Tag Archives: Limerick

Was Frank McCourt the Only One?

English: Limerick, looking northeast up the Ri...

Limerick

My father is an honest man. He’s hard working, family orientated and deserving of every bit of luck he gets in life. He’s lived a hard one, being the second oldest in a family of 14, beginning work at the age of 13 to support a large family. They weren’t the poorest of the poor, because having a dad in the army meant a set sum came home each week to help them along. But he remembers the poor. They were all struggling back then, in the 1960’s. The way they saw it, nothing was given to you in life. You had to work god damn hard for it, and if you could once in a while cut a little corner to make it easier. These are the people who lived the life of Angela’s Ashes, the life of the Limerick slums depicted in the biography of Frank McCourt.

But was that a correct depiction, or was it exaggeration for want of a better story? Did Frank McCourt go to false extremes to add drama to his Pulitzer Prize winning material, or was Limerick really such a god forsaken place for the broken-backed families living under Irish poverty?

There were millions of families just like Frank McCourt’s struggling in Limerick, my fathers’ one of them. But Mister McCourt spoke of beggars at the church doors, starving children, a stinking rat-infested city. My father doesn’t remember such a city. “Sure, you had the odd hole in your sock, you carried a paper Tesco bag in your hand instead of a school bag on your back and you ate boiled potatoes every day till it came out your ears. But we weren’t poverty stricken. The worst I ever saw was borrowing money off the loan sharks.”

One of the biggest presences amongst struggling families in the old walls of Limerick was the church. They went to mass and paid their dues in the hope it would pay off. They went to school and learned from them, and were scolded by them. One thing Frank McCourt didn’t fail to mention was the absolute power of the church – the fear and respect they incited in the children and the poor alike. Visiting the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick an exact replica of a classroom is on display, teachers cane included. The museum itself was once Frank McCourt’s former school, Leamy House. Tour guide Dorothy Cantrell explains that Mr McCourt attended such an establishment, and he writes of corporal punishment in his book.

 

Mostly nuns taught in primary schools and after that the secondary education available to young boys in Limerick was the Christian brothers. My father’s memories of punishment are very similar to that in Angela’s Ashes. He remembers the nuns wouldn’t put force into the stick but the “brothers”, as he calls them, would. “We feared them because if you got something wrong, they’d ring you up in front of the class and slap you across the hand with a stick, or worse a leather strap. They could whack you four or five times over and there was certain bitterness about the way they hit you. It was both a punishment and warning to the class.” Even outside the classroom they held a high status in Irish society. “We were brought up to respect them, to bow your head if you saw them in the street passing,” remembers my father.

But what he doesn’t remember are beggars at the church door, which was a big presence in Mr McCourt’s memoirs. There were individual members of the clergy that were generous and would help people out of their own will. But collectively the church did nothing for the poor aside from the odd collection, according to my father’s memories. “Some would steal from the candle boxes and collection boxes for the poor. The priests claimed the money was for the poor but personally I never believed it. Which is why some boys I knew would steal from them, it was supposed to be going to them anyway right?”

In his memoirs, Mr McCourt writes about stealing the odd loaf of bread or carton of milk to help his family along. This depiction of a family trying to make ends meet does not seem to be an exaggeration. Petty crime was big back then, more so out of survival than anything else. It was an innocent crime of hungry children. “We were as naive that when you broke into a bakery, you’d rob a few buns but not even think to look at the till for the hunger in your stomach commanded you,” recalls my father, speaking from experience.

My father recollects a lot about the way of life of a struggling Limerick family. In order to make ends meet, they had to try things differently. Their mentality was the way of the underdog; nothing was fairly given to them, so why should they play by the rules. He remembers most of the fathers of the families he lived near went down to the Dock Road of a Saturday morning. “They’d follow behind the horse and cart that carried the coal, and the coal that fell off they’d bag it and keep. Some would go home and use it, others would sell it, and I remember a lot of men coming into the pub to swap it for a few pints. We all had our own recycling systems going,” he laughs.

But there has been some outrage amongst members of the community in how Mr McCourt depicted the city. There have been public accusations of lying against him when he appeared on TV shows. The museums guide, Mrs Cantrell, commented that it was always a case of for and against when it came to Angela’s Ashes. “I can only say that here in the museum we have a comment book, our visitors like to write in it after they’ve seen the museum. Every single one of those comments is positive.” Their museum has encouraged a foreign interest in both the story and the city of Limerick, with visitors ranging from Japan to Texas.

