As we got off the train this morning in Limerick, I turned to Don and said, “Tell me again why we came here.” I asked because we thought this was a very sad and dismal place when we were last here in 1999. And the view from the train station did nothing to change my perception.
Don reminded me that we were stopping to break up the trip to Killarney, where we head tomorrow. Okay, so we are only here for one night.
They are trying here, they really are. But this is a beat-up working class town – at least in my view – and there are limits to what can happen without a huge influx of money. That’s not going to happen.
We did a few tourist things that were not available on our last trip, starting with King John’s Castle, now made into an interesting museum. (Yes, that nasty John, who became King of England and whose reign led to the Magna Carta.) It tells the story of Ireland and the role Limerick played in it, but of course that is a story of loss and subjugation, unless you are English. Lots of commentary was very carefully worded. Interesting, but it does make one sad all over again for this poor country.
Although the site dates back to 922 when the Vikings lived on the Island on the River Shannon, the castle itself was built on the orders of King John in 1200. One of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe, the walls, towers and fortifications still remain, on top of the earlier Viking settlement. Lots of battles and castle-storming went on here. I will spare you a repetition of Irish history this time, except to say it was bloody, very bloody.
We also visited the Hunt Museum, which displays one wealthy couple’s collection of a wide variety of lovely things – from Egyptian times to Picasso. It even includes a coin reputed to be one of the 30 pieces paid to Judas, as well as the reliquary supposedly used to contain St. Patrick’s head. Whew.
All this was very nice, but quite by accident we discovered the real reason that makes being here worthwhile.
In 1999, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was just two years old as a literary sensation. I was here on business, but Don had the time to go on the official Angela’s Ashes Tour. Usually given for several hundred devotees, on a rainy late October day, it had only one attendee – Don. Nonetheless, the guide stood on platforms and declaimed the story to an invisible crowd, as he knew no other way to tell it. Frank’s story, the miserable cold rain and the general despair of Limerick really put us off the town for good, or so I thought.
But here we are again. Since 1999, we had the pleasure of occasionally seeing Frank McCourt in our neighborhood, which was also his. He had coffee every morning at the Columbus Café, right on 87th and Columbus, and we felt that all was right with his world – deservedly so. Today we learned that there is now a Frank McCourt museum here – set up in his old primary school – and then we know why we had come. The re-created apartment is quite true to life (no surprise, as it was part of the movie set), and the school room is actually his. What a treat to see it all.
Frank saw the museum before it opened, and, yes, he did get quite a laugh out of the whole idea. How wonderful. And for a final laugh, read this lovely essay he wrote at the age of 11:
“JESUS & THE WEATHER”
I don’t think Jesus Who is Our Lord would have liked the weather in Limerick because it’s always raining and the Shannon keeps the whole city damp. My father says the Shannon is a killer river because it killed my two brothers. When you look at pictures of Jesus He’s always wandering around ancient Israel in a sheet. It never rains there and you never hear of anyone coughing or getting consumption or anything like that and no one has a job there because all they do is stand around and eat manna and shake their fists and go to crucifixions.
Anytime Jesus got hungry all He had to do was go up the road to a fig tree or an orange tree and have His fill. If He wanted a pint He could wave His hand over a big glass and there was the pint. Or He could visit Mary Magdalene and her sister, Martha, and they’d give Him His dinner no questions asked and He’d get his feet washed and dried with Mary Magdalene’s hair while Martha washed the dishes, which I don’t think is fair. Why should she have to wash the dishes while her sister sits out there chatting away with Our Lord? It’s a good thing Jesus decided to be born Jewish in that warm place because if he was born in Limerick he’d catch the consumption and be dead in a month and there wouldn’t be any Catholic Church and there wouldn’t be any Communion or Confirmation and we wouldn’t have to learn the catechism and write compositions about Him.
The thought of Frank and his recognition made us feel much better about Limerick, which even displayed a bit of sunshine. It tried, it really tried.