In “Two Gallants” Lenehan is described as “a sporting vagrant armed with a vast stock of stories, limericks and riddles”. The most conspicuous one is quoted above. But when Lenehan demands: "Silence for my brandnew riddle!" (U 7.477) he is slightly overstating his case, for the first documented punning riddle about Balfe's successful opera turned up only six years after it was premiered in October 1857.
Of what new opera do the present petticoats remind one?
Rose of Castile (rows of cast steel)
The boy's handy book of sports, pastimes, games and amusements (1863)
One year later the Birmingham Daily Post of Friday, 27 May informs its readers that The Rose of Castile (also Castille) is "popularly miscalled in allusion to its enduring pretensions to public favour, 'The Rose of Cast Steel'".
Punch followed in 1865:
By the bye, if for burlesquing they want to find an opera in which they might most fitly introduce this magnet scene, they had better try their wits upon The Rose of Cast Steel.
The closest forerunner of Lenehan's version was published in “Clippings from the weekly journals” in The Hull Packet and East Riding Times (Hull, England) on Friday, 28 May, 1880:
"What favourite opera," enquires Bauldy, with a hiccup, "does the tramway lines remind one of?" and he replies with a hee-haw when eberybody gibs it up, "Why, the Rows of Cast Steel, to be sure!"