Today’s Review Does Double Duty. During March we are featuring strong, and unconventional women. And this weekend is St. Patrick’s Day. So we have a strong Irish woman–Angela McCourt, made famous by the childhood memoir of her son, and a new book that illustrates her world.
Book: Through Irish Eyes: Visual Companion (NEW) to Angela McCourt’s Ireland, Compiled by David Pritchard, Foreword by Malachy McCourt
17 years ago, Frank McCourt (1930–2009) surprised the world with his touching, glowing, sometimes funny but also melancholy memoir of an Irish family that moved to New York City, where he was born, but returned to Limerick, where he was raised. The book became a best seller. McCourt won a Pulitzer prize for Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, and spawned a generation (or two) of people trying to repeat his success by writing their memoirs.
Now the British company Haldane Mason Ltd. has compiled a companion to that book with archival photographs and documents from the 1920s through the 1940s. (Published in the U.S. by Glitterati). In the foreword to Through Irish Eyes, Frank McCourt’s brother, Malachy McCourt (who is also a writer) says he didn’t want to look at this new book because he assumed it would be the Ireland of “Shure Begorrah Brigades” that “…pollute the papers and indeed all the media around the green ghetto days surrounding the feast of St. Patrick…” But the book surprised him, he says.
There will be some on this side of the Atlantic who will sigh and say, “Ain’t it quaint” and plan a trip to the “old sod” in search of slums ans slummery and the charming characters who can spout poetic sayings and colorful prose at the appearance of a pint. The lanes are gone, the people are not, and the inquiring visitor may be told that what is pictured and prosed in ‘through Irish Eyes never existed, that those in the life of Angela’s Ashes are imagination figments.
But they are not “imagination figments”, the family in Angela’s Ashes, and these pictures capture with a disturbing mix of beauty and despair the reality of their lives.
It is a great credit to Frank McCourt that when I looked at the pictures in Through Irish Eyes, they took me back directly to Angela’s Ashes. It all looked familiar because he had painted it so well with his words.
The “visual companion” is definitely not an “Illustrated edition” of Angela’s Ashes. Although there are a few quotations from the original book, most of the prose consists of contemporary newspapers, poems, or official notices. Rather than illustrate the story of Angela’s Ashes, Through Irish Eyes illustrates its time and place.
No, this is not the ideal of Ireland that we like to imagine. It is not the glorious past imagined when you visit the Rock of Cashel. This is a look at the other side during a time in Ireland when more people emigrated each year than stayed on the island. And besides helping you see Ireland’s past, if you really ARE Irish–instead of one of us who become Irish on St. Patrick’s Day–you may find a bit of the life of your ancestors here.
Note: The publishers provided me with a review copy of Through Irish Eyes. My opinions, however, are my own.
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