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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Thank you, Jim. I now know how Irish I have been raised, and how much Irish culture I have passed on to my chidren, and now grandchildren. Although unaware at the time, I have since read and studied, and can decypher cultural differences. My grand-daughter loves to listen to fiddle/ violin music, and loves to listen to my stories of when I was a little girl as much as I enjoyed listening to my grandmother talk about her grandmother. We are storey-tellers who love tea, music and family.  

Of that 10% of foreign -born (Romania, Poland, Turkey, etc.) there are also a number probably not counted who have mixed heritage, such as 1/2 Arab, 1/2 Irish born parents, for example. 

With the Euro, I noticed a greater European diversity especially in Dublin, Ireland. I was a bit surprised to find a number of German-born residents in Donegal, also.

Maire, good for you.  Yes, we are indeed storytellers.  Salmen Rushie once said, "Animals leave tracks, people leave stories.

That quote was at the introduction of a novel I read last summer called Mink River by Brian Doyle. it takes place in a small town on the Oregon coast, but it also takes place in Ireland during An Gorta Mor. There are native Americans, Irish ancestors, even a talking crow. One of the best books I've read in recent years and a tribute to the art of storytelling.

"...but the silver cloak-fastener broke at the shoulder and sprang across the room. She got the cloak alright but Sweeney had bolted, ..."from the first page of "Sweeney Aastray" by Seamus Heaney. This image is engraved in my brain forever. What a beginning of a story!

Your Doyle book sounds interesting. I have been asked to write of an Gorta Mor, but hesitate because it is so serious and depressing. The truth hurts. I especially enjoy Heaney as storey-teller, aside from my own grandmother.

I know I'm very late to the party on this discussion, sorry, love an opportunity to place 2 bits on the table.  I've had the great luck to have read all of the books mentioned.  I did not enjoy Angela's Ashes, it was however a riviting read as was "Tis" by McCourt.  My Irish forebears were shopkeepers and farmers, the most recent arrivals were before the American Civil War.  My grandmother communicated by mail with cousins she never met(Urseline Nuns) until she died(1944)...

The Ireland of McCourt's youth is not mythical, it was in fact not much different than that of Americans living in the teeming tenements in our biggest cities in the same era.  It's is hard for most people today to think of 20 families living in a building with only one water tap per unit, cold.  Single bulbs hanging on a cord from the ceiling in 2 rooms.  Forget even the thought of a bathtub. Many thought of this as upscale.  This was America at the beginning of the 20th century.  How many kids do you know walking to school today with the soles of their shoes held on with rubber bands or stuffing cardboard inside to cushion their feet because of holes in the soles, the only patches to be seen today are for decoration?  It was much worse in the Ireland of that time and while it improved in the US after WW1 it actually went further downhill in much of Europe.

Enough from me, that was at least 20 bits or more.  In closing, My wife Nancy and I had the great pleasure to spend part of an evening on an Irish warship in the middle of the great East River, NYC to celebrate 4th of July, 2000.  Small ship, small # of invitees.  Frank McCourt was among the group and a more pleasant fella I have to meet.

Tom McGrath

McCourt is not popular in Limerick and indeed a lot of people here were not impressed with his misery literature. He grew up in  the forties and a lot of people in a lot of countries at the time were poor. He was poor. So what?

He made a fortune peddling misery literature. A memoir of a poor , Irish, Catholic childhood might sell well abroad, but no longer sells well in Ireland.We had enough of such literature with Peig.

It was made into a movie where it rained from start to finish- a bit of an exaggeration methinks.

In Ireland we are all too familiar with the genre that McCourt peddled and sick to death of it. He published his memoir just as we had cast off 'Peig'. Peig is a fine memoir but placed the Catholic, Gaelic speaking peasant on a pedestal and it was shoved down our throats. The ideal Irish person was to aspire to living like Peig- in poverty and misery.  Steinbeck also writes of the poverty in 1930s America but its not as miserable- maybe you had more sunshine. You still have so-called 'white trash' in America who struggle. the book was a massive success in Europe a swell and translated into several languages. I think elderly Europeans could identify with the poverty.

I read Tis but it became tiresome half way through. I flicked through 'Teacher Man' and that was enough to convince me I could do without it.

Of course in Ireland we also have  a culture of begrudgery and hate anyone who is successful.


He made Limerick look bad at a time when it was a referred to as 'stab city' so people were sensitive. If I recall he implied his mother slept with his cousin. He could have left that bit out. Another memoir which was popular in America was Alice Taylor's 'To School through the fields', a West Cork memoir.

Ireland as it was seems to sell well.My grandmother's siblings went to America in the thirties and their great grandchildren have an image of Ireland that is massively dated, which is weird for us.

Well put, Summer. I think Frank McCourt had reach a point in his life when he wanted to reflect on his early years. A lot of Irish took the book as personal criticism of Limerick and their country. It was a memoir, and in Angela's Ashes McCourt was as hard on himself as he was on anyone in the book.

Good evening Tom McGrath here........I could not agree more with Sumner and Jim Curley.  At the time "Ashes" came out there was a great groan from Limerick.  McCourt was lambasted from all quarters, Lord Mayor to the local madam.  It was his memory of a troubled life.  The writer of memoirs and biographies. auto or otherwise,  are reporters,.  We the readers are the audience, each to take away a different impression of the story as presented by the reporter.  Others who experienced the same era and place must make their own story and tell it.  In my opinion, for what it's worth, McCourt exposed his soul, to my knowlege his brothers did not deny the tale.  At the time or now.

Certainly the book was presented to an "alien" audience, American and to many others  as it was a world wide best seller, even in Ireland.  When he visited Ireland he was welcomed with great fan fare by most. even in Limerick.  Each of our own family memories are softened by time, colored and often covered by emotion, forgiveness, pride, shame, but most always by our own experiences and hopefully growth.

I would refer interested readers to another great read.  "A long Way from Penny Apples" by Bill Cullen.  2003. A Dubliner and a more modern version of Horatio Alger.  Can you imagine today in the US a family of 14 and nearly destitute, but proud and hustlers.  Need a lift, see if you can find it on Abe Books, its worth the read.




Tom, GRMA for these insights. I enjoyed Frank's book a lot and knew him a bit, enough to have his phone number 20 years ago, and have him return my call. This was pre-publication. I found Frank's book entertaining and certainly plausible, but certainly not 'gospel' on life in Limerick during The Depression. It didn't purport to be that, actually, it needs to be said. I also enjoyed the film version immensely.


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