Did you read 'Angela's Ashes'? How many years ago? What did you think? The book, while widely lionized, had a fair share of critics, who questioned, among other things, its accuracy. What, in fact, do you consider the greatest Irish memoir of all time? [Read our interview, in either Irish or English, with Pádraig Breathnach, the translator of 'Angela's Ashes' as Gaeilge, published in 2011 by Limerick Writers Centre.]

Tags: Angela's Ashes, Antrim, Arts, Baile Átha Cliath, Books, Dublin, Frank McCourt, Gaeilge, Gaelscoileanna, Galway, More…Limerick, Literature, Moycullen, Toome

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Janet, have you identified family back in Ireland -- your family departed so long ago?

Yes I have. Many of them as far back as 1750's

Gerry Regan said:

Janet, have you identified family back in Ireland -- your family departed so long ago?

I read it a long time ago when it was just out and all the rage, and gave an audio copy to my dad as well. It was hard to get through, but good: a nice parable of the boy who thankfully survived and made good in the US of A. My poor Dad’s childhood life in NY would have matched it and trumped it. Dad’s first cousin grew up in Limerick around the same time, and felt totally and personally demoralized by Angela’s Ashes. She said, “no one ever lived like that.” I remember suggesting that the story was one person’s experience, regardless of “what it looked like to you” from the outside, but she was having none of that suggestion. She felt the book was a horribly dark and damning betrayal of childhood in Ireland and it became so well known and sadly “fit a mold” of what some prejudicially perceived as “Ireland and the Irish,” if that makes any sense. I read it solely as a memoir; and always held an untouchable-alternative “family picture” of joyous freedom and laughter, a particularly beautiful and lost innocence, and much hard work through my mother’s stories of growing up in Ireland around the same timeframe (in Offaly). There was much sadness in my mom’s story. The youngest of ten, she saw numbers of her siblings die off and remembered nearly dying “of the diphtheria” and surviving after what seemed an eternity in hospital, away from the family.  Joy, humour and faith always won out and lit out any of the dark bits in my favorite Irish stories: told over a warm cup of tea and a “bicky-chaser."

I'm not much of a reader when it comes to novels (non-fiction and short stories are my game).  I did see the film, however, and enjoyed it -- quite depressing, though.

I've spoken with some of my acquaintances here in the west of Ireland who would have been contemporaries of McCourt, and they assured me that most of the depictions therein weren't far off from reality in the Ireland of that era.

Janet, sorry for the confusion. I was referring to locating relatives living in Ireland today, rather than ancestors.

Janet Bruton said:

Yes I have. Many of them as far back as 1750's

Gerry Regan said:

Janet, have you identified family back in Ireland -- your family departed so long ago?


What's a 'bicky-chaser," Kath? And when did your mom emigrate?


KATH GALLAGHER said:

I read it a long time ago when it was just out and all the rage, and gave an audio copy to my dad as well. It was hard to get through, but good: a nice parable of the boy who thankfully survived and made good in the US of A. My poor Dad’s childhood life in NY would have matched it and trumped it. Dad’s first cousin grew up in Limerick around the same time, and felt totally and personally demoralized by Angela’s Ashes. She said, “no one ever lived like that.” I remember suggesting that the story was one person’s experience, regardless of “what it looked like to you” from the outside, but she was having none of that suggestion. She felt the book was a horribly dark and damning betrayal of childhood in Ireland and it became so well known and sadly “fit a mold” of what some prejudicially perceived as “Ireland and the Irish,” if that makes any sense. I read it solely as a memoir; and always held an untouchable-alternative “family picture” of joyous freedom and laughter, a particularly beautiful and lost innocence, and much hard work through my mother’s stories of growing up in Ireland around the same timeframe (in Offaly). There was much sadness in my mom’s story. The youngest of ten, she saw numbers of her siblings die off and remembered nearly dying “of the diphtheria” and surviving after what seemed an eternity in hospital, away from the family.  Joy, humour and faith always won out and lit out any of the dark bits in my favorite Irish stories: told over a warm cup of tea and a “bicky-chaser."

Here's the IMDB entry for the film "Angela's Ashes": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0145653/?ref_=sr_1

Here's the trailer:  Watch Trailer 

Robert Carlisle, Malachy (Dad), has always turned in engaging performances when I've seen him portraying working-class men in Ireland and Britain.

