“I’ve given my heart and soul to this and I just want empathy, not sympathy,” Una Heaton told The Leader following her announcement that the Frank McCourt Museum on Hartstonge Street would close on October 30.
The decision to close, announced on social media, was due, Ms Heaton said, to no longer being able to afford the rent, rates or insurance.
Ms Heaton’s husband John - who had given her the building in 2011 to launch the museum - had to put it on the market in 2017 and it was bought by Ger Enright, who was praised for being as supportive as he could in the past two years.
She did not have such kind words for the local authority, however, accusing it of failing to support something that was attracting tourists to Limerick as well as celebrating one of its most famous sons.
“I’ve been asking the Council for help for as long as I’ve been in business and in nearly ten years I’ve got a grand total of €1,300 from them spread over a few projects.
“Before we had to sell it, I had a 40 foot high banner saying ‘save our building’. I’ll be putting up a 12 foot one now saying ‘Museum closed’.
“I reached out and wrote to everyone, I knocked on every door and got nothing, and now we’re losing an iconic building and museum. If I get anyone coming up from the council now saying ‘is there anything they can do’, I’ll scream.”
The only grants Ms Heaton says she received, included €3,500 from the enterprise board which had to be paid back within a certain time frame and two separate grants of €500 and €300 from the arts council for two projects she undertook in the museum.
The process for procuring public funding is notoriously arduous and competitive, which Ms Heaton says she recognised and for that reason had engaged a professional consultant from Dublin to manage the process for her.
“I had a catalogue with a thorough profile of the museum, what it would do in the future, how it would help attract tourism, detailed its projects and so on.
“That went out to all the powers that be, but I never got anything back.” Neither, she claims, did she receive any feedback.
In response to Ms Heaton’s comments Limerick City and County Council said it regretted to hear the “privately-owned and operated Frank McCourt Museum is due to close”.
It said it had worked in partnership with the museum to promote and support events when opportunities arose, like Culture Nights and the Diaspora Fund and had recently made a financial contribution to an event tying in with Limerick Jazz Festival.
The Council spokesperson said, “Cultural and Arts organisations have a number of funding schemes open to them as sources of funding including Creative Ireland, Grants Under the Arts Act, and Festival & Events etc. These are competitive open calls, which are independently judged.
“A large number of the necklace of museums dotted around the city and county have applied for and received funding through this avenue.”
The council said Frank McCourt “will always have a presence in Limerick”.
“His papers have been donated to the Special Collection in UL’s Glucksman Library and the position of Chair of Creative Writing at the university also commemorates his name and achievements and association with Limerick.”
The spokesperson added, “Limerick City and County Council would be delighted to accept a selection of the Frank McCourt collection on behalf of the people of Limerick if it was offered by the owners.
“Unfortunately, Limerick City and County Council is not in the position to buy the collection or licence the rights to use the name.”
This suggestion was not welcomed by Ms Heaton who told the Leader, “I’m going to return the personal items which are the ashes and the cap and gown in which Frank had his honorary doctorate bestowed on him and I’m also returning the rosary beads to Ellen (Frank’s widow). But I’m going to publicly auction the rest.”
Ms Heaton said another museum had offered to take some of the items, but only, they said, to store them.
“I felt that was an insult,” said Ms Heaton, “I wouldn't hand over anything, let Ellen do it if she wishes.
“To me, the memory of Frank is in the school, so I couldn’t, in my heart, hand over personal items to someone who would put them in storage. What is the point of that?”
All will be revealed in her memoir, she promised, which is to be titled ‘I’ll be Frank’ and which will be complete next autumn.
“I tried so hard, I gave it all I had and the McCourt family have been brilliant, Frank’s brothers and Ellen too.
“I reckon Frank is probably up in heaven now saying, ‘That’s Limerick!’.
“I haven’t slept since I made the decision, I'm wrecked, and it’s so frustrating. I never did it for praise, I did it for love of Frank, and for his old school, to celebrate what he had done. To me, reading between the lines, the council's attitude is shocking and I won’t be afraid to say it.”