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Una Heaton and the Frank McCourt Museum celebrates 20th Anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize

Pictured: Michael O’Donnell, Una Heaton, Maeve, and Joe Moloney, all of Frank McCourt Museum. Picture: Katie Glavin/ilovelimerick

Una Heaton and the Frank McCourt Museum celebrates 20 Anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize

by ilovelimerick correspondent Katie Glavin

Una Heaton

Pictured: The Frank McCourt Museum, formerly Leamy’s School located on Hartstonge Street. Photo: Katie Glavin/ilovelimerick



Frank McCourt and the story of his childhood told through his book, Angela’s Ashes, has been held dear to many people’s hearts since it’s release. The Frank McCourt Museum located on Hartstonge which was opened by Una Heaton nine years ago is a wonderful representation of not only Frank McCourts life, but to a tribute to Limerick’s history and what life was like for so many people in Limerick in those times. Una Heaton, who began the museum in what was once Leamy’s school where Frank himself attended, is also an artist and is on the verge of completing one of her latest pieces.

To coincide with the 20th anniversary of Frank McCourt’s book, Angela’s Ashes, Una Heaton began a mosaic of Frank McCourt’s portrait. This mosaic which resides in the Frank McCourt museum is made up of multiple 4×4 canvas squares. As of current over 700 people from all over the world, ranging from visitors to the museum to professional artists, have contributed pieces to the mosaic. I went to visit Una Heaton at the Frank McCourt Museum to ask her a few questions and to see this wonderful project.

Una Heaton

Una Heaton pointing out the mosaic piece painted by John Shinnors. Photo: Katie Glavin/ilovelimerick

How did you become so interested in the life of Frank McCourt?

“Well we own the building, my father in law bought it in 1956 and it ceased to be a school in 1953 and he turned it into a menswear factory. In actual fact, the chap who was in school with Frank, Cyril Benson, the Irish dancer, he actually worked here in the factory all his life, so he actually never left the building!”

“I then became interested in this space when it became vacant and I turned it into an art gallery. I knew Frank, I met Frank when he finished writing the book. He came in to meet us and we spent time with him a few times, and at the Open Mic exhibitions in New York in 2002. When he came back for his conferring we met him then too and he did a charity walk with me in Limerick for people in need. Various things he came back with and we were meeting back and forth a lot. Then when I opened the gallery here, I decided when Frank passed away to open a museum to him because he meant so much and this building is very pivotal to his story. I thought ‘what better place to open a museum than in his old school?’ I started off with one school desk and it evolved, people were bringing in old memorabilia, like blackboards and clocks and things and it just evolved. Then another space came available and I turned it into a bedroom and kitchen modelled like what the living conditions were like in 1930s Limerick. Then we moved upstairs where we have a video show where we actually show a video documentary with Frank talking about his time in the streets of Limerick.”

“So it evolved slowly but it’s a passion for me. I equate with Frank, I can empathise with his story. His story is so well told and it’s very moving, whereas it’s humorously written as well but there’s poignant sides where you fell down for a while and you have to gather yourself. It makes me feel great when I see people coming in the door from all over the world to visit the place. Each year it gets stronger and stronger. That’s really the gist of the story of why I set it up.”

Una Heaton

Pictured: Joe Moloney, museum docent, pointing out the piece he painted for the mosaic. Photo: Katie Glavin/ilovelimerick

At the moment you are putting together a mosaic of Frank McCourt, how did you start this?

“Well I did a portrait of Frank and I actually gave him the original when he was alive. I presented him when he was here with his wife Ellen at around ’96 or ’97 and I gave him the original. I just find the mosaic a fun thing for when the tours come in and we can get people involved. Rather than seeing the museum or rooms, the mosaic is a very positive thing to do even for posterity even. There’s a great reaction too because people painted a little 4×4 square for the montage and they got a little temple to follow. Some people didn’t follow it and put a little dolls house in one corner or a tree in the other, so I call that a beauty spot on Frank’s face! You can see it up on the wall now, Maeve (museum docent) put it together.”

Una Heaton

Una Heaton pointing out the piece pointed by Brian McMahon. Photo: Katie Glavin/ilovelimerick

How did you go about getting people involved in the mosaic?

“Well, we put it up on Facebook that we were doing it. Mostly it was people who just happened to come into the museum and were like ‘oh hey, you’re painting! Can I do some?’. They’d even like it so much they would actually do 2 or 3! We had famous people like John Shinnors, Brian McMahon, Geraldine Saddler and Pat Ryan do a piece. Ellen, Franks widow, is coming in May to paint the last piece and put it into the mosaic. People from all over the world have been involved, Germans, Americans, Israelis, people from Pakistan, New Zealand, from everywhere! So many people have taken part and all their pieces have been named and we’ve actually sent out emails to them to tell them the piece is finished. Now they all want t-shirts of it!”

How long did the piece take to put together?

“Well, I wasn’t always here to guide the numbers, so when people took pieces to paint there would be a number on it. You’d think they would correspond but you’d go from 1 to 65 to 20 to 16 and for a while, they were all over the place! It’s like a jigsaw gone mad! It’s actually very arty when you put it up and you can see Frank’s face. It’s a great piece. We have another project in mind like it too.”

Una Heaton

Una Heaton pointing out the piece painted by Geraldine Saddler. Photo: Katie Glavin/ilovelimerick

You did the mosaic to commemorate Frank winning the Pulitzer Prize, why was this such a significant moment in Frank’s life?

“Well, it’s to coincide with and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Pulitzer prize. I mean, how many people have won a Pulitzer prize? Especially from the lanes of Limerick! People reckon that you have to be educated before you write a book that will win any sort of a prize, but to win a Pulitzer prize, well that’s a feat in itself! I thought it was a great honour to coincide with the time that of Frank’s winning edition of Angela’s Ashes Pulitzer Prize would be reaching its 20th anniversary.”

Through the mosaic, how do you hope that Frank himself will be remembered?

“Well when we put it up on Facebook, over 700 people contributed. That means over 700 people will be talking about it and passing the story onto their friends saying ‘oh we were there that the time the Pulitzer prize was comemmorated’. We knew Frank at the time when he won it. His wife Ellen actually donated a lot of memorabilia to us, like trophies and awards he won, here at the museum. We have a copy of the Pulitzer prize too.”

Una HeatonWith Una Heaton’s wonderful mosaic project nearly complete, the mosaic is now on display at the Frank McCourt museum and is just waiting on the final piece to finish the portrait which Frank’s wife Ellen will be painting. It is obvious that after meeting with Una Heaton that Frank was a dear friend to her and that Una wishes to make Frank’s contribution to and presence in Limerick known. Recently in Limerick there has been a resurgence of Angela’s Ashes with the announcement of Angela’s Ashes the musical and this may mean good news for the Frank McCourt museum. Between the musical and the 20th anniversary of Angela’s Ashes winning the Pulitzer prize, Frank McCourt is still being commemorated in Limerick and the story of Angela’s Ashes is still alive and well today.

For more on the Frank McCourt Museum click here

Click here more on Angela’s Ashes the Musical click here

For more on the Pulitzer prize click here

Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.