Weekly Comment:
Remembering Alphie McCourt
(1940 – 2016)

Alphie McCourt. Photo: University of Limerick / Twitter
Alphie McCourt. Photo: University of Limerick / Twitter

By Olivia O'Mahony, Editorial Assistant
July 8, 2016

Irish American writer and memoirist Alphonsus “Alphie” McCourt died suddenly of natural causes at his New York home July 2. McCourt, 75, was the younger brother of Frank McCourt, who authored the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes. Frank died in 2009. Michael McCourt, a renowned San Francisco bartender, died in 2015.

Following in the footsteps of his brothers Frank and Malachy, Alphie published his own memoir, A Long Stone’s Throw, in 2008. When asked by the Limerick Leader why he’d felt the need to write his own perspective of the McCourt family history, he said “I felt I should tell my part of it because my experience was very different from my brothers. Somebody asked me that before and I said ‘So I would not be a footnote in the history of my own family!’” McCourt’s writings have also appeared in the Washington Post and The Villager. His most recent collection of short stories and verses, The Soulswimmer, was published in 2014.

In an interview with Mary Pat Kelly for Irish America on the occasion of his first book reading at BookExpo America in Los Angeles, he described the emotion of getting to tell his side of the story and being overwhelmed at the location for his premiere reading and signing. “When I walked in this morning I was overwhelmed. I heard the siren call of books from every corner, and I didn’t know which one to answer. There’s an openness at the BookExpo, a kind of non-restrictive environment that lets you go wherever you like. No stops, no prohibitions. Maybe because it’s in L.A. Would it be the same in New York? Here everyone seems welcome and the variety is enormous,” he said. “The book begins in New York with some of my adventures and then I go back to Limerick to my growing up. And while my book has the same basic background as Frank’s and Malachy’s, my story is different because my brothers and I have lived in different places and I’ve had a variety of work experiences. So it’s the same, but different.”

The youngest of seven children, McCourt was born in Co. Limerick in 1940. He attended a Christian Brothers school and was a Munster rugby player and member of the Limerick Debating Society. He began a law degree at University College Dublin, but dropped out to work in the restaurant and bar trade. In an interview with the Limerick Leader he confessed that he’d always felt “a little bit removed” from Limerick life; this prompted him to leave for New York in 1959. He spent time in Montreal and California before settling in New York once more, this time with his wife, Lyn, and daughter, Alison, who survive him, in addition to his brother Malachy. Though he lived in New York for most of his adult life, the city of his birth was never far from his heart. He was on hand in 2012 to oversee the opening of the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick. He was “one of nature’s gentlemen,” Una Heaton, the curator of the museum, told the Irish Times. “He was kind, warm and always softly spoken and had very deep feelings. He was very quirky; he had a great turn of phrase and a real dry wit.” ♦

ED: Despite the family’s loss, the inaugural University of Limerick Frank McCourt Summer School in Creative Writing was held this past weekend at Glucksman Ireland House at New York University. The Summer School was led by the renowned novelist and Frank McCourt Chair of Creative Writing at UL Professor Joseph O’Connor and featured the talents of other UL faculty including Donal Ryan, Giles Foden, Mary O’Malley, Sarah Moore-Fitzgerald and Eoin Devereux. In addition to creative writing workshops and lectures, the Summer School also hosted a literary brunch and other social activities and a performance by Martin Hayes of The Gloaming. The summer school was launched on Thursday, July 7th at the Irish Consulate in New York (photos below).

Speaking in advance of the summer school, Joseph O’Connor said the goal was to merge two of Frank McCourt’s greatest loves, writing and teaching: “2016 sees the twentieth anniversary of publication of Frank McCourt’s masterpiece Angela’s Ashes, a book that became a success all over the world, shedding light on the unique relationship that exists between Ireland and the United States, specifically between Limerick and New York. Frank’s tale of two cities was translated into dozens of languages, stirring recognitions for millions of readers. We at UL’s new Creative Writing Programme wished to honour him and his achievement, in this special year.”

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