Considering that he was recounting his own lived experience as accurately as he knew how, the strength of the resentment directed at McCourt from some quarters was remarkable to behold.
In 2000 fellow Limerick man and award winning actor Richard Harris took him to task in a scathing article attacking McCourt for his perceived bitterness: “There are stories about Limerick in Angela’s Ashes that just don’t make sense. Of course I knew that the poverty was going on but I also knew many people with difficult lives who grew up on the lanes of Limerick but yet, even to this day, there isn’t one ounce of bitterness in them.”
But it’s neither fair nor accurate to call Angela’s Ashes a “bitter” book. In fact its tone is descriptive and consistently dispassionate, in a style that is often reminiscent of James Joyce.
McCourt knows that he is trafficking in holy cows but he consistently gives them their due: motherhood, Catholicism, poverty, nationalism, regional pride, all are acknowledged and addressed.
For a man of his particular background, age and era it was considered treasonous to venture an opinion at variance from long established Irish traditions: whatever else don’t knock the Church, the nation, your Mammy But he had a tale to tell – his own, in fact - and for this McCourt paid a steep price, being relentlessly and personally attacked on the airwaves and in the national press.
He stood his ground, he could do no other. It was his truth after all, eloquently expressed. That’s why his book will outlast its critics. And the truth is, it already has.