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Posted February 19, 2013
Having enjoyed reading Angela’s Ashes several years ago, I was excited to see this book come in for review. With a grandmother who grew up in Limerick, Ireland, the region this book explores, I wanted to learn more. I’d heard stories, and seen a few pictures of Limerick from the 1930s and 40s, and was eager to see what additional insight his book had to offer.
Immediately upon opening the book, I was struck by Malachy McCourt’s (brother to Angela's Ashes author Frank McCourt) Irish wit and frankness that came across clearly in his foreword. His words reminded me so much of my beloved grandmother, and her sense of humor that I admit, I didn’t always understand. When describing 'Mr. Kane of Dispensary fame,' a man known for his cruelty but given a media spin job to make the most savvy consultant proud, Mr. McCourt notes rather dryly, "Thanks be to Jesus [my grandmother's favorite phrase!] he didn't feel any deeper or he'd have us all shot to put us out of our misery."
Through Irish Eyes is a 64-page photo book with 75 black and white photographs, separated into various topics such as Limerick Landmarks, In the Fever Hospital, School Days, and The Emergency (World War II). Photos show inhabitants in all sorts of daily activities, with the abject poverty that permeated the lives of so many, screaming out from the pages. While a few photos show people looking quite happy (the workers in a garment factory), as McCourt notes in his forward, "...you never know who might look at a picture and spot sullen rebellion. Then where would you be, out on your arse for there's plenty more wanting your job."
Photographs are accompanied by quotes from various books, journals and poems, which add another dimension to the tale of the poor in Ireland. One that I found particularly interesting was a portion of the 1942 city council report on dwellings in one area of Limerick. "Walls of kitchen and bedroom damp...roof in bad repair...kitchen floor 4" below lane and 4" below yard level...lime mortar floor in bad repair..." and on, and on, and on. It is hard not to stop at various photos to look into the eyes of those whose images have been captured forever and wonder... Through Irish Eyes is a fascinating look into the world of Frank McCourt's Ireland.
Quill says: Whether you're a fan of Angela's Ashes or you simply want to learn more about the Ireland of yesteryear, Through Irish Eyes is an excellent book to take you along the journey.