towards "Limerick" verse

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Mar 14 12:28:18 UTC 2009

On the proposed trajectory from the US-attested "come to Limerick" meaning
surrender (and the like; also, "get with the program" [and note the verses with
a similar sentiment, Ye Book of Copperheads ff]) to UK-attested uses in
the now-familiar sense, I have reconsidered the weight of the 1918
article "The Cult of the "Limerick'" in The Cornhill Magazine v. 117 (n.s. 44)
Feb. 1918 pp. 158-166, signed by C.L.G. (later reprinted in the US in The
Living Age).
We know of (later so called) Limerick writing in Cambridge (e.g., The Light
Green: a superior and high-class periodical..., A.C. Hilton, 1872) and Oxford
(e.g., The Shotover Papers, 1874-5). Other universities (e.g. Edinburgh,
Columbia) are attested later. J. H. Murray (not identical with J. A. H. Murray)
mentioned in 1898 a refrain; he may have operated an optical shop after a degree
from Glasgow. John MacGregor who published in 1896 a "Limerick rhyme" had a
degree from Edinburgh. Add in the claim in the (US-edited) Police Gazette
(noted by Fred) of "Limerick rhymes" in Oxford in 1880, and we return to the
Cornhill Magazine. There the claim: "we believe to be the correct form of the
refrain" as
Won't you come up, come up, come up,
Won't you come up to Limerick town?"
He sets this memory "in the Sheldonian" on the day when "the D.C.L. degree was
conferred on the then [Church of England] Bishop of Limerick by the University
of Oxford nearly forty years ago." This refrain may have pre-existed this day
and been repeated for the occasion, on 13 June, 1881 (according to The Times of
the next day).

Should we believe the memory of this writer? Perhaps so. He was Charles Larcom
Graves (1856-1944), and the Bishop, Charles Graves (1812-1899), was his

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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