By Edward Nawotka
For many it was Frank McCourt who put the city of Limerick, Ireland on the map — and not necessarily in a good way. McCourt’s book depicted the city as dirty, decrepit and poverty stricken. When I visited Limerick in the mid 1990s to write a story about the Dell computer manufacturing plant that had opened there in 1991, things hand not changed much. People from the rest of Ireland would tell you that the city was riddled with drugs and violent, a place “best seen through a rear view mirror.” (as the irreverent “tourism” video below will attest)
Yes it was worn at the edges — but so was much of Ireland in the early 90s. My main memory of the place was how, during the mandatory morning break at the Dell factory, the few thousand workers all flooded outside to smoke, a mass event that left a thin cloud of yellow smog hanging over the parking lot. (In January this year, Dell announced it was relocating most of the jobs there to Lodz, Poland).
In the intervening years, on the back of the Celtic Tiger, Limerick prospered like much of Ireland. McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes — while not wholly embraced by townsfolk, many of whom felt he too far too many liberties with reality — was part of that success and spawned a tourism industry where one never existed. Foreigners, particularly Irish-Americans, could fly in to Shannon Airport and then drive an hour to Limerick and take an Angela’s Ashes tour. As recently as August of last year, McCourt himself took the tour, which is led by Michael O’Donnell, a 70-year-old Limerick guide, who has been showing visitors the sites since 1998.
“Frankie was concerned he might get some lip from the begrudgers,” O’Donnell told the AP earlier today. “But the response he got was overwhelmingly positive. Everywhere we went it was ‘Welcome home Frank, you’re looking good, what are you writing next?'”
And despite the fact that McCourt was so critical of the city in his memoir, you can now book an official Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour directly through the City of Limerick’s official tourism site. At the end, Limerick embraced its prodigal son.
Among those lamenting the loss of McCourt the loudest are the residents of Limerick, as they should be. Even those who didn’t like what he said have to admit he was the city’s biggest booster, however accidental that might have been.
FOLLOW: Limerick’s lamentations at its local newspaper.