Frank McCourt’s last wish granted as ashes are scattered

Family of writer, famous for ‘Angela’s Ashes’, arrives in Limerick to honour his dying wish

Ellen McCourt with Frank McCourt’s  daughter Maggie and grandsons Jack and Avery.  Photograph: Press 22

Ellen McCourt with Frank McCourt’s daughter Maggie and grandsons Jack and Avery. Photograph: Press 22

 

The rain now synonymous with the Limerick of Angela’s Ashes was noticeably absent as the family of the novel’s author, Frank McCourt, scattered his ashes to coincide with the eighth anniversary of his death.

The dying wish of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer was for his ashes to be scattered in Limerick, the home of his “miserable Irish Catholic childhood” which propelled him to literary stardom and saw him sell more than 10 million copies of Angela’s Ashes worldwide.

When asked about his thoughts on his own mortality, McCourt once quipped to the Limerick Leader newspaper: “I don’t want funeral services or memorials. Let them scatter my ashes over the Shannon and pollute the river.”

Eight years on since his death in New York, his wife Ellen, only daughter Maggie and two of his grandsons, Jack (14) and Avery (7), arrived in Ireland to see his wish fulfilled.

Together, the three generations dispersed some of his ashes in two locations close to his heart in Limerick in “emotional” moments. The private family ceremonies occurred a day in advance of the anniversary of his death, aged 78, on July 19th, 2009.

The family dispersed McCourt’s ashes at two sites – the ruins of Carrigogunnell Castle, overlooking the River Shannon at Clarina, and Mungret Abbey, where members of the McCourt family are buried.

“Frank had always told me he wanted them scattered at Carrigogunnell, as he used to cycle out there with his friends and would look out over the river Shannon and dream of going all the way to America,” said Ellen McCourt, the author’s third wife.

“You’ve made it, Frank,” she whispered as she scattered the ashes amid the ruins of the 13th-century castle.

Meanwhile, Maggie, his only child, born to his first wife, had brought her portion of her father’s ashes with her on her first visit to Limerick in 30 years.She said that before her father died, she asked him what his wishes were and whether he wanted her to take his ashes to the family graveyard in Limerick. “He looked up at me with big, sad eyes and said, ‘That would be too much trouble’.”

Following in McCourt’s footsteps, they went to South’s pub, where he had his first pint, his former school, Leamy’s, and St Joseph’s church, where he made his first Confession.

Ellen said that following his death, she, Maggie, and each of McCourt’s surviving brothers – Michael, Alphie and Malachy – received a portion of his ashes. His urn is buried in a plot in Connecticut in the same graveyard as playwright Arthur Miller.

Ellen’s portion of her husband’s ashes remain in New York. “I don’t want to part with them,” she said.

The family were accompanied by Una Heaton, an artist and curator of the Frank McCourt Museum on Hartstonge Street in Limerick. The museum continues to attract tourists from all over the world to view memorabilia of his life, including the manuscript of ‘Tis, his second memoir; a collection of his rosary beads, and his personal copy of Angela’s Ashes.

The Dublin premiere of Angela’s Ashes - The Musical, opened in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on Thursday night, after a sell-out run in Limerick.