Malachy McCourt was born in Brooklyn, USA and from the age of three was raised in Limerick, Ireland. He returned to the land of his birth at the age of twenty and again worked at the manual tasks such as longshoreman, truck loader, dishwasher, until he became an actor. That career took him to Broadway and Off-Broadway and regional theatres in plays such as Mass Appeal, Da, The Hostage, Inherit the Wind, Carousel and Translations. The soap operas such as Ryan's Hope, Search for Tomorrow, One Life to Live, and All My Children were also a good source of work and sustenance as were the movies Molly Maguires, She's the One, The Devil's Own, Green Card, and TV movies such as You Can't Go Home Again and The Dain Curse. Due to a heavy schedule of writing, book signings and public appearances McCourt had to take a sabbatical from the acting trade but is now back after completing five movies Happy Hour, Guru of Sex, Gods and Generals, and Ash Wednesday plus a running part in the HBO prison series Oz. As well as being the co-author of the play A Couple of Blaguards with his brother Frank, Malachy has written his own New York Times bestseller memoir, A Monk Swimming, published by Hyperion Press. His memoir, Singing My Him Song, now out in paperback is published by Harper Collins. Running Press recently published four of Malachy’s books: the history of the song Danny Boy, a history of The Claddagh Ring, Voices of Ireland, an anthology, and Malachy McCourt’s History of Ireland. Recent books, Harold Be Thy Name and Bush Lies in State, are published by Welcome Rain. In the works is I Never Drink When I’m Sober for Harper Collins. Malachy writes a column, Sez I to Myself, that appears in the Manhattan Spirit, The Westsider and Our Town in NYC.
Question: You were born in Brooklyn, raised in Limerick, and moved back to New York as an adult. What do you identify with most?
Malachy McCourt: We went to Ireland because the death of my little sister and there were my brother, Frank, and myself, and twin boys, Oliver and Eugene, and when we got to Ireland, within two years, the two boys, Eugene and Oliver died when they were about four and four and a-half of various ailments. At the time, nobody cared too much what was going on with poor people. There were no autopsies or anything. You just died, and good riddance. But when we got there, I was three-and-a-half, Frank was four-and-a-half, we were known as Yanks. And you feel outside the tribe when you are speaking differently, acting differently, behaving differently, so as quickly as possible, you made the attempt to get in with the gang; talk like them and be like them and dress like them. So, no matter what we did, we were still Yanks.
So, then we grew up there and we come to America, back to America, back to here. And they say, “Oh, you’re Irish.” Over there we’re Yanks, over here we’re Irish. So, my brother Frank and myself decided a long time ago, that what we are very simply is, we are New Yorkers. This is our country; this is my land. This is the place for me where every single dream I ever had came to fruition and I love it dearly. I love ya, New York.
Question: What does it mean to be Irish in 2010? What about 40 years from now?
Malachy McCourt: To be Irish in 2010, 2010. There is a pride that’s happened in our intellectual accomplishments in our literary accomplishments and our technological accomplishments where heretofore, after oh, 800 years of occupation and the function of the oppressor is to assure you that you are nothing, that you are nobody, that you’re less than deserving of nothing, that you are a piece of shit. And don’t aspire to anything. And they infuse you with shame, which has to do with the past because all shame is based firmly in the past. It has to do with what you have done, what you thought you had done, and sometimes shame has been induced by what has been done to you, and by allowing things to be done to you, you are ashamed of not resisting. So, that’s one part of oppression is to make sure you are a shameful, shamed human being. That takes care of the past.
And then the future has to do with fear. Don’t attempt to come up here. Don’t attempt to go forward, you were nobody, you are nobody, and you’ll always be nothing, so don’t even think about coming here because if you do, something awful will happen to you. So we were caught between the two demons, two devils: shame and fear. And we couldn’t deal with the present, which was that we are, indeed, as accomplished in our minds as spiritual as any other people, as good as any other people, but we could not look in the mirror and ever say that’s what we are.
So, to be Irish today is the abandonment of that shame and the younger people are moving it out and they’re moving the fear away. They’re not afraid, they’re adventurous. They’re going about the world as carefree, with confidence and with the knowledge of the language, with the education, linguistically capable, poetic and fun-loving with the love of song and of life itself. So, that for the younger people to me is a wonderful thing that is happening. The older ones of my generation, they still have the fear and various ethnic groups have diseases that are peculiar to their group. For example, Jewish people have Tay Sachs, and African-Americans have Sickle Cell Anemia, and the Irish disease is respectability. And that infects them a lot and somebody said, “What would they say? What would the English say if you wore that, said that, be that?” So consequently, as the Irish poet said, he said, “You eventually become the thing you hate the most.” That’s why so many of these yahoos, particularly the ones that run the St. Patrick’s Day parade, are conservatives. And that conservatism is not a political ideology, it is a severe form of brain damage for which there’s hardly any cure. I don’t know what we can do with them is all. But they are gradually moving out and the younger folks are taking over. And some day there may be some culture in this St. Patrick’s Day.
But I prefer if it were an Irish parade like Israel has a parade that’s Israel, not devoted to Moses, or Abraham, St. Moses or St. Abraham, and so I’d like to see the day when this was an Irish parade, because you can’t be Grand Marshall of this charade if you’re not a Catholic. And they say, a practicing Catholic. Now, a lot of these guys are hypocrites. I mean, they’re about as practicing as I am and I abjure the whole thing myself, but it’s hypocritical anyway, and I hope that one day it will be an Irish parade, then I would march.
Future? If you have one foot in the future and one foot in the past, you’re pissin on the present. So, I stay in the present, so I don’t know about the future.
Recorded on March 10, 2010