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, this bittersweet book has struck a chord with people worldwide, through an extraordinary telling that allowed readers to create their own visual representation of the places and events as described by the author in his monumental book.
With the publication of Through Irish Eyes: A Visual Companion to Angela McCourt’s Ireland (Glitterati Incorporated), readers can now see firsthand just how the other half lived. Through a beautifully curated collection of archival photographs and documents presented alongside detailed captions and literary quotes, Through Irish Eyes shows us a world that few who did not live it have ever known.
Here we see the beautiful and rugged landscape of the countryside juxtaposed with the darkness of urban poverty in the city’s underside. We are shown a way of life that no longer exists, but is forever captured in these unsentimental images of the Irish way, its people and their struggles, and their small and hard-wrought joys. Compelling images are coupled here with firsthand accounts of daily life in Limerick and the gorgeous words of writers including Years, Morton, and Thackeray.
Through Irish Eyes is a stunning visual record that will stir the emotions while enlightening the intellect. In the faces of the children playing in the street, the women laboring at factory work, and the men searching desperately for employment, here are the lineaments of humanity—as so beautifully and emotionally first introduced to scores of readers in the writing of Angela’s Ashes.
Malachy McCourt, the author of more than ten books including the acclaimed memoir A Monk Swimming and a brother of Frank McCourt, provides a singular yet characteristically McCourt foreword to the book, confirming that the pictures here show life as it really was for millions of Irish people in the twentieth century. Though born in Brooklyn in 1931, from the age of three years he was raised in Limerick, thus brings his personal experiences and observations to bear on the book.
McCourt begins, “I didn’t want to write a foreword to this or any other picture prose book about the Ireland of my youth. Why? Because before I saw what it was going to be about, I assumed it was doing to be another tooral ooral addie depiction of happy milkmaids and leaping farm laborers doing the chaste Walls of Ennis, as choreographed by Holy Mother Church and Daddy DeValera, supervised by His Reverence the parish priest.
“It would, I thought, show an Ireland that exists only in the minds of the Shure Begorrah Brigades that pollute the papers and indeed all the media around the green ghetto days surrounding the feast of St. Patrick—the intruder who did more to ruin than any Brit. But that was before I saw and read Through Irish Eyes.
“To my surprised delight, the book is honest and it is deserving of wide circulation among all of us who suffered poverty, cruelty, and deprivation—be it under the Turks in Armenia, the knout of the Cossacks in Tsarist Russia, or the famines of India and Ireland under the benevolent British Raj rule.
“Oh yes, I was surprised too at the welter of savage emotion that surged through my mind, and especially at the description of Mr. Kane of Dispensary fame who handed out the miserable pittance to my mother and other destitute women. It was often we children stood in the shelter of her coat while he counted out the thirteen shillings and six pence. But before handing the coins of the realm, he would bellow vile insults, accusations of dishonesty for receiving money under false pretenses. Yet here that vicious bully is described by some Limerick scribe as a man of kindness, compassion who abhorred poor people because he felt so deeply about their misfortunate lot in life. Thanks be to Jesus he didn’t feel any deeper or he’d have us all shot to put us out of our misery.
“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 and 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, and that those in the life of Angela’s Ashes are imagination figments.
“Herein captured for all time in pictures are the women, the men, the children, not of the lowest order, but of no order, for they came unbidden. The children smile (it’s a camera for God’s sake) and the enslaved women at the sewing machines in the clothing factory sweat shop try to look suitably grateful and respectful (Jesus, Bridgid, you never know who might look at a picture and spot sullen rebellion. Then where would you be, out on your arse for there’s plenty more wanting your job).
“So I raged and wept and cursed at the savages, domestic and foreign, who visited such cruelty on a graceful, generous people, but then allowed the peace and serenity to fill my soul again because I am with hope and faith that those bestial days are done. That this wonderful work Through Irish Eyes will always be the classic and classical reminder that the poor are always with us somewhere, and it’s been a long wait for the meek to inherit the earth. Look at this book carefully and keep it close, lest we and our children and their children forget.”
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Photographs from Through Irish Eyes: A Visual Companion to Angela McCourt's Ireland
Curated by Miss Rosen