In keeping with the enduring spirit of Frank McCourt's phenomenal bestseller Angela's Ashes
, this hour-long documentary is literally a family affair. It's really a home movie, directed by Conor McCourt, the son of Frank's brother Malachy, that has been made public for the many fans of Frank's book and Malachy's own acclaimed memoir, A Monk Swimming
. That the film has an amateurish quality in both sound and image only enhances its value as a personal document of primary importance to the McCourts themselves but equally interesting for anyone with a fondness for all things Irish. Through interviews and personal anecdotes, we quickly learn that the four surviving McCourt brothers (Frank, Malachy, Michael, and Alphonsus) are a stalwart bunch, having weathered a family history that is quintessentially Irish. Embittered by an uncaring Catholic church and by the absence of their irresponsible father, they lived with their hardy but chronically depressed mother with an equal blend of abject misery and joyful adventure. (At one point, a tearful Frank later describes this lifestyle as "suffering with good humor" when recalling the indomitable vitality of his neighbors in the town of Limerick.) They were "laners," so-called for their residence on the poverty-stricken lanes of Limerick, where your next meal was never guaranteed and the women known as "shawlies" (so named for their dark shawls) were forced to plead to justify their meager assistance payments.
Three of the seven McCourt children died while still very young--"sheer ignorance" being the cause of their preventable illness, according to Frank. Angela never fully recovered from the loss, and her husband's selfish disappearance into a life of perpetual youth left her to persevere as best she could. But The McCourts of Limerick is far from being a chronicle of sadness; indeed, humor is abundant throughout the film, and each of the brothers has a gift for telling wonderful stories from their eventful pasts. What emerges from this heartfelt, highly personal portrait is a sense of lives well lived, of deep, abiding love throughout the hardship and pain, and a rich appreciation for the kinds of people who, as Frank observes, were able to make "poetic statements about their plight." --Jeff Shannon