Through Irish Eyes: A Visual Companion to Angela McCourt's Ireland

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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.

Through Irish Eyes is a hardback book of fascinating photographs of Limerick in the 1 930s and 1 940s. Excerpts from Angela's Ashes as well as passages from Y eats, Morton and Thackeray and contemporary newspaper articles - even excerpts from the St Vincent de Paul Social Workers' handbook - help to ex plain what life was like in the Limerick that the McCourts left behind when they emigrated to America. There is also a glimpse at what New York was like when they arrived there.

Immediately upon opening the book, I was struck by Malachy McCourt’s (brother to Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt) Irish wit and frankness that came across clearly in his foreword. His words reminded me so much of my beloved grandmother, and her sense of humor that I admit, I didn’t always understand. When describing 'Mr. Kane of Dispensary fame,' a man known for his cruelty but given a media spin job to make the most savvy consultant proud, Mr. McCourt notes rather dryly, "Thanks be to Jesus [my grandmother's favorite phrase!] he didn't feel any deeper or he'd have us all shot to put us out of our misery."

Through Irish Eyes provides a visual addition to those that have read Angela’s Ashes (again, a book that is in my library, gifted to me by my husband one Christmas). Frank McCourt’s brother Malachy reluctantly provided the foreward. His reluctance, he writes, stems from his assumption it would be a book of happy and leaping milk maids running through the fields of conditions in the neighbourhoods, the streets, the workplaces, the schools and hospitals of Limerick, Ireland. It also depicts the mass emigration to America that so defines the Irish.

"Angela’s Ashes" is one of the greatest memoirs of our age, as author Frank McCourt recounts a childhood of poverty and pain in Limerick, Ireland, during the 1930s and 40s. Since its release in 1996, readers have longed to know this world better, and it is with the publication of "Through Irish Eyes: A Visual Companion to Angela McCourt’s Ireland," that they can see firsthand just how the other half lived.

It seems appropriate to feature this lovely coffee table-style book on St Patrick's Day. Admittedly , it's not my usual fare, but when I was offered this for review it ticked several boxes: (1 ) it was Irish; (2) it was a companion to Angela's Ashes, a memoir I remember fondly ; and (3) it featured lots of old-fashioned black-and-white photographs, which appealed to the amateur photographer in me. I certainly wasn't disappointed when it arrived — all the way from New York — and I've been enjoying perusing it over the past few days.