Study Guide

Angela's Ashes Patriotism and Nationalism

By Frank McCourt

Patriotism and Nationalism

We have morals in Limerick, you know, morals. We're not like jackrabbits from Antrim, a place crawling with Presbyterians. (1. 41)

This passage shows the kind of prejudice against Northerners. The people of Limerick look down on the Northern Irish as immoral people with no sexual self-control. That's their explanation of why Malachy Sr. got Angela pregnant. Hmm—last we knew, it took two.

Angela wanted to give him a middle name, Munchin, after the patron saint of Limerick but Malachy said over his dead body. No son of his would have a Limerick name. (1.59)

Munchin could be the nicest name in the world (Munchin??), but as long as it has associations with Limerick, Malachy Sr. won't hear of it. If Malachy Sr. names his son after the patron saint of Limerick it's akin to his family losing a part of their Northern Irish identity.

Up boys, up. A nickel for everyone who promises to die for Ireland.

Where are my troops? Where are my four warriors? […] I want them up, he says. I want them ready for the day Ireland will be free from the center to the sea. (1.109, 112-114)

Malachy's quite the dreamer, especially when he drinks too much. He's stuck in his old wartime days. But his romantic notions of Ireland are no longer in line with the realities of everyday life. Try as he might to instill in his sons his patriotic spirit, the boys are of a different time. All they know is that dad wakes them up late at night singing of Ireland. Malachy Sr.'s time as an IRA fighter must have been a formative time for him. We don't learn much about it, but we see its influence. Malachy Sr. feels resentful that he "did his bit" for Ireland but no one seems to appreciate it except the other drunks in the pub.

The man tells Dad, I can see you're a man that did his bit. Dad says, Och, I did my bit, and the man says, I did me bit, too, and what did it get me but one eye less and a pension that wouldn't feed a canary.

But Ireland is free, says Dad, and that's a grand thing.

Free, my arse, the man says. I think we were better off under the English. (2.53-55)

After all the fighting, death, and destruction, Mr. Heggarty, a former IRA soldier, expresses a pretty radical idea: that all the fighting against the English was for naught. So what was the point of all the fighting?

He stands in the middle of the lane and tells the world to step outside, he's ready to fight, ready to fight and die for Ireland, which is more than he can say for the men of Limerick, who are known the length and breadth of the world for collaborating with the perfidious Saxons. (3.144)

Calm down, Malachy. The war's over.

[F]or two thousand years men, women and children have died for the Faith, the Irish have nothing to be ashamed of in the martyr department. Haven't we provided martyrs galore? Haven't we bared our necks to the Protestant ax? Haven't we mounted the scaffold, singing, as if embarking on a picnic, haven't we, boys? (4.58)

The teachers at Frank's school are constantly reminding the boys about all the cruelties the Irish have endured. In this passage, the teacher focuses on religious martyrdom rather than dying for your country. These two things are inextricably bound together in the minds of the devoutly Catholic Irish people.

There are people who don't talk to each other because their fathers were on opposite sides in the Civil War in 1922. If a man goes off and joins the English army his family might as well move to another part of Limerick where there are families with men in the English army. If anyone in your family was the least way friendly to the English in the last eight hundred years it will be brought up and thrown in your face and you might as well move to Dublin where no one cares. (5.4)

The past isn't past here in Limerick. The old grievances are fresh. 'Tis painful for the men of Limerick to have to move to England to support their families, working for the war machine of a country that oppressed them in the past.

Mikey Molloy's father said anyone who wants to die for Ireland is donkey's arse. Men have been dying for Ireland since the beginning of time and look at the state of the country. (7.1)

Is Mikey Molloy's father right? Is this kind of patriotism misguided and a waste of energy? On the other hand, USA! USA! USA!

No, says Mam, it has to be Irish. Isn't that what we fought for all these years? What's the use of fighting the English for centuries if we're going to call our children Ronald? (7.108)

Names are important in Angela's Ashes. (For more on this see "Tools of Characterization.") What's so wrong about giving your child an English name? Why do names carry such weight in Ireland?

[S]he says 'twould break your heart to think of what the English did to us, that if they didn't put the blight on the potato they didn't do much to take it off. No pity. No feeling at all for the people that died in this very ward, children suffering and dying here while the English feasted on roast beef and guzzled the best of wine in their big houses, little children with their mouths all green from trying to eat the grass in the fields beyond, God bless us and save us and guard us from future famines. (8.98)

This passage shows the anger and resentment that the Irish hold in their hearts against the English. After years of persecution at the hands of the English, is it fair to say that the Irish are now defined by what was done to them – that they have the mentality of a victim? What does a victim mentality accomplish?

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