Anybody who was at the Limerick-based artist Dietrich Blodau’s ‘A Life of Observations’ art exhibition in the Hunt Museum in 2018 will have been made aware of Blodau’s wonderful depictions of the streets of Limerick. If you had walked these streets all your life, Ellen Street, High Street, The Round House, Todd's Bow, then one saw them completely differently after visiting Blodau's exhibition. That exhibition was good for the soul because for the viewer it turned our view of the city upside down …and magic flowed out.
And now John Liddy has achieved the same outcome with his epic book-length poem, Arias of Consolation about the city, written in the manner of Virgil's Aeneid or Milton's Paradise Lost. Written in beautiful rhythmic tercets, as in Derek Walcott's epic poem Omeros, including on the opening page:
Urbs antique fuit studisque asperrima belli
an ancient city hardened in the arts of war
and dives opum, Dowd's nod to the county
this is a book for every Limerick person to have at home on a bookshelf and to take down from time to time and marvel at
the perfumed air adrift along the street
where I am in awe of all that you were, are
and will be, ethos, heritage, integrity replete.
Limerick, what a great city...said to have been the Regia of Ptolmey. Sacked by the Danes in 812 and afterwards made a vibrant town of their kingdom. By 1106, it is the principal city of the kings of Thomond. It is granted a charter by Richard 1 in 1197. By King John, it is committed to the care of William de Burgo who for its defence erected a strong castle. Frequently besieged in the 13th and 14th centuries, in 1651 it is taken by General Ireton. The Treaty of Limerick is signed in1691. In 1609 it is incorporated as a society of merchants enjoying the same privileges as Dublin and Waterford. Greater prosperity dates from the foundation of Newtown Pery in 1769 by Edward Sexton Pery.
So, we live, and our parents and grandparents lived in a city, which like similar European cities, adheres to the principles and style in art and literature, generally associated with harmony, restraint, and incorporating recognized standards of form and craftsmanship. Limerick was planned by Italian engineer Davis Ducart. The designs of many of the buildings in our city have a dignity, a distinction and a beauty. A beauty that sometimes can only be recognised through the eyes of the outsider, like the artist Dietrich Blodau or the exile, like poet John Liddy.
The economic crash of 2008 has made many of the city streets sometimes look so jaded and exhausted. But you can't get away from the fact that there is an understated cultural authenticity and authority about Limerick and this epic poem by John Liddy captures it and its people in all its facets.