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If you like Frank McCourt's story, you might also like:
David Herbert Donald,
James Michener,
N. Scott Momaday,
John Sexton,
Amy Tan and
John Updike


Frank McCourt can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Frank McCourt's recommended reading: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finny

Frank McCourt also appears in the video:
Heroes and the American Dream

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Frank McCourt in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Poets & Poetry

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Frank McCourt
 
Frank McCourt
Profile of Frank McCourt Biography of Frank McCourt Interview with Frank McCourt Frank McCourt Photo Gallery

Frank McCourt Interview (page: 2 / 6)

Pulitzer Prize for Biography

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  Frank McCourt

So despite the poverty, despite the hardships, education was an important part of your life.

Frank McCourt: Oh, yeah. That was the elementary school, primary school. They made it important. But at the same time we knew -- being in the school we were in, Leamy's National School -- that after the eighth grade we were finished. School was mandatory until you were 14. We were not going to high school, secondary school. We would become messenger boys or unemployed, or roam the streets, or somehow get to England.

Why?


Frank McCourt: We were considered the hewers of wood and the haulers of water. Our schooling ended at 14. We came out of the slums. People who came out of the slums were not expected to go to secondary school because I went to what they called a national school, which is a government school. And there was no expectation. We couldn't afford to go on to secondary school anyway. I couldn't have afforded the books or the clothes. We didn't have the clothes. A lot of the kids were barefoot and we all -- you know, I wore the shirt I went to bed in, the shirt that I wore all day, and wore it the next day until it fell off my back. So when you went to secondary school you were expected to come mainly from the middle class or the upper working class. We belonged to none of those classes.


So you left school when you were 14?

Frank McCourt: Yeah, I was actually 13 when I was finished.

What did a 13-year old do?

Frank McCourt: A 13-year old waited until he was 14 and then...


I got a job at the post office delivering telegrams. You had to take kind of a test to get into the post office for what they call a temporary telegram boy and then you could later go to school and get the permanent telegram boy job. And if you got that, then later on you could become a postman and maybe a clerk in the post office selling stamps and maybe rise in the ranks and become an inspector. Well I went in at 14 and I delivered telegrams for two years. I knocked on every door in Limerick. The population of Limerick at that time was about 55,000. So I think I knocked on every door in Limerick, threw telegrams in the window, under the door, everything, was attacked by dogs and irate people who didn't get the telegram they wanted. They'd attack you literally.


A lot of the women in Limerick were widows from the British Army. They used to get pension payments and if you brought a telegram from somebody else wishing them "Merry Christmas" or something like that, and it wasn't a telegram from the British Army, they'd attack you because they were so frustrated waiting for the money. They'd take one look at it and then look at you and then you knew the attack was coming. So you'd run down the path and hop on the bike. So I became a psychologist; I could see anger coming.

I did that for two years, and then I was encouraged to take the exam for permanent telegram boy and the morning came and my mother wanted me to do it so that I would have a bigger income and security and the pension, and I'd get a uniform. As a temporary you didn't get any uniforms and we were out in all kinds of weather just with a jacket on or a sweater. Pouring rain, we were always wet. I don't know why I didn't die of TB.

Frank McCourt Interview Photo
The morning of the exam I went down to the building. The headquarters was in something called the LPYMA, Limerick Protestant Young Men's Association. I went as far as the steps to go in. I was handing the man my form, and I drew back. He said, "Are you coming in or what?" And I said, "No. No." And I went home.

I hung around for a while before I went home. I wanted my mother to think I took the exam, but she found out that I hadn't taken it and she was furious. But it was the right decision, because three years I went to America.

What influence did your parents have on you?

Frank McCourt: My father was an alcoholic. By day, when he wasn't drinking, he was the perfect father. When he'd get money then he was a maniac. He was two different men. I know this is a racial generalization but it was typical.

The country was so inhibited emotionally, I think, because of the church and because of the traumas that arose out of history, like the potato famine. The people had gone into themselves and it wasn't like that in the old days, way back in Medieval Ireland when they sang and danced in a wild orgiastic way. In my generation and the generations before me, the people had gone inward.

So my father would sit by the fire and read the paper. He was very laconic but at the same time he would tell us stories and teach us songs. My mother was depressed because she had lost three children, but we learned song from them and we learned storytelling.


My mother was always amused by my father. He had a laconic sense of humor, and she was a good storyteller too, because she'd go to the movies and we couldn't go. We didn't have the money. She'd come home and tell us the whole movie frame by frame. She went to see a movie once called Reap the Wild Wind with Paulette Goddard and John Wayne who was a bad guy in there, and Ray Milland, and she told us every line of that and we sat around the fire. I remember that fire, looking into the flames darting and leaping, and she's telling the story and we're having tea. So this is what we got from them. No television. There was no television. No. We had none of that. We had no electricity so we couldn't have anything. But there was always this stuff going on between us at home and in the streets and with the neighbors. That was rich.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


But then my father would ruin the whole thing with his drinking. He really drove my mother to the wall. He drove her into a nearly fatal depression with the drinking. If he got a job and he was paid on Friday night, there was kind of a dramatic element to this.


The men got out of work, out of the factories and the timber yards and the cement factories at 5:30. They would come home on Friday night, most of them, wash themselves to here, from here to here, never below. No, people didn't touch themselves with water from one end of the year to the other. They'd come home, wash their hands, throw water on their faces, have their Friday night tea, which was an egg because it was Friday, and then the women would give the price of a few pints and they'd go out and they'd have a few pints, talk, sing a few songs, come home, have tea, go to bed, and go to work the next morning. Five thirty, they were out. By six o'clock most of them were home for that wash and their tea. The Angelus would ring all over Limerick in all the churches and the women would wait, but my mother would wait on tenterhooks. If he wasn't home by 6:00 o'clock, boom, boom, bong, bong all around the city. If he wasn't home by the time the Angelus rang, he wasn't coming home and then she'd sink deeper and deeper into the chair by the fire, because we knew then the wages were gone and he'd arrive home after the pubs were closed, roaring and singing down the lane, "Roddy McCorley Goes to Die," and all the patriotic songs. He grieved over Ireland and didn't care if we starved to death that night and the next day.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


So that was the atmosphere I grew up in.

Frank McCourt Interview, Page: 1   2   3   4   5   6   


This page last revised on Sep 09, 2013 14:23 EDT