Ireland's debt to Frank McCourt
Niall Burgess pays tribute to a true Irish emigrant
I loved the show. But I really came to know Frank in a restaurant near the Wrigley Building where we met every Friday for lunch. The restaurant was decorated with murals that Frank described as being like "scenes from a demented stomach." But the food was good and the company even better and we laughed a great deal.
Frank’s brother Malachy once quipped that in times of great happiness, our sad songs help the Irish to endure. That’s another way of saying that in times of hardship, humor helps us endure. That is a key to Frank’s work.
Humor was needed in the Ireland Frank grew up in. And it was needed in the Irish communities in the US in the late 1980s. For thousands of undocumented Irish in Chicago, Frank’s humour - tempered in the hardship he had experienced - was a tonic.
Frank will be remembered for the accolades his writing received. And like many of our great writers, he will also be remembered for the controversy his writing generated.
Frank’s Ireland could sometimes be harsh. He described it as he experienced it. That took integrity. Frank was a man of tremendous integrity. That was recognized when he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Limerick in 1997.
But I will remember him also for his generosity, especially to younger writers. We cannot afford to take it for granted that Ireland will always produce great writers. Frank knew that. He was a fierce champion of younger writers, nurturing talent where he found it. That was the teacher in him.
Of course, Frank’s greatest legacy is his writing. Ireland has produced many great writers who emigrated. But Frank was an emigrant who wrote. The path he took from Ireland to the US was taken by hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women of his generation.