Frank McCourt’s dying wish fulfilled as ashes scattered in Limerick

Frank McCourt in Listowel for Writers' Week in 2006.

The dying wish of Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt has finally been granted as his family scattered his ashes in Limerick to coincide with the eighth anniversary of his passing.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author wanted his ashes to be scattered in the home of his “miserable Irish Catholic childhood”, which propelled him to literary stardom and saw him sell over 10m copies worldwide.

Eight years on since his death in New York, his wife Ellen, only daughter Maggie, and two of his grandsons, Jack, 14, and Avery, 7, flew across the Atlantic and saw that his wish was finally fulfilled.

Together, the three generations dispersed his ashes in two locations in Limerick ‘close to his heart’ in “emotional” moments as they struggled to hold back tears.

The private family ceremony occurred with some serendipity, a day in advance of the eighth anniversary of his death, aged 78, on July 19.

Frank McCourt’s widow Ellen at the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick with her daughter Maggie and grandsons Jack and Avery.
Frank McCourt’s widow Ellen at the Frank McCourt Museum in Limerick with her daughter Maggie and grandsons Jack and Avery.

The Dublin premiere of Angela’s Ashes: The Musical also took to the stage in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on July 18.

When asked about his thoughts on his own mortality, McCourt had told the Limerick Leader: “I don’t want funeral services or memorials. Let them scatter my ashes over the Shannon and pollute the river.”

Side by side, wife and daughter each paid their own tribute to McCourt at the respective sites — the ruins of Carrigogunnell Castle, overlooking the River Shannon, and Mungret Abbey — as they looked skyward and flung his ashes to the heavens.

“Frank had always told me he wanted them scattered at Carrigogunnell, as he used to cycle out there with his friends, and would look out over the River Shannon and dream of going all the way to America,” said Ellen.

“You’ve made it, Frank,” she whispered to him, as she stood at the ruins of the 13th century castle, just outside Clarina, Co Limerick.

Maggie, his only child, born to his first wife, brought her portion of his ashes with her on her first visit to Limerick in more than 30 years.

“It’s the first time Maggie and I have been in Limerick together, so it seemed fitting,” explained Ellen.

Ellen McCourt scattering Frank’s ashes at Carrigogunnell Castle.
Ellen McCourt scattering Frank’s ashes at Carrigogunnell Castle.

“I was very happy to have done this, as it was something I told Frank I would do, and the opportunity did not present itself until now, even though I have been here on several occasions since [his death].”

Maggie said that before he died, they asked him what his wishes were and “whether he wanted us to take his ashes to the family graveyard in Limerick, and he looked up at me with big, sad eyes and said ‘That would be too much trouble’.”

The family were greeted with a perfectly clear blue-sky day as they remembered him, before the rain again fell on Frank’s anniversary as the family made their way around the city.

Following in his footsteps, they took in South’s pub, where he had his first pint, his former school, Leamy’s, and St Joseph’s Church, where he made his first confession.

“It was almost as if that day was sent to us, it was so beautiful,” said Maggie, from California. “It’s very emotional to be here. I’m grateful that we’re here, as this is something we have been planning to do for quite some time.

Maggie McCourt scattering his ashes at Mungret Abbey.
Maggie McCourt scattering his ashes at Mungret Abbey.

“I can understand why he wanted his ashes scattered at Carrigogunnell as it’s so magical.”

Ellen said that following his death, she, Maggie, and each of his surviving brothers — Michael, Alphie, and Malachy — received a portion of his ashes after he was cremated, while his urn is buried in a plot in Connecticut, in the same graveyard as playwright Arthur Miller.

Ellen’s portion of her husband’s ashes remain in New York, as she said “I don’t want to part with them.”


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