The Limerick Man

First broadcast: Sunday 6th February 2022, 6 pm, RTÉ lyric fm; re-broadcast Sunday 8th January 2023.

Finalist in the New York Festivals Radio Awards 2022 in the Biography/Profiles documentary category.

Edward Lear

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Sara Lodge retraces the Irish journeys of writer, artist and composer Edward Lear, best known as the author of The Owl and the Pussy-cat.

Edward Lear (1812-88) is best known as the author of The Owl and the Pussy-cat, limericks, and other nonsense verse. Less well known is that he was also an artist and composer, and that he had a life-long interest in Ireland as a source of literary and musical inspiration. In The Limerick Man, Sara Lodge, author of Inventing Edward Lear (Harvard University Press), traces his Irish journeys and friendships and their influence on his creative life.

Lear’s first visit to Ireland was in 1835, when he attended the first Dublin meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Sara follows in his footsteps from Dun Laoghaire (then known as Kingstown), to Dublin Zoo, where Team Leader Edward O’Brien tells her what the newly-opened zoo would have been like in Lear’s time. Anne Hodge, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Ireland, shows Sara sketches that Lear made while in Ireland, including some at Glendalough. Sara heads there next to meet poet Jane Clarke, who has known Lear’s work since childhood, and then to Queen’s University Belfast to talk with musicologist Sarah McCleave about Lear’s admiration for Thomas Moore. They compare a short snippet of Moore’s Those Evening Bells, performed by Brianna Robertson-Kirkland and Brian Connor, with Lear’s The Time Draws near the Birth of Christ.

Twenty-two years after his first visit, in 1857, Lear returned to Ireland at the invitation of his friend Chichester Fortescue. In Ardee, Sara meet Seamus Roe, Honorary Secretary of the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society. Just outside the town is Red House, where Lear and Fortescue visited Fortescue’s aunt, and, while the house is closed, local man Michael McCreanor takes Sara to where she can glimpse it through the trees.

Also contributing to the programme are Jenny Uglow, historian and author of Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense, and Holly and Bea Moorhouse.

The words of Edward Lear are read by John Leeson, while baritone Edward Robinson and pianist David Owen Norris perform some of Edward Lear’s nonsense verse set to music by Lear and others, and Lear’s settings of poems by Tennyson.

The Limerick Man is produced for RTÉ lyric fm by Claire Cunningham (Rockfinch Ltd) and funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland from the Television Licence Fee. The producer for RTÉ lyric fm is Eoin O’Kelly.

Music performances were recorded at Alice’s Loft Music with sound engineer Marc McCouig, and sound supervision for the programme was by Tinpot Productions. Additional editing and recording by Guy Drucker.

After broadcast, the programme will be available to podcast on the usual podcast platforms and on the RTÉ Radio Player.

Edward Lear (1812-1888)
Glendalough Round Tower, Co. Wicklow, 1835
Purchased, with the support of the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland, 2019
NGI 2019.197
Photo © National Gallery of Ireland