Frank McCourt: A Reading From ‘Tis

March 17, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


FRANK McCOURT: When you’re Irish and you don’t know a soul in New York, you’re walking along Third Avenue, with trains rattling along on the El above, there’s great comfort in discovering there’s hardly a block without an Irish bar. Costello’s, the Blarney Stone, the Blarney Rose, P.J. Clark’s, the Breffni, the Leitrim House, the Sligo House, Shannon’s Ireland 32, the Old Ireland.

I had my first pint in Limerick when I was 16. It made me sick. And my father nearly destroyed the family and himself with the drink, but I’m lonely in New York and I’m lured in by Bing Crosby on jukeboxes singing “Galway Bay”, and blinking green shamrocks, the likes of which you’d never seen in Ireland….

The sight of the Main Reading Room, North and South, makes me go weak at the knees. I don’t know if it’s the two beers I had, or the excitement of my second day in New York, but I’m near tears when I look at the miles of shelves and know I’ll never be able to read all those books if I live till the end of the century.

There are acres of shiny tables where all sorts of people sit and read as long as they like, seven days a week. No one bothers them unless they fall asleep and snore. There are sections with English, Irish, American books, literature, history, religion, and it makes me shiver to think I can come here any time I like and read anything as long as I like, if I don’t snore.