ANGELA’S ASHES is one of the most haunting, sombre and beautiful pieces of Irish writing ever produced.
Frank McCourt’s re-telling of his poverty-stricken youth, constantly marred by death, alcoholism and hunger has produced sequels, spin-offs, a feature film and a musical, and remains one of Ireland’s most popular piece of literature despite its grim details.
Here are 7 things you may not know about Angela’s Ashes and its author.
When I was a child I didn’t know much about Angela’s Ashes except that it was set in my hometown of Limerick, and that the story was not suitable for children my age. The name didn’t give much away—my young mind pictured a woman carrying around a pot of ashes with her at all times.
In a way that really is what happened—the Ashes refers both to the cigarettes that Frank’s mother smoked one after the other, and the ‘ashes’ of her life: struggling to raise her remaining children with no income and an absent husband, in houses which leaked or flooded while still grieving the loss of three babies.
When the book was first brought out, some people in Limerick were very unhappy with how their beloved city was portrayed, and the fact that McCourt had ‘named and shamed’ people, affecting their lives and that of their families. Paddy Malone, a schoolmate of McCourt’s who appears on the original cover in a class photograph, allegedly ripped up the book in front of the author. Some have accused him of exaggerating the family’s poverty and the ‘misery’ of Limerick city.
McCourt’s own mother, Angela herself, is said to have stood up during a show where her sons were telling stories of the past and called the stories out as lies, saying “It didn’t happen that way!”
On a much more positive note, a spin-off of Angela’s Ashes was released in November 2018 and is a heartwarming true story of a happy family at Christmas time. ‘Angela’s Christmas’ is an animated short film which again revolves around Frnak’s mother, but this time when she was a little girl in Limerick in the 1910’s, before any of the tragedy of her adulthood befell her.
‘Angela’s Christmas’ is available to watch on Netflix, and though it might be a Christmas movie it’s a guaranteed uplifting watch all year round. The city of Limerick is shown in a much more positive light than McCourt’s childhood memoir.
The Filming Locations
While much of the film was indeed set in Limerick, locals will proudly tell you that the city had undergone such a transformation in the sixty years between McCourt’s childhood and the film being shot, that the film crew had to go to the nearby city of Cork to get shots of the ‘slums’.
The Redemptorist Church, which is appears many times in the book, would not allow filming to take place within their walls, as they too were unhappy with the depiction of the church in McCourt’s memoir. So the crew had to pack up and film the church scenes in Inchicore, Dublin.
Angela’s Ashes: The Musical debuted in Limerick’s Lime Tree Theatre in July 2017 and was subsequently shown in Dublin and Belfast.
It’s hard to imagine how such a grim storyline could successfully be transferred to song and dance, but critics have given the show raving reviews—and now the musical is set to come to London.
The Frank McCourt Museum
While some in Limerick were offended at the depiction of their city in the Pulitzer Prize winning book, many more found it to be an important historical artefact.
McCourt is still celebrated in his hometown, and Limerick is home to the Frank McCourt museum, which includes artwork and murals as well as memorabilia like McCourt’s old schoolbooks, which were donated by former pupils of the school.
In a fitting end to the acclaimed author, after his death in 2009, his wife and three brothers returned to Limerick in order to unveil a bust of McCourt in the city outside the Frank McCourt museum.
While the family were there, they also scattered some of his ashes from Carrigogunnell Castle which overlooks the River Shannon, so that a part of him would always remain in the city he once called home.