Monday, March 11, 2013

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Luck of the Irish? (Irish Week)

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and I cannot wait to eat corned beef and cabbage as we do every year. I’ll raise my glass and throw in an Irish toast. “Thirst is a shameless disease so here's to a shameful cure.” I’ll turn on some U2 along with some Irish Pub tunes and think of how I’d love to visit Ireland one day.  And with St. Patrick’s Day in mind, I thought we’d look at three books set in Ireland this week. 

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a memoir about a poor boy growing up in Limerick, Ireland during the 1930s and 40s. His father is a drunk who spends his money on alcohol instead of providing for his family.  Frank’s mother, Angela, makes due as best as she can.  Together they deal with starvation, unimaginable living conditions, and the tragic loss of three of Frank’s siblings. At one point they live in an apartment where eleven families use the restroom that’s located next to the building. And I complained that I had to share the bathroom with my parents and two sisters growing up!  They celebrate one Christmas dinner with a pig’s head that Angela was able to obtain with grocery dockets. The children are often cold and sent out to collect left over coal in the streets. On one occasion they rip walls apart in desperation to burn for heat.

Sounds a bit overwhelming? Amazingly, Frank is not singing the blues. He tells his story with wry humor. Frank’s composition on “Our Lord” in the fifth grade provides a pretty good glimpse into how he feels about his life.  He begins by saying that Jesus wouldn’t have liked the damp weather in Limerick. He then goes on to explain that whenever Jesus got hungry he could always have his fill of figs and oranges or get dinner from Mary Magdalene and her sister, Martha. And, “If He wanted a pint He could wave His hand over a big glass and there was a pint.” Frank ends by stating that “It’s a good thing Jesus decided to be born Jewish in that warm place because if he was born in Limerick he’d catch the consumption and be dead in a month and there wouldn’t be any Catholic Church and there wouldn’t be any Communion or Confirmation and we wouldn’t have to learn the catechism and write compositions about Him. The End.”
            (Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (New York: Scribner, 1996), 206.)

Most of our book club members read Angela's Ashes before we formed our group, and it got a thumbs-up from all those who read it. 

“You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”
(Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (New York: Scribner, 1996), 208.)

Below are some Irish terms you may find useful for the books this week:

bird - girl generally, or girlfriend 
chips – French fries
crisps – chips
feck – acceptable, alternate term of the “f” word, similar to “frick”
garda – police
guard – police officer
jakes – outhouse, toilet or bedpan
omadhaun- fool, idiot, simpleton
pet – term of endearment, equivalent to darling or baby
pram – baby carriage
tinker -  gypsy/travelling person

For an extensive Irish vocabulary list, visit

What’s a good book you’ve read that is set in Ireland? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

Happy Reading,

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

No comments:

Post a Comment