Limerick is Ireland's fourth largest city, after Dublin, Belfast and Cork, and the third largest in the Republic. It is also the name of the surrounding county. I come from there. It's not terribly exciting, but is the home of rugby in Ireland. Part of the province of Munster.

Located on the estuary of the Shannon river, the city was originally a Viking settlement, established in the ninth century. In the tenth century, it was seized by Mahon, the Irish King of Thomond, and his brother Brian Boru. Brian later became High King of all Ireland, and his descendents the O'Briens ruled Limerick for 200 years, until the arrival of the Normans, who seized the walled city in 1194. King John built an impressive castle on what is now known as King's Island, around which the Anglo-Norman settlement, or Englishtown, was established. The native inhabitants were moved to the other side of the Abbey River, or Irishtown. At around the same time (early 13th century), King John granted Limerick its charter as a city, and the surrounding area was established as the county of Limerick.


THERE'S a notable family named Stein,
There's Gert and there's Ep and there's Ein.
Gert's prose is all bunk,
Ep's sculpture just junk,
And nobody understands Ein.


Kingsley Amis was born on April 16 in 1922. Early in his career, he published several volumes of poetry, although his novels, particularly Lucky Jim, were far more popular. I think it's safe to say that Amis is the best poet ever to have written a James Bond novel. After the death of Ian Fleming in 1964 he wrote Colonel Sun (1968) under the pen name of Robert Markham.

Unfortuantely he was often grouped among the "angry young men" in the 1950s. Denying such affiliations Kingsley's trademark was a lack of pretension, a virtue that depicted his anti-intellectual stance in The New Oxford Book of Light Verse which he edited. This particular anonymous limerick is one Mr. Amis found worthwhile to include and appeals to my sense of humor. Check the pipelinks to see who the poet is referring to.


Public domain text taken from

CST Approved

A limerick is a poem consisting of 5 lines. The first two lines must rhyme and consist of eight to ten syllables. The third and fourth lines must also rhyme and must consist of five to seven syllables. The fifth line is is limited to eight to ten syllables but does not have to rhyme with any other line. The writeup by Lometa features a limerick.

Meter of Limericks

In considering the meter of a limerick, let us examine a canonical example:

A prostitute living in Kew
Once filled her vagina with glue.
     "Well," she said with a grin,
     "since they pay to get in
They can pay to get out of it, too." 

We can then scan each line with - representing a long (stressed) syllable, u representing a short (unstressed) one, and |demarcating the beginning and end of the foot:

|u   - |u u    -|u   u   - |
 A prostitute living in Kew

|u     -   |  u   u -|u  u     -|
 Once filled her vagina with glue.

     | u       u  -  | u   u   - |
     "Well," she said with a grin,

     | u      u   - | u  u  - |
     "since they pay to get in

|  u   u   - | u  u   - |u  u    - |
 They can pay to get out of it, too." 

(" 'Well,' she said" is technically an amphimacer, but this can be overlooked for our purposes.) The meter thus looks like this:

iamb anapest anapest
iamb anapest anapest
anapest anapest
anapest anapest
anapest anapest anapest

It can therefore be agreed that the backbone of a limerick is the anapest; the difficulty, however, lies in the metrical variation within the basic form. Two variations are allowed for around the basic framework of anapests:

  1. A line may begin with either one OR two short syllables; and
  2. After the final long syllable of the final anapest in a line, up to two more short syllables may be added, provided that they rhyme.

Both of these principles are demonstrated in the following example:

  | u    - |u  u     -|u   u   -|u
  There was a young lady from Niger.

  | u   -  | u    u  - | u  u  -|u
  Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.

     | u   u -   |   u   u   - |
     They returned from the ride

     |u     u  -|u u - |
     With the lady inside, 

 |u     u -|    u    u  -|  u    u  -|u
  And the smile on the face of the tiger. 

The addition of the final weak syllable on lines 1, 2, and 5 is allowed, since both the added weaks and the required strong ("niger," "tiger," and "tiger") all rhyme. Also, the initial weak syllables ("there," "who," and "and the") are acceptable.

So here is our general form of limericks, with optional beats in brackets:

  [u] u - u u - u u - [u u]

  [u] u - u u - u u - [u u]
      [u] u - u u - [u u]
      [u] u - u u - [u u]

  [u] u - u u - u u - [u u]

There are few hard-and-fast rules on what is invalid limerick form, the usual judge being what "sounds" right, but it is agreed upon that lines 1, 2, and 5 must have exactly 3 stressed (long) syllables, and lines 3 and 4 exactly 2. Also, beginning a line with more than two weak syllables always sounds wrong. Beginning a line with no weak syllables, and starting right in with the strong syllable, is to be avoided: although possible, it is almost never found in the most successful limericks.

Source: Finley, David. "Limerick Discussion Page." 26 Feb 1999. <> Accessed 15 Feb 2003.

Further comments, ideas, criticisms welcome by /msg.

Lim"er*ick (?), n. [Said to be from a song with the same verse construction, current in Ireland, the refrain of which contains the place name Limerick.]

A nonsense poem of five anapestic lines, of which lines 1, 2, and 5 are of there feet, and rime, and lines 3 and 4 are of two feet, and rime; as --

There was a young lady, Amanda,
Whose Ballades Lyriques were quite fin de
Siècle, I deem
But her Journal Intime
Was what sent her papa to Uganda.


© Webster 1913

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