The Limerick of Angela's Ashes - Part 1

Last updated 12-OCT-2001

Start of TourFirst HomesRoden StreetFirst JobsCity CentreFarewell

Frank & Malachy, Oct '97 9.1K Frank McCourt's book Angela's Ashes is a fascinating read and drew me into the social history of the Limerick which existed just before my childhood. As our home is on the side of Limerick depicted in Frank's book I cycled and walked the roads and lanes of his memoirs and found it most interesting to talk to the people who grew up there during that time....

Here on the right we see Frank and his brother Malachy at Frank's conferring with an honorary Doctorate of Letters at the University of Limerick in October 1997. Photo courtesy of Limerick Leader Newspapers Ltd.

Frank's book is a celebration of life despite a childhood of abject poverty. Indeed my own recollections of the poverty I observed in Dublin in the fifties lend credence to the harrowing scenes described in his book. So I have put these pages together to give the reader an opportunity to experience for themselves the locale in which Frank spent most of his childhood.

It is presented in the form of a tour setting out from the Railway Station, and I will try to follow the course of Frank's memoir in this tour. I have prepared a map of Limerick which highlights many of the locations mentioned in the book. The following link opens the map in a separate window, so that you can keep it available while you browse through the text pages. The map is a GIF file of 33K in size so it may take a few seconds to load. Some browsers place the new window directly over the current one, so you may have to drag the new map-window a little to one side in order to be able to see this window. You can open the map now if you wish.

Three symbols are used on the map. Five yellow triangles show the five locations which at one time or another were the homes of the McCourt family; churches are shown as red crosses; and all other places of interest are shown as red stars.

There are six pages in the tour, and each page covers about one kilometre, that is, about 1100 yards or about fifteen minutes of easy walking; the final page has a little over twice that. Short-cuts to skip the final pages and return directly to the station are also given, as well as a further foray of about two miles out to Punch's Pub and Laman Griffin's house. Thus you can make the tour in one hour or take the whole afternoon at it, as suits your fancy.

Railway Station, 12.9K

This photograph, like many of the photographs used in this tour are reproduced by kind permission of Larry Walsh, Curator of Limerick City Museum. Larry is author, along with Jim Kemmy, of an excellent illustrated guide to old Limerick - "Limerick in old picture postcards"; ISBN 90 288 6411 3

The Railway Station is located in Parnell Street [map reference G5]. It is quite an imposing building, with the usual draughty interior designed for coal-burning steam engines of fifty years ago. As you descend the steps from the main doorway, look straight ahead, into Davis Street. Cross Parnell Street, but instead of going down Davis Street, go to the left, into a street named Boherbuoy - the Yellow Road! Shortly the Peoples' Park [4F] comes into view, at your right hand. Continue along Boherbuoy, until you pass the Kiosk - a tiny rectangular shop which seems to grow larger year after year as a fresh coat of paint is added to it. Immediately after the Kiosk is a gate into the park.

Before entering look ahead to the three storey block on the left, and note the "Yellow Road Cafe". This is the Naughton's fish and chip shop frequently mentioned in the book. And straight ahead, is Lord Edward Street, and half a mile beyond that is Rosbrien Road, where the home of Laman Griffin is. For now, let us enter ther park through the gate on the right, and see the first sight of Limerick which Frank McCourt recalls. This tall column is the Spring Rice memorial.

Spring Rice Memorial, 11.6K

The illustrations in this first section are mainly taken from the little book "Limerick Street Antiquities" published by the Limerick Civic Trust in 1986. If you can get it, this is an excellent guide to the mementos of former times which are visible throughout the streets of our city. I am indebted to the Director of the Limerick Civic Trust for permission to use these illustrations and to the students of the Limerick School of Art and Design who created them originally.

Walk across the park towards it and along your way, stop to admire the Drinking Fountain, erected in memory of Richard Russell. Go straight past the fountain, with the back of the Carnegie Free Library to your left, and exit through the arch. You are now on the street named Pery Square.

Pery Square is not a square of houses but a straight street overlooking the Peoples' Park. Now, as in Frank's time too, these fine red-brick two-storey-over-basement Georgian houses are the offices of solicitors (lawyers) and consultant doctors. The only building on the park side is the Carnegie Free Library [F4]. It is the red-brick building on your left fronting onto Pery Square, and it now houses the Civic Art Gallery.

Georgian Doorway, 17.0K

The buildings opposite the library are graceful, and merit a photograph if you have a camera with you. These are characteristic Georgian terrace homes, presenting a uniform facade, varied by the style of the fan-lights over the doorways, and the patterns of wrought-iron in the first floor balconies.

Notice the wide doors, which were designed to allow the grand ladies of the early eighteenth century to enter their homes carried in chairs, so as to avoid stepping on the street! It was from a doorway such this one, but just around the corner in Barrington Street that the young starving Frank stole the box of food - "a bottle of milk, a loaf of bread, cheese, tomatoes, and, oh, God, a jar of marmalade" when his mother was ill in Roden Street.

Pery Square, 13.2K

Stay on the park side of the street and walk to the left, towards towards the church. Take particular note of the first building on the corner, which has an attractive stonework entrance porch set at a strange angle to the house. This is now an An Oige Youth hostel, affiliated to the International Youth Hostel Federation, and is ideally located close to the railway station.

The church is St. Michael's Church of Ireland [F4]; it was here that Frank and his friend Billy Campbell watched the Protestants play croquet on the church lawn after service on Sunday mornings (Chapter 7). At the church the street turns right into Barrington Street. You are now in the heart of the district in which Frank was reared. We will return to these streets later. Meanwhile, rather than divert from the sequence of the book we will continue down Barrington Street [F3], across O'Connell Street and straight into Newenham Street, following the route of the newly arrived McCourt family. Notice on the left hand side of the street, the back door into South's pub, a favourite haunt of Dad's when he had a few bob.

Mounting Stone

At the bottom of Newenham Street turn left, and immediately on the right is Windmill Street [F2]. Pause at the intersection and take note of the Mounting Stone just as you turn the corner into Windmill Street. It is at the edge of the footpath. A mounting stone was used by horsemen who were short of stature to ease the task of mounting their horses. The sketch on the left is of the Windmill Street mounting stone. These were common around Limerick and other towns in Ireland as late as the 1950's. It is said that Limerick's revered Treaty Stone was much used as a mounting stone by the homeward bound horsemen of County Clare right up to 1865, when it was placed on its present pedestal.

We will turn down into Windmill Street as we turn the page and see where the McCourt's first made home in Limerick.

If you wish to find out more about walking tours of the Angela's Ashes area of Limerick, or of the ancient sites of Limerick city, visit the website of St Mary's Integrated Development Programme at http://ireland.iol.ie/~smidp

Le site http://www.ac-nantes.fr/peda/disc/lettres/angela/livre.htm propose une étude de Les Cendres d'Angela : elle offre une analyse des lieux et des personnages, une critique du livre ainsi qu'une présentation de l'histoire, de l'auteur et de sa carrière et de l'adaptation filmique du livre réalisée par Alan Parker.

For an excellent account of the history of many of the buildings mentioned in Angela's Ashes, take a browse through the history page of St. Joseph's Parish website at http://www.limerickdiocese.org/

There is a most interesting website devoted to the Limerick of Angela's Ashes at http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~gd9j-tro/angela2.htm This site is presented in both the Japanese and English languages; it is the work of Jun Terao.

The reader who is interested in more general information about Limerick and its surroundings is recommended to go to our home page. Another page of interest is the Limerick Page of Ed Donnelly at http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Peaks/7053/limerick.htm


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