Frank McCourt, Author Of Angela’s Ashes, Very Ill

Has Ireland learned anything?


Frank McCourt died yesterday.  This was written recently when news broke that he was ill.



I’m sorry to learn how unwell Frank McCourt is. He seems to be on the last lap, but at least he isn’t lingering, and that’s the way he’d have wanted it.

As he told the Limerick Leader a couple of years ago: I wouldn’t like to be incapacitated, or handicapped, or die of a slow disease. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone or have anyone wiping my mouth if I’m drooling. I’d just like to go. I don’t want funeral services or memorials. Let them scatter my ashes over the Shannon and pollute the river.

Hear hear, Frank.

When I read Angela’s Ashes, thirteen years ago, I was struck by its rawness. I didn’t recognise my home town of Limerick in it but perhaps that was because Frank came from an earlier generation.  The tenements of Arthur’s Quay, so horribly described in the book, were no different to the tenements of north inner-city Dublin: Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square and Summerhill.

Former Georgian palaces were abandoned by the boundlessly-wealthy British aristocracy and their liveried servants, only to be taken over by our own avaricious, red-nosed landlord class.  Irish rack-renters with no scruples, no ethics and no morals.

The Limerick McCourt described was a society divided and an underclass crushed by the indifference of the elite. Priests, doctors and civil servants ruled the lives of poor people, herding them, robbing them, dismissing them.  He offended people in this town, because his book named names and I often wondered why so many were upset, but as time goes by, I think I can see why.

It’s because the Irish people were fed a steady diet of propaganda, reminding them how virtous they were, how morally superior, and how free.  Never mind that your children are starving and in rags.  You’re free.  They were fed a diet of prayers and dead patriots who gave their lives to create the demented  little theocratic bubble that Ireland became in the Thirties and Forties.  And when they saw their names in McCourt’s book, they couldn’t escape the fact that they were there.  They knew about the insanity of the  Arch-Confraternity.  They knew about the lunatic religious fervour that overtook the country.  They knew about the squalor.  They knew about the cruelty man taking children from their homes.  They may well have been victims of the appalling system that gripped the country, but they were still present, and while Frank McCourt might have fluffed some of the details in his memoir, he captured the essence of the times.

Poverty.  Religious insanity.  Intolerance.  Disease.  Abusive clergy.  Mass emigration. Propaganda.

Was this the legacy of Irish independence?

Control of the people by a sexually disordered and avaricious church?  Was this freedom?

Was it freedom that families lived in squalor in four-storeyed slums, starving and rat-infested, while children suffered rape and beatings in church-run child-prisons?

These are the questions that Frank McCourt’s book has prompted in my mind over the years, and by writing it, he’s done us all a great service — even those who hated what he wrote.

And today, is it the legacy of independence that an Irish government would hand over our natural resources to a multinational energy company for nothing?

Is it the legacy of independence that our new national children’s hospital will be given to the same institution that abused so many children in its control?

Is it the legacy of independence that in 2009 we have a new law making it a criminal offence to laugh at religious lunatics?

What a victory Patrick Pearse won in 1916 and what a wonderful breakthrough for human freedom we achieved in 1922.

Our people might have been starving, and our children might have been raped by priests and monks, but at least we were free of the old oppressor.  Maybe we’re still under the control of religious maniacs, but at least we’re free.  Isn’t freedom a wonderful thing?

Frank McCourt leaves this country as he found it: screwed.

26 thoughts on “Frank McCourt, Author Of Angela’s Ashes, Very Ill

  1. A fine writer, a good man, he exposed a lot of truths about limerick, about ireland, including the great divide, the snobbery of the jesuits, how many great potentials were kicked off the doorsteps of education ?
    May his journey be as he wishes.

  2. May ST.Francis grant him an easy passage, I’m sad to hear about Frank, a man who put our rain sodden, god foresaken city on the map. My uncle went to school with him in Leamy’s and they had fuck all, bread and drippin’ from the basting tins of the convents if they were lucky.

  3. Frank McCourt has impacted on many lives through his valued memories, and proved by his own success as a teacher and as a man, that the working class have much to offer us all. He’ll die as he lived.. with dignity.
    Three generations of my own family identify with his words, and three generations of memories were relived without bitterness or regret.

  4. I wish Frank well – although it doesn’t look good.

    Meantime, I knew a few that were going to school around Franks time and they used have to walk 100 miles a day in their bare feet – across shards of broken glass for 80% of the journey – before they arrived, famished and in an awful state at the gates of the school. The Christian brothers then used bate them to within an inch of their lives for the first half hour, followed by the nuns up until around 10am, and then the lay teachers. On Tuesdays people that used be passing the school and had fuck all else to do, would make formal applications to bate them. This would usually be granted, but only on condition that they were Catholics and would wait their turn behind the Brothers, Sisters and teachers. School dinner was one solitary spud between 600 boys and a drop of toilet water in a cracked cup. But such was the spirit between the boys that they used share the food and the water and sing hymns amongst themselves. And then the long trek home, arriving at 12.30am famished and in an awful state, to be bate within an inch of their lives by their fathers, followed by their mothers, uncles and aunts and elder sisters, who hadn’t been rode in decades. Of up to bed then for a half an hours sleep and back up at 1am to begin the long walk back to school. The childer of today don’t know how lucky they are I tell thee.

