May in a Limerick Childhood

George Lee is a weekly contributor to Emerald Connection with his review of the previous week with Ger Sweeney. George is a wonderful wordsmith and as we are now in the beautiful month of May here is a piece written by George a number of years ago. In it he is remembering the month of May in Limerick when we were all younger. Enjoy!!

IMG_3310“Bring flowers of the rarest, bring blossoms the fairest” the clipped and heavily accented voice of Canon Sidney McEwan booms out accompanied by a slightly tinny church organ. It is a song that evokes many memories and triggers off a torrent of emotions and an expectation that the long and frosty winter is over and that the long heady days of summer are coming. Indeed no sooner has the mayfly risen than you will hear the soothsayers mention that there is only a month to the longest day of the year and that after that that the days will be getting shorter.
My most abiding memory of Flowers of the Rarest is of working with the late and great “John The Man” for whom it was the opening song each morning on the incomparable Raidio Luimni. It was accompanied by a heady good morning to all the workers that he knew were listening, but for me as a late teenager mesmerized by the power of radio it also was an introduction to the uniqueness of the Limerick Personality which pats you on the back for being “one of our own” and reminds you quickly not to be “above your station”
Indeed it was John Frawley’s  ordinariness that made him such a loved and revered figure in the history of Limerick Radio. The fact that it was a hymn to Mary mattered little in the greater scheme of things, it was evocative and highly memorable and if there was a prayer in there somewhere what was the harm in that?  So it was that sometime after seven each morning the radio droned into life with the “Bould Canon Sidney” starting us off on another adventurous day. Soon the “roll” would be called, the DGB’s (Dressing Gown Brigade) got up, the “ladies in waiting” (expectant mothers) greeted and the death notices from the Examiner read and prayed for (thank God there’s no one we know dead today). Shortly after eight Crystal Gayle would be sent to school (here I go once again with my schoolbag in my hand), Percy would be in his bank, The Happy Butcher would be offering packet and tripe, The Singing Bank Manager would be off to Liscannor (in the sweet County Clare) and the Galloping Maggot (car) would be after being “out the Dock Road”(shorthand for anywhere in County Limerick). Sammy Sunshine and his other meteorological siblings (Ronnie Rain, Gussie Gale and Billy Breeze) would be predicted from the “look of the Clare Hills” and all the “meeces” would be packed off to school. Tommy Hynes would have given his tip for the Gee Gees (Horses) and by the time John gave way to  “Music While You Work” and went to the “Chemist Shop” (pub) you felt good about yourself and the day.
St. John's CastleBut “Flowers of the Rarest” also evokes memories of a now almost forgotten tradition “The May Procession”. As a student of Presentation Infant Boys School I got to partake in these until I was seven and graduated to the Christian Brothers next door. I can vividly remember parading through the grounds of the Convent and School behind a Statue of Mary. The procession gave pride of place to the Communion and Confirmation children in the school and all the way round hymn’s to Mary were sung with “Flowers of the Rarest” being to the forefront. The “May” smell of Lilac still evokes memories of faces and innocence in a world that now seems so far away though not that long ago. Altars were set up in the classes afterwards in the knowledge that the long summer holidays were not that far away once the Lilac faded.
Nowadays “The Bould Sidney” still rings out as a harbinger of the coming season and each year when I hear it for the first time my heart still misses a beat. It always makes me think and helps me remember, it grounds me in the simple things and reminds me to say a prayer for those people that either by accident or design were formative in my memories…..and yes, I say a prayer for Canon Sidney too, and the man who played the little tinny Church Organ.

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