Angela's Ashes

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This article is about the book. For the film, see Angela's Ashes (film).
Angela's Ashes
First edition cover
Author Frank McCourt
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Scribner
Publication date
5 September 1996
Pages 368 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-684-87435-0
OCLC 34284265
929/.2/0899162073 20
LC Class E184.I6 M117 1996
Followed by 'Tis

Angela's Ashes is a 1996 memoir by the Irish author Frank McCourt. The memoir consists of various anecdotes and stories of Frank McCourt's impoverished childhood and early adulthood in Brooklyn, New York, and in Limerick, Ireland. It also includes McCourt's struggles with poverty, his father's drinking, and his mother's attempts to keep the family alive. Angela's Ashes was published in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. A sequel to the book, 'Tis, was published in 1999, and was followed by Teacher Man in 2005.

Plot summary[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on 19 August 1930, Frank (Francis) McCourt was the oldest son of Malachy and Angela Sheehan McCourt. Frank McCourt lived in New York with his parents and four younger siblings: Malachy, born in 1931; twins Oliver and Eugene, born in 1932; and a younger sister, Margaret, who died seven weeks after birth, in 1935. Following this first tragedy, his family moved back to Ireland where the twin brothers, Oliver and Eugene, died within a year of the family's arrival and where Frank's youngest brothers, Michael (b. 1936) and Alphie (b. 1940), were born.

Angela Sheehan immigrates to the USA and meets Malachy McCourt after he has served a three-month sentence for hijacking a truck. Angela becomes pregnant with Malachy's child; under pressure from Angela's cousins, Philomena and Delia MacNamara, Malachy marries Angela. Malachy does not think the marriage will last and attempts to run away to California, but spends all his traveling money at the pub. Over the next few years, Angela gives birth to Francis (Frank), then Malachy, twins Oliver and Eugene, and Margaret, who dies in infancy. Soon after Margaret's death, the McCourt family moves back to Ireland, where they both have family members who can help them.

Life in Ireland, specifically in Limerick, during the 1930s and 1940s is described in all its grittiness. The family lived in a dilapidated, unpaved lane of houses that flooded regularly. The McCourts' house was in the farthest part of the lane, near the only outdoor lavatory for the entire lane. Malachy Sr. taught the children Irish stories and songs, but he was an alcoholic and seldom found work. When he did, he spent his pay in the pubs. His family was forced to live on the dole since he could not hold down a paying job for long due to his alcoholism. The father would often pick up and spend the welfare payment before Angela could get her hands on it to feed the starving children. For years the family subsisted on little more than bread and tea. They were always wondering when their next real meal would be and whether the kids would have shoes for school. Despite all the hardships, many passages of the story are told with wry humor and charm.

Frank's father eventually found a job at a defense plant in Coventry, England, yet he sent money back to his struggling family in Ireland only once. As there were few jobs for women, their mother was forced to ask for help from the Church and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Sometimes, Frank and his brothers scavenged for lumps of coal or peat turf for fuel or stole bread to survive; they also occasionally stole leftover food from restaurants at the end of the day. Angela's mother (a widow) and sister were reluctant to help her because they disapproved of her husband, as he was not from Limerick, and they felt he had the "odd manner" about him. To make up for his father's failure to support the family, Frank started working as a messenger delivery boy when he was fourteen. He would give some of his earnings to his mother to feed the rest of the children, and the rest he saved for his planned return to America. Schooling for Frank ended at age thirteen, as it did for most of the poor boys in the lanes of Limerick. Though both his teacher, Mr. O’Halloran, and a librarian told Frank to continue his schooling, he wanted to begin working "like a man."

The McCourt children had insufficient clothing and shoes, and suffered in the damp, cold climate of Ireland. Frank developed typhoid fever and was hospitalized, where for the first time he had adequate food and warmth. Later, he got a job helping a neighbor who had leg problems; he delivered coal for the neighbor, a job he was proud of and wanted to continue even though it exacerbated his chronic conjunctivitis. The family was finally evicted after they took a hatchet to the walls of their rented home to burn the wood for heat. They were forced to move in with a cousin of Angela's who treated them badly and eventually forced a sexual relationship on Frank's mother, Angela. When Frank and Angela went to the Christian Brothers to inquire about further schooling for Frank, they slammed the door in his face. A few days after his 14th birthday, Frank started his first job as a telegram delivery boy for the post office. The wry wit of Frank's narration clearly shows that he has the capacity to rise above this job, but circumstances stop him progressing. During this time, Frank has sexual relationships with a woman named Theresa Carmody, who has tuberculosis and later dies, making Frankie feel guilty about "sending her to hell" for premarital sex.

