Frank McCourt

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Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale.

Francis McCourt (August 19, 1930July 19, 2009) was an Irish-American teacher and Pulitzer Prize–winning writer. He was the brother of actor and politician Malachy McCourt.


There’s no use saying anything in the schoolyard because there’s always someone with an answer and there’s nothing you can do but punch them in the nose and if you were to punch everyone who has an answer you’d be punching morning noon and night.

Angela's Ashes (1996)[edit]

  • He says, you have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.
  • It’s lovely to know that the world can’t interfere with the inside of your head.
  • I don't know what it means and I don't care because it's Shakespeare and it's like having jewels in my mouth when I say the words.
  • Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale.
  • There’s no use saying anything in the schoolyard because there’s always someone with an answer and there’s nothing you can do but punch them in the nose and if you were to punch everyone who has an answer you’d be punching morning noon and night.
  • When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
  • I asked my dad what afflicted meant and he said 'Sickness son, and things that don't fit.'
  • I know that big people don't like questions from children. They can ask all the questions they like, How's school? Are you a good boy? Did you say your prayers? but if you ask them did they say their prayers you might be hit on the head.

'Tis (2000)[edit]

  • I like the lemon meringue pie but I don't like the way Americans leave out the 'r' at the end of a word.
    • §2
  • Why can't this priest go back to Los Angeles and leave me alone? Why is he taking me to lunch when he should be out there visiting the sick and the dying? That's what priests are for.
    • §10
  • Why is it the minute I open my mouth the whole world is telling me they're Irish and we should all have a drink? It's not enough to be American. You always have to be something else, Irish-American, German-American, and you'd wonder how they'd get along if someone hadn't invented the hyphen.
    • §14
  • I put my books in a bag because I don't care anymore if people in the subway look at me admiringly. I can't hold on to a girl, I can't keep an office job, I make a fool of myself in my first literature class and I wonder why I left Limerick at all. [...] I could have read Jonathan Swift to my heart's content not giving a fiddler's fart whether he was a satirist or a seanachie.
    • §23
  • I'd like to stand up in those classes and announce to the world that I'm too busy to be Irish or Catholic or anything else, that I'm working day and night to make a living, trying to read books for my courses and falling asleep in the library [...].
    • §29
  • ... you, the privileged, the chosen, the pampered, with nothing to do but go to school, hang out, do a little studying, go to college, get into a money-making racket, grow into your fat forties, still whining, still complaining, when there are millions around the world who'd offer fingers and toes to be in your seats, nicely clothed, well fed, with the world by the balls.
  • I can't go back. The past won't go away in this family.
  • But I don't know how I'll ever get a college degree and rise in the world with no high school diploma and eyes like piss holes in the snow, as everyone tells me.
  • I know it wasn't the dinner wine that had me against the wall in a fit of remorse. It was the thought of my mother being so lonesome she had to sit on a street bench, so lonesome she missed the company of a homeless shopping bag woman. Even in the bad days in Limerick she always had an open hand and an open door and why couldn't I be like that to her?
    • §48

Teacher Man (2005)[edit]

If there was a circle, I was never a part of it. I prowled the periphery.
  • No, young man. No jokes here. There's a time and place. When you say something in class they take you seriously. You're the teacher. You say you went out with a sheep and they’re going to swallow every word. They don’t know the mating habits of the Irish.
  • I thought some day I'd run into June and find my tongue and we'd go to a movie together. I'd choose something foreign with subtitles to show how sophisticated I was and she'd admire me and let me kiss her in the dark, missing a dozen subtitles and the thread of the story. That wouldn't matter because we'd have plenty to talk about in a cozy Italian restaurant where candles flickered and her red hair twinkled back and who knows what that would lead to because that was as far as my dreams would go.
  • They know it's a forty-minute showdown, you versus them. … They have you by the balls and you created the situation, man. You didn't have to talk to them like that. They don’t care about your mood, your headache, your troubles. They have their own problems, and you are one of them.
  • I hoped I might become a debonair, hard-drinking, poetic Irishman like him. I'd be a New York character. I'd set the table on a roar and dominate the bars of Greenwich Village with song and story. At the Lion’s Head Bar I drank whiskey after whiskey to give myself the courage to be colorful. Bartenders suggested I slow down. Friends said they didn't understand a word coming out of my mouth. They lifted me out of the bar and into a taxi, paid the driver and told him to drive nonstop till I reached my door.
  • I wanted to be the Great Liberating Teacher, to raise them from their knees after days of drudgery in office and factories, to help them cast off their shackles, to lead them to the mountaintop, to breathe the air of freedom. Once their minds were clear of cant, they’d see me as a savior.
  • If there was a circle, I was never a part of it. I prowled the periphery.
  • If I went to the pub lunch and cleared my head with a pint surely there would be an insight, a flash of inspiration. Surely. My money went over the bar. The pint came back. Nothing else.
  • I don't want to sneer, but old habits die hard. It's the resentment. Not even anger. Just resentment. I shake my head over the things that concern them, that middle-class stuff, it's too hot, it's too cold and this is not the toothpaste I like. Here am I after three decades in America still happy to be able to turn on the electric light or reach for a towel after the shower.
  • I ate the sandwich.
  • If you don't settle down to something very soon you’ll be forty and wondering where your life went. She pointed to the people all around us, happily married, productive, settled, content, having children, developing mature relationships, looking to the future, going on nice vacations, joining clubs, taking up golf, growing old together, visiting relatives, dreaming of grandchildren, supporting their churches, thinking of retirement. I agreed with her but I couldn't admit it. I gave her a sermon on life and America. I told her life was an adventure, and maybe I was living in the wrong century.
  • Remember, if this is your world, you're one of them, a teenager. You live in two worlds. You're with them, day in, day out, and you'll never know, Mac, what that does to your mind. Teenager forever. June will come and it’s bye-bye teacher, nice knowin' you, my sister's gonna be in your class in September. But there’s something else, Mac. In any classroom, something is always happening. They keep you on your toes. They keep your fresh. You'll never grow old, but the danger is you might have the mind of an adolescent forever. That's a real problem, Mac. You get used to talking to those kids on their level. Then when you go to a bar for a beer you forgot how to talk to your friends and they look at you. They look at your like you just arrived from another planet and they're right.

Quotes about McCourt[edit]

He is a literary genius. Also the most nonjudgmental decent guy. He forgives. ~ Malachy McCourt

External links[edit]

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