So was Angela’s Ashes accurate, did it debase an entire city or did it bring it fame? It has upset Limerick residences and its author has been accused of lying. Then again it has brought a huge foreign interest to Limerick. His story has certainly left its legacy on his city. Mrs Cantrell says that both Mr McCourt’s story and the museum, in his honour, stand as a reminder. “To remind us what it was like for the majority of families in Limerick, it holds on to the story and offers hope. Hope for those less fortunate, that you can still aim high and that you can reach to the level of a Pulitzer prize, just like Frank did.”

The book strayed from a kinder view of Limerick to that of a harsh one. Life in the slums, although it was poor and sometimes cold, was not a constant stream of misery. One of the things my father looks back on fondly is the city’s sense of community. Community being another aspect which Mr McCourt failed to write about. It was a tale of sorrow, but a tale from only one man among thousands. It may have been the life of Frank McCourt, but it wasn’t the life of every Limerick resident. There are many more people left to tell their versions, people just like my father. So no, Frank McCourt wasn’t and will not be the only one to share his memories. Limerick city remains full of untold stories.

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It’s Only Ok if We Say it

Comedy

 

Throughout the world we Irish have been revered for our poetry, our ballads, our nostalgia and most importantly of all, our love of laughter. To the untrained eye an Irish sense of humour can be a great thing. We can take a good ribbing and dish it back out tenfold, smile and laugh and tip our hats to a good joke. In a survey done by Empathy Marketing in the year 2009, it was discovered that a sense of humour was considered the number one Irish characteristic. But dig a little deeper and you can find an undertone of sensitivity and pride lurking in our laughter.

Our comedians are bestowed with the highest honour of respect a society can give, right up there with our singers and artists. We hold on to them and cherish them like they were our own, and given that everyone is related in this tiny country, they probably are. And their best comedic material? Why us of course.

We notoriously love to laugh at ourselves. Be it out of sorrow, irony or familiarity, the Irish laugh about the Irish. Haven’t you seen the shows like Mrs Browns Boys, Killinaskully, Father Ted or even the mocking Limerick duo the Rubberbandits? Or the stand-up shows like Dara O’Briain and Tommy Tiernan and the success that comes with them? When were taken the piss out of, we find it hilarious. It’s something very innate, the recognition of whatever humorous condition we have and the nonstop stream of insulting jokes about it thereafter. We just love it.

But here is where the sensitivity comes in to play. It’s only ok if we are the ones that are making the jokes – no one else. It’s an indignant and sensitive condition of the Irish. We’re allowed rip into each other because in some shape or form we’ve suffered in the same way. Be it your dog tore your washing off the line or you both lost your jobs, we find unity in humour. When our problems are made light of and we get to laugh along with millions of other people. But when another nation comes along to do the same thing, it’s out of order. It means they’re reinforcing stereotypes, we find it condescending and insulting to be labelled by traits that they know nothing about.

We’re a pretty easy going country to say the least. But we don’t like being pigeonholed by our shortcomings. We’ve had our times of darkness, our losses, our strife’s and our hardships. Our sense of humour has stemmed from that, made us a stronger and a more appreciative nation. We’ve paid our dues and now it’s time to laugh about it – but only amongst ourselves. No other state could begin to appreciate our jokes. And we won’t apologise for laughing. For if you don’t laugh then you’re going to cry, and the last thing we want is a stream of tears approaching the dole office that’ll get the stuffing kicked out of you. And its only ok if I say that, what with being Irish and familiar with the dole office. Get it now?

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Saturday night’s alright for fighting…..well not anymore lads

English: a typical scene of Street Fight

Image via Wikipedia

It’s a shame how we idolise and fawn over the wrong people in our society – the actors, the models, the singers and the politicians (well they do contribute a little I suppose). We glorify these people all because they can act or sing, and as ignorant consumers we ignore those who do real work for our sake alone. The people who are the corner-stone of civilisation and we couldn’t even begin to understand how vital their role is – people such as bouncers. This one is for them: the underappreciated, unnoticed and often ignored guardians of nightlife. We have a love-hate relationship with them, we have our connections amongst them and we might even flirt with them if our chances of entry are looking bad – but we never considered how unsafe we would be without them.

