Searching for Angela’s Ashes

The River Shannon, County Limerick
The River Shannon, County Limerick

Author Frank McCourt’s childhood memoir, Angela’s Ashes, didn’t portray Limerick city in the greatest of lights. But fans of the book will find there’s a far warmer welcome waiting for them when they visit

When Frank McCourt wrote Angela’s Ashes, his memoir of growing up in Limerick city during the 1930s and 1940s, he can’t have imagined what he was starting.

Not only did his account of brutal poverty start a genre in the book publishing world for what became known as "misery-lit", but it divided readers between those who loved the book and those who felt that he had unforgivably maligned the city and its people.

Frank McCourt was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1930 in the midst of The Great Depression. He moved with his family to Limerick, Ireland ,where his mother was from, as an infant.

Whatever else it did, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Angela's Ashes" certainly put Limerick city on the map.

A city transformed

Fortunately for fans of the book and film, there is still plenty to see, although mercifully the slums are long gone. 

From school to museum

The Frank McCourt Museum was officially opened by Malachy McCourt in July 2011 at Leamy House, Hartstonge Street, Limerick. This Tudor style building was formerly known as the Leamy School, the former school of Frank and his brother Malachy. The museum showcases the 1930s classroom of Leamy School and contains a collection of memorabilia, including items such as school books of the period and old photos, all donated by former pupils of the school.

A tour to remember

Most of the city is proud of its illustrious son. You can take an official Angela’s Ashes Walk, which starts at the tourist office and winds through the streets to places featured in the book; Windmill Street, Barrack Hill, site of the former Roden Lane, South’s Pub, Leamys School, the churches mentioned in the book and many other locations.

And it seems to be very popular with visitors. “First class. He knew his stuff,” said a visitor from Britain about the guide. “A delightful experience,” reports another from New York.

There are plenty of other things to enjoy in McCourt’s city, too. The world-famous Hunt Museum in the splendid setting of the Custom House is a must. And the city itself has been brilliantly remodeled.     

Limerick is the City of Culture 2014 and there is a strong programme for the literary festival and events that are happening throughout the year. 

Wonder what Frank McCourt would think of his childhood home now?