COURTROOM one at the Limerick Courthouse turned into a literary lecture theatre as people packed the benches to hear celebrated novelist Colum McCann speak.
One of the star attractions of the 29th Kate O’Brien weekend, Mr McCann - the recipient of many international literary honours - described how he had been influenced by the Limerick writer “in a quite extraordinary way”.
The New York-based writer, who has authored five novels and two collections of stories, also read an exclusive extract from his new book, Transatlantic, due for release later in the spring.
He also recalled the special relationship he enjoyed with another of Limerick’s literary greats Frank McCourt.
Jokingly, he said he was angered by the Angela’s Ashes author, because “he had all the misery in Ireland”.
During his trip here, he visited the Frank McCourt museum in Hartstonge Street.
“The laneways, the back of the walls, to the back of the church: it was exactly how Frank McCourt had painted it. Having gone there, I would go back and re-read all the works of Frank McCourt, and I would see things differently again,” Mr McCann said.
He said Frank was a “wonderful character, and he brought the city of Limerick alive for me.”
Mr McCann added that throughout his career, he has had to “make up” a lot of the misery in his collections - unlike McCourt.
“I had the worst thing for a novelist growing up: a happy childhood. Of course, he had all the misery, and he made it into his own art. I had to make up the misery,” he told the audience. “I will never forget reading Frank McCourt’s material for the first time, and I was struck by the riddles, by the poetry, by the absolute music that came up off the page. I will always remember the wonderful flood of language and emotions. It would make you laugh, and make you cry. But you would always come out of the far end somewhat revived and renewed.”
Throughout his address, Mr McCann, also formerly a journalist with the Irish Press, focused on comparisons between his native Dublin, New York, where he now lives, and Limerick.
“People are informed by the landscape of the city, but they are also informed by the landscape of how they leave. Of course Frank left. It struck me that emigrant writers have to wound themselves in a certain way. This is why they go away: in order to write about where they come from,” he explained.
Mr McCann - who has lived in America since 1986 - also made reference to the surroundings, by recalling his last appearance in court.
Then, he had been arrested for walking through New York Central Park during its night-time curfew.
After the judge learnt he was a writer, rather than doling out a formal punishment, he asked him to read his wife’s memoir.
“I told him in actual fact, I would have actually preferred a fine,” he laughed.