Frank McCourt – to Limerick and Back

We all go through down spells in life. Problems at work, with school, with our spouse or children. Times when we feel as though the world is conspiring against us; questioning ourselves on how we will go on. But if you have ever had the great pleasure of reading Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize winning memoir “Angel’s Ashes,” you quickly begin to realize that what we consider to be problems in our day to day lives are not so bad.

“Angel’s Ashes”, McCourt’s 1996 masterpiece, details his childhood and adolescent years in Brooklyn, New York and Limerick, Ireland. The book chronicles a myriad of issues, including McCourt’s struggles with extreme poverty, his father’s bouts with alcoholism, and his mother’s attempts to keep their family alive, both literally and figuratively.

Francis “Frank” McCourt was born during the early stages of the Great Depression in Brooklyn, New York on August 19, 1930. Frank was the eldest of the McCourt’s 7 children, born to young Irish immigrants.

The first years of young Frank’s life were filled with unimaginable misery. For years, a combination of the Depression and his father’s alcoholism pushed the family into severe financial woes and hardships. The death of his younger sister Margaret, just weeks after her birth, was enough for the family to give up their shot at the American Dream and return back to Ireland.

Once back in Ireland, life only seemed to get worse. Within a year of his family’s arrival, his twin younger brothers Oliver and Eugene both passed away from illnesses as well. His father only managed to find work sparingly; and when he did find work, he seemed to drink most of his earnings away. The family struggled mightily to just get by in life. Scrapping enough money together to buy only the bare necessities was a daily challenge. Finally at age 11, Frank’s father left the family to find work in England, where he eventually abandoned them forever.

McCourt does an amazing job at describing his family’s struggles in Limerick through the eyes of a young boy while maintaining a certain dignity that lifts a person’s soul. My favorite line in the book exemplifies this point;

“… have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace“.

Though Frank eventually managed to move back to the US and turn his life around in more ways than one; it was his years in Ireland that forever touched the hearts of readers everywhere.

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