Frank is encouraged to take the postman test at the post office, but decides not to and instead begins delivering newspapers and magazines for Eason's. To earn extra money toward his voyage to the United States, he also writes threatening collection letters on behalf of a local moneylender. When the moneylender dies, Frank takes money from her purse and throws her ledger of debtors into the river. Thus, through a combination of scrimping, saving, and stealing, Frank eventually does get enough money to travel to USA. The story ends with 19-year-old Frank arriving in Poughkeepsie, New York, ready to begin a new life in the country of his birth.

Character list[edit]

McCourt family

  • Francis McCourt: The writer of the book and main character. Frank is a religious, determined, and intelligent Irish American who struggles to find happiness and success in the harsh community
  • Malachy McCourt: Frank's father and an alcoholic. Though his addiction almost ruins the family, Mr. McCourt manages to obtain his children's affection by telling Irish stories
  • Angela McCourt, née Sheehan: Frank's hardworking mother who puts her family first and hold high expectations for her children. She is also humorous and witty
  • Malachy (Jr.): Frank's younger and supposedly more attractive and charming brother
  • Oliver: Frank's brother, twin to Eugene, who dies at an early age in Ireland
  • Eugene: Frank's brother, who dies of pneumonia six months after Oliver, his twin
  • Margaret: Frank's only little sister, who dies in her sleep in the United States
  • Michael: Frank's brother
  • Alphonsus: Frank's youngest brother
  • Aunt Aggie: Frank's childless aunt, who is not only jealous of Angela's big family, but doesn't believe Angela is worthy of it, but is helpful and loyal nonetheless
  • Uncle Pa Keating: Aunt Aggie's husband, who is especially fond of Eugene
  • Uncle Pat Sheehan: Angela's brother, who was dropped on the head when he was young
  • Grandma: Angela's mother and Frank's grandmother, who sends Angela money to come to Ireland


  • Paddy Clohessy: a poor boy in the same class as Frank, who considers Frank a friend after Frank shares with him a much-coveted raisin
  • Brandon "Question" Quigley: another classmate of Frank's, who often gets into trouble because of his tendency to ask too many questions
  • Fintan Slattery: a classmate of Frank's who invites Frank and Paddy over for lunch and proceeds to eat all of it in front of them without offering them any
  • Mikey Molloy: Son of Nora Molloy, who is older than Frank, has fits, and the "expert on Girls' Bodies and Dirty Things"
  • Patricia Madigan: A patient at the Fever Hospital who befriends Frank and tells him bits of poetry, notably "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, but dies before she can tell him the rest of the poem
  • Seamus: The hospital janitor who helps Frank and Patricia communicate, and who later recites poetry to Frank in the eye hospital
  • Mr. Timoney: An old man who pays Frank to read books to him
  • Dotty O’Neill: Frank's somewhat eccentric 4th class teacher who loves Euclid
  • Mr. O’Dea: Frank's 5th class teacher and headmaster
  • Theresa Carmody: A 17-year-old consumptive girl with whom Frank has a sexual relationship. Frank desperately worries about the fate of Theresa’s soul, which he thinks he is jeopardizing by having premarital sex with her
  • Mickey Spellacy: A friend of Frank's who, anticipating his sister's death, promises Frank he can come to the wake and eat some of the food[1]


After traveling to America [Where the book ends] Frank ended up working at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City, where he remained until 1951. Frank was drafted during the Korean war to be stationed in Bavaria, Germany. After being discharged, Frank returned to New York and dabbled with several different jobs until he was accepted into NYU. After graduating in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in English, McCourt turned to teaching in New York schools. He then obtained his master's degree and traveled to Dublin in pursuit of his PhD, which he never completed.


Angela's Ashes won several awards, including the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography,[2] the 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award (Biography),[3] and the 1997 Boeke Prize.

He was elected Irish American of the Year in 1998.


In 1999[4] a film version was released. It was co-written and directed by Alan Parker starring Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens, and Michael Legge, as the Young, Middle and Older Frank McCourt respectively and Emily Watson as McCourt's mother Angela.

The film begins when the McCourt family move back to Ireland after experience hardship in America. Many of the Street scenes were filmed in Cork, Ireland The film soundtrack was composed and conducted by John Williams, and features songs by Billie Holiday and Sinéad O'Connor.


  1. ^ McCourt, Frank (1996). Angela's Ashes. 1230 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10020: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-87435-0. 
  2. ^ "The 1997 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Biography or Autobiography". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved December 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ "National Book Critics Circle: Awards". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved December 6, 2014. 
  4. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Hagan, Edward A. “Really an Alley Cat? Angela's Ashes and Critical Orthodoxy”, New Hibernia Review / Iris Éireannach Nua 4:4 (Winter 2000): 39-52.
  • Lenz, Peter. "'To Hell or to America?': Tragicomedy in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and the Irish Literary Tradition", Anglia: Zeitschrift für Englische Philologie 118:3 (2000): 411-20.
  • McCourt, Frank. Tis: A Memoir, Scribner (August 2000)

External links[edit]