the difficulty be fairly overcome. “Winchelsea” is hard enough; but we see no special force in the concluding line.

There was an Old Lady of Winchelsea,
Who said, “If you needle or pin shall see
On the floor of my room,
Sweep it up with a broom,”
That exhaustive Old Lady of Winchelsea.

With this explanation we venture to print an original batch of Learics on Irish men, and women of letters. The reader is supposed to know that Mrs. Cowden Clarke wrote a Concordance of Shakspere, and that Mrs. Gaskell’s “Cranford” is the closest parallel for Miss Barlow’s Lisconnell.

The Author of “The History of Dublin.”

Thy marvellous lore, Sir John Gilbert,
Can crack the most obdurate filbert,
And many a mystery
In Erin’s dark history
Has been by thy critical skill bared.

The Author of “Vagrant Verses.”

Lady Gilbert, once Rosa Mulholland,
Weaves stories most deftly of all, and
Her “Verses,” though “Vagrant,”
Are pure, fresh, and fragrant—
Oft drawn from the Acta of Bolland.*

The Author of “Irish Idylls.”

The Gaskell of Erin, Jane Barlow,
Dwells nearer to Dublin than Carlow.
Irish life with its side ills
Shines out in her “Idylls”
With much of the pathos of Marlowe.

The Author of “A Fairy Changeling and Other Poems.”

Thy name, Dora Sigerson Shorter,
(Not always pronounced as it ort ter, +
Matrimonially rounded,
Can now be compounded
In this amphibrachian mortar,


The “Author of “The Art of Conversation.”

A Greek (not a Turk) is Mahaffy;
Of his Hellenist lore more than half he
Has amassed on the plan
Of that muscular man
In Cymric song famous as Taffy.

The Author of “Hurrish.”

I wish that Miss Emily Lawless
In her studies of Ireland saw less
Of dark ugly shade—
The sketch she has made
Is surely not truthful or flawless.

The Author of “A Cluster of Nuts.”

Katherine Tynan is now Mrs, Hinkson,
But her maiden name pleasantly links on
To that wonderful throng
Of story and song
Which amazes the more that one thinks on,

The Author of “The Mystery of Killard.”

I knew you a boy, Richard Dowling,
And, though there’s a good deal of howling
In your thrilling romances,
Most gentle your glance is,
And your face always smiling, not scowling.

The Author of “Shakspeare, his Mind and Art.”

In matters Shakespearian Dowden
Is a glorified Mrs. Clarke (Cowden).
He has mixed in the melée
That rages around Shelley,
But he cares not for Lingard or Plowden.

The Author of “Maime o’ the Corner.”

Mrs. Blundell, self-called “ M. E. Francis,”
As bright and as keen as a lance is.
Her plots are well knit,
And a delicate wit
The charm of her stories enhances.

* St. Barbara, St. Brigid, etc , in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists
+ The g “ought to’’ have its hard sound.

The introductory note mentions “the metre of  Lady Morgan’s “Kate Kearney” as the inspiration for the form. Of course Doug dug out the song on YouTube:

Doug adds: “it is interesting to note that it does indeed fit the limerick lilt rather neatly. It’s also interesting that the ballad of Kate Kearney, first heard as the tune “The Beardless Boy” by Edward Bunting in 1796 and perhaps then first seen in print as Kate Kearney in 1807 as shown here … is in limerick form:”

… and in 1810 in both ‘The Shamrock’ and ‘The Hibernian Songster and ‘The Emperor’s Wedding’) … although laid out in print quite differently:

Oh did you not hear of Kate Kearney?
She lives on the banks of Killarney;
From the glance of her eye,
Shun danger and fly,
For fatal’s the glance of Kate Kearney. etc etc.”

Here is the score of the song, published in 1829 in The New-York Mirror, and Ladies’ Literary Gazette.

This entry was posted in Edward Lear, Limerick and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.