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Dawning of a brand new era

About 20 years ago, the US government decided to track down the careers of young men and women who had done exceptionally well in their graduation. It was found, to no one's surprise, that many of them worked in advertising.

Advertising is the art of our generation. Our whizz kids were not found wanting. At an early stage we had Players Please. Then we had Guinness Is Good For You. And we were told that McBirney's wasn't very far from O'Connell Bridge. And then, when cars appeared on the roads, we discovered Navan is only an hour from Dublin. We were also advised to eat Today's Bread Today. Butter is the cream. A kind of chocolate had a very short slogan -- Half-Time Jimmy.



absurd

It was an age when we took pleasure in the absurd: "I went to the pictures tomorrow. I took a front seat in the back. I fell from the pit to the gallery and broke a front bone in my back. I walked home in a taxi. On the way I bought a bun. I ate it and I gave it to the driver and that was the end of the fun."

Small and big boys loved harmless verses:

"Halt, halt," the robber cried "and hand me out your riches."

"I can't, I can't," the man replied. "I'm holding up my britches."

It was an age, too, when students and other would-be intellectuals loved to make up rhymes about famous people.

"When a society debates on the poetry of Yeats, I'd love to know where and not to go there."

"Christopher Wren went to dine with some men. He said 'If anybody calls, I'm designing St Paul's.'"

"Geoffrey Chaucer took a bath in a saucer, as a result of hints dropped by the black prince."

It was an age, too, for the limerick. It had been around for a long time. We were told that it originated in Croom, Co Limerick. It was on the wall over the fireplace in a pub owned by the Gaelic poet Aindreas McCraith:

"I keep the best brandy and sherry.

To keep my good customers merry,

But sometimes it chances

I'm short of finances,

And then I am very sad very."

It wasn't the first but we like to believe it. There was a very old English limerick which said: "There was a young man in Whitehall.

He went to a fancy dress ball.

He decided to risk it

And dressed up a biscuit

but a dog ate him up in the hall."

Then there was what you might call an American limerick:

"There was an old man in Nantucket,

who kept all his cash in a bucket

His daughter named Nan

ran off with a man

and as for the bucket, Nan took it."

It was an age, too, in rural Ireland of the rambling house. Men came together to a congenial neighbour to read the Irish Independent or the Irish Press or have them read. The Irish Times hadn't yet come to rural Ireland. It was read by bank managers and Protestant clergy. Sometimes the women folk came to those houses and occasionally, a party might develop at which everybody was asked to contribute: you could sing a song or recite a poem or declame an oration.

You could also tell a story or make one up yourself.



gathering

At those gatherings, I used to hide in the darkest corner but there was no avoiding the call.

My party piece was a cut-down of an old Dutch song. I was content with four verses out of 16 and I'm sure that the audience were, too.

"He came to my cottage door, Lord Henry the brave and the grand. The finest young man in the land.

"Alone in her garden she sits, all dressed in white linen and lace, Lady Mary the proud and the grand. In her heart he could find no place.

"And now in his palace so grand, in a bed strewn with wild flowers he lies. His lovely lids covered his dark and beautiful eyes.

"And among all the mourners who grieve, why should I a mourner be? For I meant nothing to him And he meant the whole world to me."

It was a great time for sentimental verses:

"If I should die my dearest, sing thee no sad song for me. Plant thou no roses at my head, or shady cypress tree.

"Be the green grass above me, and the blue skies overhead. And if thou can remember and if thou can't forget."

Fogra: Heartfelt commiserations to Garrett Coughlan and his family. His brother Dillon died after a long battle with leukaemia, God rest him