Limerick: City of Words and Memories, Loss and Triumph, Death and Life

 Renowned Brooklyn born, Limerick raised, author Frank McCourt penned the following in his acclaimed work, Angela’s Ashes:

He says, you have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.

These words ring true not only for any individual who dared to aspire to something greater than him/herself, but also for Limerick City.  For countless years, Limerick was driven to live in the shadow of what the city once was: the city described in heart-wrenchingly powerful detail in Frank McCourt’s aforementioned work Angela’s Ashes

However, like McCourt stressed in his quote above, Limerick has, and always will have, the capacity to make itself a “palace” in its own right: a place people are proud to call a literary, historic city.  In recent years Limerick City has used its ability “to study and learn”  in order to embrace the past and create a better present for the city and its inhabitants, without forgetting to honor the struggles of those who dwelled within its boundaries during years riddled with poverty and filled with despair. 

From riveting author visits and talks at the University of Limerick, the establishment of the first ever regional arts center in Ireland, the Belltable Arts Centre, in 1981, the famous Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour in Limerick City, The Frank McCourt Museum (Leamy House, Hartstonge Street, Limerick),  the Hunt Museum (on Rutland Street, Limerick City), to an 8 year tradition of Open Mic Poetry nights at O’Connell Street’s  The White House Bar (established in the year 1812), Limerick has more than begun to make a new, more uplifting mark, on literary history while allowing the vital aspects of the past to share the spotlight.
 
On February 12th, 2012, Belfast poet Ciaran Carson (author of nine poetry collections, including Belfast Confetti, several works of prose, and a translation of Dante’s Inferno that won the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize) gave a reading in the Millstream Common Room of the University of Limerick.  This incredible reading was attended by several University professors, students (including yours truly), and several other literary enthusiasts. Ciaran Carson’s reading was phenomenal, moving, and inspirational…AND all who desired to attend could come free of charge.  Not only is Ciaran Carson a gifted poet (and prose writer), and an accomplished musician, but he is also an uncommonly humble, relatable, wise person.  Though not a Limerick-born poet, his reading at the University of Limerick is just one of many examples of Limerick’s ever-growing literary culture. 
 
Following Ciaran Carson’s visit in February of 2012, Dr. Michael Griffin of the University of Limerick presented a seminar on Robert Buggin’s “The Enchanted Garden” (1716) thought to be the first printed poem in Limerick and on the new ebook collection of Limerick’s first magazine, The Magazine of Magazines (1751-1769). The seminar took place on Wednesday April 11th, 2012, and was, like the Ciaran Carson reading, attended by yours truly as Dr. Griffin was one of my professors. The seminar was thought-provoking, riveting, and enlightening for historians and bibliophiles alike. Undoubtedly, by merely looking at events hosted by the University of Limerick, one can see that Limerick’s propensity to develop and thrive is greater than many could have ever anticipated.
 
Finally, any writer would be remiss if he or she failed to mention a recent Limerick announcement that is sure to draw in countless lovers of all the arts: from music to writing, from dance performances to imaginative cuisine. On November 4th, 2013, Limerick City began publicising the much anticipated “Limerick National City of Culture 2014 Programme” set to begin on New Year’s Eve.  Professor Don Barry, President of the University of Limerick, enthusiastically supports the new programme stating,
There is a marvelous spectrum of cultural activity in the City and its surrounding communities, with everything from sport to design, architecture and urban development, performing arts and local history coming together to create a positive cultural dynamic around the City.
As an alumna of the University of Limerick, I can only add to President Barry’s words by saying simply that I wish I could return to my Irish “home away from home” to join in Limerick’s cultural celebrations.  I have no doubts, that the festivities will be great successes and enjoyable, inspiring, and enlightening for all who attend.
 
This piece began with a quote from Limerick’s most well-known author, Frank McCourt; it is only fitting that this McCourt’s words also inspire its conclusion. McCourt’s words, taken once again from Angela’s Ashes, are as follows: “Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale.” Limerick is no longer the place described in McCourt’s famed written work. It isn’t enveloped in darkness, defined only by its past. Limerick is singing, dancing, and telling new stories: stories of beauty and of hope.
 
2013 Limerick is a thriving artistic area.  Boasting numerous art shows, traditional music gigs, and writing expositions and readings, Limerick has succeeded in transforming a dark past into fuel for an outpouring of artistic endeavors. Like Ireland, Limerick has not, and will never, shirk from its past.  Rather, it will continue to embrace it and allow memories to inspire, uplift, and commemorate. 2013 Limerick is thriving.  2013 Limerick is magical. 2013 Limerick is the phoenix rising out of Angela’s Ashes.

                               

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