In his soft brogue, he played the hits, starting with his birth in Brooklyn in 1931, the second son of Irish immigrants. After his baby sister’s crib death, the grieving family returned to Ireland on a steamboat. Just 3 years old, Malachy roamed the decks, singing the song “Paddy Reilly” for bread and jam.
This time in Ireland is well documented in “Angela’s Ashes.” The family of six slept in one cramped room. Frank and Malachy, the oldest boys, shared a bed with their twin brothers, who later died six months apart at age 4. The fragile mother, Angela, entered a catatonic state, smoking Woodbines and staring blankly into the fire, lost in grief.
Years later, on a rare sunny day in Limerick in 1952, Malachy, then 20, kissed his mother goodbye. Frank had returned to America first and sent his brother the $200 liner fare. Malachy expected to see him when he arrived at the docks, but Frank had already joined the U.S. Army and been shipped to Germany. A friend Malachy met on the boat helped him get a job on Welfare Island (which was later renamed Roosevelt Island) as a dishwasher and cleaner for $35 a week. This was enormous money in his mind; it was enough to rent a furnished room in Manhattan on Third Avenue and 58th Street.
“Soon after I arrived,” Mr. McCourt told me, “I discovered that my literary hero, P.G. Wodehouse, was listed at 1000 Park Avenue in the Manhattan directory. So I rang him. And he said, ‘Wodehouse!’ And I said, ‘McCourt!’ And he replied, ‘Yes, sir, what can I do for you?’ And I replied, ‘Yes, sir, you brightened my life and my brothers’ lives in Ireland with your writing.’ He replied, ‘Very good.’ I took that as a positive and said, ‘I’d love to meet you sometime.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I am rather busy, but thank you for asking.’”
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