Tea and a bicky (biscuit)-it’s a dry “chaser”, ha ha.

Mom was the baby of 10, and her older sister (18 years difference) returned to Ireland from MA to retrieve her in ’48.  For months she followed my aunt around calling her “mother” because they never grew up together. Her two older brothers were already here and well established. She had to have legal papers drafted by a solicitor and signed by both parties before a visa or ticket was issued or purchased to guarantee she would not be a burden; and that the family was responsible for her. Her parents were devastated when she left. She did not like it here and was going to return home, but the brother who was buying her a ticket suddenly died of a heart attack. She never saw home again until I won a UN scholarship to Ireland in ’77; and she followed me there.  Of the ten of them, two lived to adulthood home, and three settled and raised families in the US.

 

Gerry Regan said:


What's a 'bicky-chaser," Kath? And when did your mom emigrate?


KATH GALLAGHER said:

I read it a long time ago when it was just out and all the rage, and gave an audio copy to my dad as well. It was hard to get through, but good: a nice parable of the boy who thankfully survived and made good in the US of A. My poor Dad’s childhood life in NY would have matched it and trumped it. Dad’s first cousin grew up in Limerick around the same time, and felt totally and personally demoralized by Angela’s Ashes. She said, “no one ever lived like that.” I remember suggesting that the story was one person’s experience, regardless of “what it looked like to you” from the outside, but she was having none of that suggestion. She felt the book was a horribly dark and damning betrayal of childhood in Ireland and it became so well known and sadly “fit a mold” of what some prejudicially perceived as “Ireland and the Irish,” if that makes any sense. I read it solely as a memoir; and always held an untouchable-alternative “family picture” of joyous freedom and laughter, a particularly beautiful and lost innocence, and much hard work through my mother’s stories of growing up in Ireland around the same timeframe (in Offaly). There was much sadness in my mom’s story. The youngest of ten, she saw numbers of her siblings die off and remembered nearly dying “of the diphtheria” and surviving after what seemed an eternity in hospital, away from the family.  Joy, humour and faith always won out and lit out any of the dark bits in my favorite Irish stories: told over a warm cup of tea and a “bicky-chaser."

I've never read "Angela's Ashes" but my father, who knew Frank and Malachy McCourt quite well, did read it and, like many Limerick men and women, was outraged by Frank's portrayal (or perhaps "betrayal" would be more accurate) of the city and the people who inhabited it.

My father was 3 or 4 years older than Frank and Malachy but he was their Scout leader in the Boy Scouts. Dad said that not only were the boys clean, well dressed and without holes in their shoes, but that there must have been sufficient money floating around the McCourt household to buy them their Scout uniforms. If the family was really as poor as they were portrayed in the book, would they have had money to waste on luxuries such as Scout uniforms? Dad also said that the story about the McCourt home in Roden Lane being constantly flooded was nonsense, in part because that part of Limerick (and I myself know that area of Limerick near Sarsfield Barracks very well) is elevated and water, whether surface water on the streets, or from the sewers, would run away to more low-lying areas.

If McCourt had confined his stretching of the truth to Limerick's bricks and mortar and the general conditions there then my Dad would have had few complaints, because he was the first to admit that there was considerable poverty there during the 1930s, 40s and 50s, and because McCourt wouldn't have been the first author to "spoil a good story by telling the truth", but Dad could not forgive Frank for the way he used the book to besmirch and assassinate real people who my Dad also knew. By all accounts it was fortunate for McCourt that the people he attacked were long dead, or he would have faced charges of libel.

Perhaps the most telling of all comments on the accuracy of "Angela's Ashes" came from Angela herself who, shortly before her death, denounced Frank's version of events.

Thanks for that, Kieron.  Interesting how widely the recollection of people who lived in the Ireland of that era differ!  Makes for some fascinating discussion.

Kieron, didn't know about your father's relationships with the McCourts, but I can't say I'm surprised, knowing your Limerick roots. What you say is broadening my perspective of Frank McCourt's work.

Travelled all over Ireland, except for St. Kevin's area south of Dublin, Wexford, and Howth. I have not been to any of the smaller islands, either. Kissed the Blarney Stone on the first trip, and was able to go with my son and daughter to Croagh Patrick. I often run through Mayo, Donegal and Tyrone. I was able to study for several months in Donegal and Dublin.

Gerry Regan said:

Lovely expression, Maire. where have you travelled in Ireland? Ger

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