Monday, 20 July 2009

Frank McCourt dies

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes.

The author Frank McCourt has died in New York, aged 78. The writer of Angela’s Ashes had contracted meningitis having recently undergone treatment for skin cancer.

Angela's Ashes was written in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. The book is the most famous of the genre now known as the MIM (Miserable Irish Memoir) and recounted McCourt's poverty-sticken childhood in the lanes of Limerick in the 1930s and 40s.

McCourt’s father was an alcoholic, and – when not completely absent - would roll home from the pub singing songs about Kevin Barry and the “800 years of oppression” having spent all his wages on booze, ensuring that his family continued to live in grinding poverty.

The family moved from one hovel to the other – each getting progressively worse – and were reduced to affixing bits of tyres onto their shoes to replace worn-out soles (an innovation of the father’s) and migrating to various sections of their living quarters to mitigate the damp and floods.

They were forced to seek charity from the Society of St Vincent de Paul and McCourt recounted the belittlement and humiliation inflicted by those in authority on the women (and it was the women) who had to take such desperate measures to clothe and feed their families.

McCourt was far from charitable about his childhood in Limerick, and was understandably unforgiving about the Church-inspired hypocrisy, parochialsim and soul-destroying deprivations suffered by him and others of his social class in the Ireland of the time.

Predictably, when the book was published, various half-wits sprang to the defence of 1930s Limerick (and Ireland) and claimed that McCourt had made it all up and that the Limerick of the time was, in fact, a lovely place; so proving that not an awful lot had changed in the intervening years and that although the bleakness of the poverty might have eased, the self-regarding small-mindedness, parochialism and hypocrisy was very much alive and well.

Despite everything, McCourt’s experiences are recounted with a wry, indefatigable black humour, and Angela’s Ashes is a very uplifting - and at times very funny - read.

So not only did McCourt “survive it all” - he did so with his spirit, humanity, sanity and humour intact.

He will be sorely missed.

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The Rebels Yell! said...

Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize winner and Irish-American raconteur whose ability to captivate his world-wide audience. 'Angela's Ashes' will leave an indelible imprint on generations of readers to come. R.I.P.

Patrick said...

The Lasting Tribute website has updated its memorial pages to include Frank McCourt.

It's a respectful memorial to Frank and somewhere to pay tribute to his family's fortitude at this difficult time.

EVERY comment is monitored so that nothing offensive or inappropriate is published.

Anonymous said...

hi gm franks depiction of limerick was not very welcome at the time, the mimistry of fairies and leprechauns along with the burghers of limerick attempted to rubbish it as i recall ,sounds like limerick has not changed much since the 50s drove trough it about ten yrs ago never seen anything so grim anywhere, everything must seem easy after a youth there he was an honest trooper , may he rest in peace

bigphathar said...

I must admit that I have yet to read Angela's Ashes (I was in the midst of Leaving Cert prepwhen it came out and rathered blinkered in what i read as a result) but I will pick it up in the next week or two.

McCourt and others who spoke of their miserable Irish childhoods were trailblazers, and the fallacy that everything wrong in Ireland can be blamed on the British (which as recently as last month Michel Woods was trying to peddle in relation to the Ryan report) had gone mostly unchallenged since independence. McCourt changed that.

Unfortunately and shamefully, much of the misery forced upon Irish people in the last few hundred years was by other Irish people and so-called 'Irish' institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church.

When McCourt published his memoir that had no been admitted yet by official Ireland. Read extracts from the Ryan report and you'll see that he was not far wrong.

The Gombeen Man said...

Well said folks. He seemed like a good bloke and an "honest trooper" indeed. I'm not going to slag off Limerick here though, Mr BH - just in case! Don't want some of those lads turning up at the Manor with the Glocks.

Yes, it's a great read Bigphathar. As The Rebel's Yell says, it' one of those books that left an indelible imprint. Good points there, by the way. Too many people willing to blame the Brits for all our ills... a bit of a cop-out isn't it?

Anonymous said...

His Wikipedia page says he died after being treated for melanoma.

I think this might be a misprint and should instead say that he died after being treated for Melodrama

The Gombeen Man said...

I wouldn't be flippant about someone else's life experiences, or contest their authenticity unless I had good reason to do so.

My own parents were from tenements in Dublin in same era as McCourt. The poverty and deprivation was very real, though it may difficult for many from later generations to grasp. I am sure the lanes of Limerick were every bit their equal in squalor.

Melodramatic? No.

Skilled, observant storyteller with a critical eye for hypocrisy, nonsense and bullshit? Yes.

And that sense of humour too.

Sister in law said...

I read in the obituary section in Time magazine (can we believe time magazine? - a separate subject) that McCourt's brother Malachy said that their childhood was far far worse than anything depicted in Angela's ashes.

The Gombeen Man said...

Ah - Time magazine, Sis-in-law! You know, for some people it's as "authoritive" as tbe Bible!! ;-)

But I'd say they got Malachy right anyway... I've no trouble believing how bad things were for them.