THE FUTURE of the Frank McCourt museum in the city is under threat, as the building has been put up for sale on the instructions of a bank.
Owned by businessman John Heaton, the museum in honour of Limerick’s famous writer officially opened two years ago, and has attracted fans of the Angela’s Ashes author from all over the world.
Friends of his wife, Una Heaton, the museum’s curator and a well known artist, said she is devastated by the move to sell the property.
Ms Heaton was unavailable to comment to the Limerick Chronicle last night, but it is understood that all avenues to keep the museum open are being investigated.
The sale of the historic building has just been announced by the agents Murphy Gubbins auctioneers in the city for €325,000.
Commenting on the sale, Alphie McCourt, the youngest brother of Frank who resides in New York, told this newspaper: “We have a long history of eviction. In the beginning was the landlord, and then came the bank. Una and John Heaton are good people. In establishing the Frank McCourt Museum they demonstrated vision, initiative and, most important, a great deal of good will. They deserve better. I hope something can be worked out.”
Author Malachy McCourt also commended Ms Heaton for opening the museum to preserve the memory of his brother.
“It was brave of Una to attempt the museum project as a private venture but it’s a constant outlay of cash. So apparently it needs institutional sponsorship, either governmental or academic, to survive.
“I don’t know if the well-heeled citizenry of Limerick would want to contribute to the memorial of a Limerick laner, at one time the lowest form of life in our city,” he told the Limerick Chronicle.
He said he, and his brothers Mike and Alphie “would love to help” but are not in a position to do so.
The Georgian property, which dates back to 1860, was the former school of the late Frank McCourt, and the museum in his memory opened in 2011, two years after his death.
The building, Leamy House, was purchased by Una’s father-in-law Jack Heaton in 1956 three years after it ceased being a school. He opened a factory there producing men’s suits, and employing over a hundred workers.
The couple were introduced to to Frank McCourt by the Limerick TD Jim Kemmy, who had his office next door at the Mechanics Institute in Hartstonge Street, and Frank later opened an art exhibition by Una in New York in 2002.
This July, Una spoke of the “great satisfaction in seeing people from all around the globe coming to Limerick purely to visit the Frank McCourt Museum. I only wish that Frank was alive to see what we have achieved.”
Over several floors, the museum houses many important artefacts relating to the life of the award-winning author, whose account of a miserable Catholic childhood in Limerick after moving from New York propelled him to literary stardom in his 60s.
Among the items on display include a portion of his ashes, the manuscript of ‘Tis, cuff-links given to the author from former US president George Bush, a collection of his rosary beads, his personal copy of Angela’s Ashes which he read from in readings around the world, and the robes he wore when he was conferred with an honorary degree from the University of Limerick.
Some of the props used in the film of Angela’s Ashes, starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, are also in the Hartstonge Street museum, including the red coat, which was worn by the actress in the 1999 film directed by Alan Parker.
Frank McCourt’s widow Ellen also revealed during her last visit to Limerick her plans to donate other manuscripts belonging to her late husband, some of his “many, many awards”, and private photographs of him and his family to the museum.
She described the progress the museum was making as “exciting” and said she was looking forward to helping to make the museum
“an even bigger success”.
“I would like to see more actual Frank McCourt memorabilia here and I think it’s appropriate that it’s here, and that it’s at the Leamy school building,” she said.