Let me paint you a picture of Saturday night in Limerick city, when the pubs close their doors and the nightclubs spew out bare footed, drunken messes. A night when the brave boldly go down Cruises Street for fast food and the meek flee into the first taxi that pulls up. The city’s bouncers, our protectors of sort, can always be seen on the outskirts guiding the drunk, blocking the abusive and chatting up the slutty. They’re our shinning knights in padded black coats. Without these intimidating burly men standing guard every night, half of Limerick would be a bloodied mess on their way home.

If your one of the meeker ones, then I’m sure in your past night outs the bouncers have been your best friends. These men are the ones that stand in the cold all night ready to confront any trouble that comes their way. They’re the ones that stop that girl from throwing a kebab in your face because you looked at her sideways. They’re the ones that insert that glorious protective barrier of a hand in between you and the skinhead that’s about to kill you. They’re the ones that tell the tangoed, scantily clad girls to lean off the counter to save us all a nasty sight. And most importantly, they’re the ones that give you a light for your cigarette to calm you down, before you kick the head off your boyfriend.

Bouncers aren’t exclusive to just nightclubs anymore. They’re stationed everywhere and it’s no longer just the entry of our beloved Trinity Rooms (RIP). They’re at the front doors of fast food chains, ready to drag the penniless out by their ankles (which I’ve actually seen happen) and slap them away when they lick the window (I couldn’t make sense of it either). The assurance of protection that comes with a bouncer’s proximity is now extended from the nightclub to the take out and in between. A fact I relish when trying to scoot past the street brawls outside HMV. They don’t only add a sense of protection when you now leave the club and go for something to eat; they also add a higher standard. You are required to have shoes on when entering such high calibre places like McDonald’s and Burger King. Which means the days of looking at cut, bare feet when you’re trying to order food are gone – thank you bouncers.

They’re there to help us when we need them, and there to stop us when we don’t. We’ve all been on the receiving end of the bouncers’ authority. The “not tonight”, the “you’re too drunk” and the “well I just saw you trying to seek in so now you’ve no chance of getting in”. We’ve all tried the pleading and begging routine of “it’s my birthday,” “sure I’ve only had one” and the “I’m from America here on holiday” line. If you’ve never been refused by a bouncer, you don’t get out enough. I’m sure you’ve abused them to no end when you couldn’t get your way. Thinking about it now, don’t you feel guilty for shouting insults at this hard earning family man just trying to do his job and get home to a warm bed? I was.

Give the bouncers of our city a break next time you think of throwing out an insult. Sure, some may seem too keen on the girls that pass, but they’re only men. And some may seem stern, but you know in your deepest of hearts that the third shoulder of whiskey really was too much and you should go home. Listen to them, give them a break and don’t take them for granted. It would be an entirely different city at night without them – for danger is just a kebabs throw away.

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Something Smells a Bit Fishy

unedited My new pedicure free for use My photo...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sure by now most of you have heard of the fish spa. If you have, or if you’re reading about it here intrigued and want to partake, then let me warn you.  You could easily be contracting a disease the minute you put your feet into the tank.

This craze has swept from across the world – it came from Turkey, stopped briefly on an episode of Ugly Betty and hit the high street (including our own Limerick City) with a plunge.  These little fish, called Gurra Rufa, eat the dead or infected skin of a person’s foot.  It is sometimes popular among people who have eczema or psoriasis – not that it’s a recommended medical treatment.

It seemed amazing that putting your feet into a tank of water filled with tiny, little, flesh-eating fish left your feet supple. And personally, I cheered for joy when I saw such a salon come to Limerick. But then I asked myself, and now I am asking you, would you use a treatment that has been banned in 14 states in the U.S?

Standard regulation in all salons is that they must sanitise or throw out tools after being used on a patient. But in this case you can’t exactly sanitise the fish, and their too expensive to throw away. For all you know, you could be letting fish chomp away at your skin when they’ve just been chomping on an infected foot. Most fish spa’s will check and inspect the feet of patients, but who’s to say they’re 100% legit? What disease one man had on his foot you could be getting on yours.

Currently the Health Protection Agency is investigating the treatment and sanity risks. But until the filed report is released, I’m not risking my own feet to find out.

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