  5. I hear he’s in a hospice now, so it looks like he hasn’t got too long left. I remember being in a second hand (?) bookshop on cruises street about 2001 I think when his book Tis was out. Some local published his own book as a rebuttal and called it Tisn’t . The shop was full of unsold copies.

    Well I laughed anyway.

  6. Oddly, this post reminded me of John Waters review of Sacha Baron Cohen’s film Brüno, some of which I heard on Newstalk (I think) yesterday.

    Despite a gay panellist giving it a generally positive review, and the fact that the film is basically a remake of Borat so everyone and their mother knows what they’re getting into, Waters thought it was worth his while to lambaste it from a height.

    In fact, he climbed on a horse so high that there wouldn’t be enough hands in the taxpayers’ pocket to measure the towering beast.

    Instinctively, he saw Brüno as the perfect metaphor for the societal decay in moral standards or something, I was only half listening to him moan on.

    But I couldn’t help guffawing audibly as he concluded by ejaculating:

    ‘Is this what the men of 1916 died for??’

    Get a fucking grip, John.

    (Besides, everyone knows Pearse was outed ages ago. Ever read A Mhic Bhig na gCleas where a little boy’s kisses are sweeter than a woman’s?)


  7. T’was Gerry Hannon wot wrote T’isnt, circa 300 pages of of twaddle. It was beyond all known human endurance, Gerry used run a radio station in Limerick. Let’s just say a Jolly Roger wouldn’t have looked out of place hoisted on his mast. Hannon appeared on the Late,Late the night McCourt was on with Pat Kenny and spent most of his time shouting up from the audience at McCourt. Priceless stuff.

  8. Loved the film, Angela’s Ashes, sad, funny, sweet. I remember some numpties in Limerick giving out about him at the time.

  9. This man was a insult to Ireland, his totally fabricated and exaggerated accounts were all but lies.
    His books are rags, I am only sorry hitler is not around to burn them all.

  10. @nemo – Frank McCourt, a respected world renowned writer was an insult to Ireland???? I think Ireland has plenty of shameful characters – in the Dail and in the Church. All Frank did was talk write wonderful witty memoirs. I don’t know how his memories insulted you – do you think he should have pretended everyone was wealthy and that life was a bunch of roses back in the 30’s?

  11. Luv yar work Mr. McCourt, and your’s too, Mr.Bock, not that other strange little weird guys, though!

  12. Great writing, Bock, over and above the comment expressed within it. It becomes more and more apparent as I get older just how energy-sapping it is to keep kicking against the pricks. I do it from relative comfort, I’m not fool enough to think otherwise. Arguably yourself too, and McCourt from the seeming safety of America to a degree as well. It would, nevertheless, be still easier to say nothing and go on as you were, so you have always my respect for keeping on, for saying the unpalatable truth and for putting it out there. I wish FMcC well.

    And a footnote to Darwin: It disappoints me that I once had respect, Jiving at the Crossroads era, for John Waters. His incessant whine now has the unfortunate effect of killing the 10% of valid commentary that he’s still capable of. Personally I wouldn’t give him the oxygen.

  13. To “Seconds Out” & “Nemo” : Fuck you. My father was born in Vises Field in 1923. Long before I ever heard of “The McCourts” he told us stories about growing up in The Lanes. This was deprivation beyond anything your smug little brains could comprehend. McCourt related very uncomfortable truths. Truths nonetheless. These were proud, noble people who knew they had been fucked-over by society. They banded together and they survived.

  14. My grandfather used go to school in 1923 and he used have to walk 400 miles every day, barefooted and completely naked. The only protection he had from the howling winds and rain was a copy of the Proclamation of Independence and a porn mag featuring a one eyed well endowed Leprechaun and a bandy legged lesbian with flaming red hair.The roads would be covered in ice in those days, even in the middle of July. And all he had to sustain him on his journey was a morsel of stale bread and the abiding memory of his recently deceased mother offing a Pikey with a sawn off as he tried to climb through her kitchen window at 3am. When he got to the school gates the Christian brother used bate him to within a half inch of his life with the axle off a Massey Ferguson. Every day this used go on until a local councilor complained that tractor axles didn’t come cheap in those days, and so the brother used an ash plant to bate the grandfather from that point on instead. But, unlike the youth of today, my grandfather was happy. “He’s a happy well adjusted child,” the Brothers, avoiding eye contact, used tell his father at parent/teacher meetings.

  15. A few years ago he was signing books at a Borders in Virginia. It was towards the end of the event and he was pretty wiped out. One of the book Nazis tried to shoo me away and I shouted over ‘Oi Frank! Sign one more for an auld skin from Limerick?”
    He laughed,beckoned me over and sat me down for 15 mins and signed all the books I wanted. His response to the Book Nazis?
    “Don’t mind those old eejits”

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