Frank McCourt was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 19, 1930, to Irish immigrant parents. His father, Malachy McCourt, was born in Northern Ireland. Although the consumption of alcohol was prohibited at the time, New York’s illegal but widely tolerated speakeasies became the focus of Malachy’s life. By any measurement he was an alcoholic, liable to abandon work and family at any time for a drink, or several.
Frank McCourt’s mother, Angela Sheehan, was from the city of Limerick in western Ireland and grew up in a slum. Her father had abandoned the family just weeks before she was born. She immigrated to New York in November, 1929, just after the crash of the U.S. stock market, and met Malachy shortly after her arrival. Attracted to each other in spite of the objections of Angela’s cousins, who did not trust the Northern Irish, Angela became pregnant. Her family forced Malachy to marry Angela, and the two wed in March, 1930. Frank, their first son, was born in August and was named after Saint Francis of Assisi. A year later, a second son, Malachy, was born to the McCourts, followed two years later by twins, Eugene and Oliver, and then a daughter, Margaret, who died in infancy. Michael was born six years after Frank, and a last child, Alfie, was born about 1940. Malachy, Sr., could not find or hold employment, and the family returned to Ireland.
Life in a Limerick slum during the 1930’s was even worse than that in a Brooklyn flat. Malachy continued to drink, and the burden of feeding and clothing her children fell on Angela, who unhappily relied on charity. The McCourts shared with a dozen other families an outdoor privy, which was situated just outside the McCourts’ door; the stench was overpowering. In the winter the ground floor of their...
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