Twice-blessed is the ancient city of Limerick. Though not twice named like New York, it was, for a brief time, twice bemayored, if such a word exists, and even if it didn’t half an hour ago, it does now.
The twice-bemayored ancient city of Limerick, so ancient that its escutcheon is ringed with a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid, though he was of course referring to Carthage and not to Limerick, when he observed in the very first book of his magnificent epic poem:
Urbs antiqua fuit
Naturally, any of us still alive who studied Latin for the Leaving will instantly translate that, but for the rest of humanity, let me just say that it means There was an ancient city.
Not a particularly inspiring or uplifting phrase, I always thought. It’s just a statement. There was an ancient city.
Particularly when the rest of the inscription reads: Studiisque asperrima belli.
What does that mean? you might be wondering.
Most people think it means well-versed in the arts of war but this is nonsense. It’s actually the remainder of the following:
urbs antiqua fuit (Tyrii tenuere coloni)
Karthago, Italiam contra Tiberinaque longe
ostia, dives opum studiisque asperrima belli
And this translates roughly as
There was an ancient city (colonised by the Tyrians)
Carthage, against Italy and the distant mouths of the Tiber,
rich in wealth and severe in the studies of war.
Now, why did somebody take the top and the tail of that passage and decide to put it on the coat of arms of a small city in Ireland?
There was an ancient city
And severe in the studies of war.
Precisely what a city consists of, nobody can really say, of course. Some suggest a cathedral will do the trick; others say that a royal charter is the thing which is all very well if you have royals available at a moment’s notice. For myself, I’m inclined to go with the definition laid down by the great and beloved Joe Malone.
All a town needs to be a city, said Joe, is a chipper, an apple-stand and a whorehouse.
If Virgil had written Insula fuit, it might make some sense, or even more appropriately, Insula est, insula pulchra, but then there would have to be an ugly scene as representatives of Young Munsters lodged an official complaint against the flagrant favouritism shown by classical Latin poetry towards Shannon RFC. It’s all about keeping it bitter, kid.
But going back to the coat of arms, you’ll notice they omitted dives opum, since the place was perennially broke anyway, but to my mind, this sort of thing reeks of the self-importance bestowed on themselves by small towns everywhere, and there is no city anywhere in the world with a more self-important bunch of clowns elected to public office, though I doubt if a single one of them has ever heard of Virgil or his Aeneid.
For those who don’t live in this neck of the woods, let me explain a little. Until recently, Limerick had two local authorities — one for the urban area and one for the rest of the county. It’s hard to know which was the more pompous, though I’d hazard that the smart money would be on the city councillors. After all, it was one of these buffoons, a particularly red-faced and overbearing specimen, who bellowed at protesters a few years back – This is not your democracy. This is our democracy.
In its infinite wisdom, the government finally amalgamated the two local authorities, helped in no small measure by the economic disaster that overtook Ireland, and propelled by Big Phil Hogan’s distaste for the concept of local democracy. And of course, the result was that two circuses came to occupy one Big Top. That’s a lot of moth-eaten lions, tigers, performing seals, sword swallowers, trapeze artists, bunco artists, con artists, piss artists and self-important clowns all in the same place, and the result was inevitable.
The clowns ended up with two mayors in full regalia, like the Pope of Avignon and the Pope of Rome, frantically excommunicating each other while Europe looks on appalled. Or indifferent in the case of Limerick.
The similarities were simply terrifying.
Both men wore gold necklaces but were neither cross-dressers nor ancient Mayan kings.
Both had an enormously-inflated idea of their own importance.
Neither seemed aware of the fact that the mayor of Limerick has absolutely no power, except a choice of seat in the rain at the Patrick’s Day parade.
And most shockingly of all, both men were called Sheahan. Magic or coincidence?
In truth, it was a great time-saver for both mayors, since one could give primary schools a half day while the other gave secondary schools a half day, but they didn’t see it like that.
Sheahan the Fatter had a loud and booming voice, but Sheahan the Beardy had a strong devotion to the GAA. For three full months, the citizens of Limerick had to live with endless loops of spooky Twilight Zone music emanating from the very stones of our ancient streets until eventually they fell to their knees in submission. Make it stop. Just make it stop.
And so it came to be that Sheahan the Fatter became Mayor after an intervention by the Grand Vizier, who put a proposal to the Great Council of the People, even though the Vizier wasn’t actually elected at all at all, and great was the anguish and the teeth-gnashing of Sheahan the Beardy as the cry went up.
‘Tis Blessed Kevin of the Cross for Mayor.
And so it was and so it is and so it will be.
The Master of the Seat is called with the Holy Tape Measure of Carthage and in the fullness of time he will construct the Throne of the Ample Arse, well-suited to the noble buttock of Blessed Kevin.
But for now, our Mayor must go to London for a dinner with emigrants, even though the role of an elected official in Ireland has absolutely nothing to do with Irish people abroad, and even though their flight home costs about €20 if they shop around. Assorted councillors, including two Shinners, observed that they’d lived in London and that emigrants would be grateful for the connection with home, conjuring up the astonishing image of Irish people all over London down on their knees praying for the arrival of Blessed Kevin in their midst.
How ironic that a man who spoke out against immigrants to Ireland would be offering comfort to Irish emigrants in the UK.
The official dinner, we’re told, will take five days, and the trip is to be funded by public money, but the purpose of the Mayor’s trip is a secret, it seems, if the uproar in the council chamber is any indication, when an upstart elected member asked for details of the trip.
As I said, the most self-important elected assembly in the entire country and possibly in the entire world.
Meanwhile, Blessed Kevin might appreciate these words of Virgil, also from the opening passages of the Aeneid.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso
quidve dolens regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. tantaene animis caelestibus irae?
(Tell me, O Muse, the cause; wherein thwarted in will or wherefore angered, did the Queen of Heaven drive a man of goodness so wondrous, to traverse so many perils, to face so many toils? Can resentment so fierce dwell in heavenly breasts?)