Category: Archive

Dublin Report In Limerick, film on McCourt book rekindles debate

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

The only man who ever managed to make much sense out of the city of Limerick to me was the late Seamus O’Cinneide, an eccentric but brilliant columnist in Irish, his first language, and in English. I would have loved to have known his opinion of "Angela’s Ashes," both as a book and now as a film.

An almost reluctant Limerickman who preferred to spend more of his time in the wild open fields of West Clare, O’Cinneide was not one who would try to put a shine on the city. But he loved it, all the same. He loved it because he knew it so well. He accepted it for what it was a city that encapsulated an airport at the hub of the world and yet one that also seemed to resist any cosmopolitan attitudes.

While a nearby international airport like Shannon would have drawn any other city out further into the wide world, Limerick instead, seemed to shrink within itself, especially in the intellectual sense, even as the airport extended.

Clearly, in the wake of the continuing controversies that have erupted at frequent intervals, it is still not quite comfortable with itself, or rather with the image it perceive others have of it.

O’Cinneide’s wild blue eyes would have blazed with delight. He liked nothing better than Limerick when it was at odds with itself. He considered it to be intellectually stimulating. And he was never so hopeless about his city as to consider it to be anything but stimulating.

Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo

Subscribe to one of our great value packages.

"It just doesn’t want to grow up too much," he would grunt, attempting to explain why such an international venue was so stubbornly parochial. "It’s a Peter Pan of a place. Everybody in their place, and everybody knowing their place. A Limerick prophet has no chance at all. Anybody who wants to really succeed at anything different just has to leave."

Of course, that could just as well be true of Ireland as a whole, I often suggested. And yes, while he would agree to some extent, he would also insist that Limerick, for a variety of reasons, social, economic and even religious, discouraged variety and individual enterprise even more stubbornly.

He would certainly not deny the horror of the poverty depicted in "Angela’s Ashes." He would also understand the perverse pride of many who continue to wish to deny it today.

Why go back to "Angela’s Ashes," and Frank McCourt?

Surely, you might suspect that controversy is dead and gone, buried in the embers of the last century?

Ah, now, hold on a minute. This is Ireland, remember.

The book launched a million rows, several more books from the productive McCourt clan, and a rebuttal from an infuriated Limerick personality. He came to the decision that if a guy couldn’t become famous by writing "Angela’s etc.," he might become just as notorious by manning the city walls against it, so to speak.

Now that the film has been launched in Ireland, the argument has begun again.

McCourt must be laughing all the way to the bank — again.

Isn’t life great for some?


You may wonder why I have such an interest in Limerick. It so happens that I have associations with the city on both sides of my family. An uncle of mine from Roscommon who played rugby for Garryowen married a young nurse from there.

Many years previously, my grand-uncle Andrew Forristal, originally from Glenmore, on the border of Kilkenny and Wexford, was closely involved in the 1913 lockout. He was a bacon curer in Denny’s.

These were some of the thoughts bothering me as I writhed in bed, still suffering from the most godawful flu when Pat Kenny of RTE came in to introduce the "Gabby Cabby," as they call him, from the Big Apple.

He has got to be one of the best original exports, gift-wrapped, from New York City. And a lot of good things came from New York, including Frank McCourt, come to think of it.

Every time I hear Peter Franklin (I understand that is his name), I am immediately transported back to the music of the unmistakable, absolutely unpretentious, straight between the eyes "Noo Yoik!"

His accent and his delivery are as authentic as a Bronx cheer. And that has hardly changed at all since the days of Babe Ruth.

A few seconds of one of his riveting dispatches on the Big Apple is nearly as refreshing for a former New York resident like me as a stroll through Central Park.

His Bronx leaves the brogue in the shade.

He was particularly good on the subject of Hillary Clinton and her much-publicized appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman." Hillary wowed them, as the "Gabby Cabby" put it. She even managed to look sexy. Is that really so surprising? But best of all, she made them laugh.

Until now, it seems that Hizzoner, Rudy Giuliani, seemed to have it all sewn up. Now, although the election is months away, he must suddenly realize that he has a real fight on his hands.

It doesn’t surprise me, not even from this distance. I have always had a great regard for Hillary Clinton. Not alone is she bright and fiercely independent, she has also displayed tremendous grace under extreme pressure, the very essence of courage.

New Yorkers, I reckon, are in for one hell of an interesting campaign. I envy them it and I hope to hear more of the "Gabby Cabby" on that particular subject.

It seems, like it or not, that I will also hear much more about "Angela’s Ashes." Some arguments are destined to last forever in Ireland. Come to think of it, perhaps all arguments here are in that particular framework.

Even so, Limerick or no Limerick, rain or no rain, I suppose that it’s great to be alive, however slightly, in these early days of the second century.


Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese