Frank McCourt's lasting legacy
Madam, – There has been much written and said about Frank McCourt who has just departed this world, a lot of it relating to the post Angela’s Ashesperiod. His earlier life in New York is generally described with reference to his own writings and publications. I had the opportunity to see him in action in the New York setting in the early 1980s.
Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashesprovided a documented account of 1940s Limerick society, its behaviours and values. It spawned a new tourist product for the city. It offers a focus for literary research way past the foreseeable future. For all of that Limerick people should be grateful to the former Leamy’s student from Barrack Hill.
I grew up 400 yards away from the infamous Rodin Lane of Angela’s Ashes; went to the Model School which would not have him, sang in the Redemptorist choir which would not have him (although in adult life he was a useful singer). Strangely enough there were lads from Barrack Hill in the choir; boys like Terrence Millar (RIP). Some families managed to survive the terrible living conditions of those times. The sins of the father swamped the McCourts.
It was in Eamon Doran’s bar in New York that I ran into Malachy McCourt on St Patrick’s Day in 1984. It emerged that Eamon was a brother of my colleague Paddy Doran, dean of humanities in University of Limerick. That was one Limerick connection. The other link with Limerick was Malachy’s Barrack Hill background. He was an actor, well known in New York. He revealed that with his brother Frank they were launching a review called A Couple of Blaggardsin the Village Gate theatre that night. Senator Tras Honan from Ennis, as cathaoirleach of the Seanad was the most senior Irish public figure over for the parade. She arrived at Doran’s and I persuaded her and her entourage to proceed to A Couple of Blaggardsin the village.
The two McCourts were amazed to hear their rendering of the Redemptorist hymns played back to them from a raucous audience with Limerick accents.
That was my first encounter with Frank. A Couple of Blaggardswas a total send-up of 1940s Limerick’s Catholic poverty situation. I suggested that the brothers should bring the show to Limerick, and despite their initial doubts, they opened at the Bell Table where it was well received. All this well before the book appeared. The review was the provenance of the book!
A year later, in the same Doran’s bar I crashed into a “first Friday” lunch hosted by Willie Maloney (RIP) of Shannon Development; this was a monthly gathering of Irish American writers and journalists. Frank was there and clearly he wanted to be one of that special group – a recognised writer.
Two years later he made it, and how. The “first Friday” group produced a world level star.
It was with much satisfaction that I was able to entertain the McCourt family when UL gave Frank his honorary doctorate. We had to beat other universities to the punch and recognise “our own”. So my less fortunate “neighbour” from Barrack Hill took his place in due course on the University of Limerick Foundation side by side with other Irish American greats such as Chuck Feeney, Frank Doyle, John Mitchell (RIP) and many others.
– Yours, etc,
Prof NOEL MULCAHY, Killaloe, Co Clare.