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||The New York Observer
The Road To Bali: McCourt Swims With Fishes
On occasion, as he goes about his business as a diving instructor in Bali, Indonesia, Malachy McCourt finds himself answering that question of questions :" Are you, er, Angela's husband ?"
This anecdote would seem to prove at least three theories: (1) Nearly everyone in the world, even neophyte scuba divers in Bali, has read Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes; (2) some readers have mistaken Frank McCourt's memoir of Ireland in the 1940's for an account of Ireland today , which leads to great confusion when they travel to Ireland only to discover that everybody under 30 has four college degrees, a garage filled with BMW's and no relatives serving in the priesthood ; and (3) there is no corner on earth where somebody named McCourt can be just another person with pink skin, blue eyes and a raffish manner.
Malachy McCourt, diving instructor and proprietor of the Scuba Duba Doo diving school in Bali (www.DiveCenterBali.com) is the 39-year-old son of West Side storyteller Malachy McCourt. And Malachy the storyteller, of course, is Frank McCourt's brother, and they are the sons of the Malachy McCourt who made several cameo appearances in Angela's Ashes. Mr. McCourt the diver is the brother of Conor McCourt, a sergeant in the New York Police Department and producer of two documentary films, The McCourts of Limerick and The McCourts of New York.
"I left New York years ago, it was killing me, it was bad ," Mr. McCourt said via telephone in Bali, without elaborating ( those familiar with the McCourt family saga are free to form their own theories). " I went to San Francisco and got a job as a bartender because it was the only trade I knew" He was being overly modest, for the record shows that he was more talented than he let on. Before he left New York he had worked as a painter... of parking-lot spaces.
Gregarious like his father, he became friendly with some customers who were dreaming of buying boats and running cruises from the West Coast to Tahiti. " I didn't know anything about boats, but they hired me to work on the boat in the daytime and tend bar at night," he said. Sure, they loved boats, all right, but none of them was very keen on maintenance. So guess who was told to dive in and scrape the barnacles off the hull?" "I went down wearing a mask and jeans," Mr. McCourt said. "I thought it was exciting. They thought it was funny."
They weren't laughing when the boat ran aground on the great barrier reef known as financial insolvency. Mr. McCourt, still determined to see the world and now the owner of a scuba-diving license, headed to Australia, where he put his enthusiasm for the deep blue sea to good work by opening a diving school. He waited for the Aussies to admit him as a legal resident but gave up after several years and through friends, set up shop in Thailand. Finally he decided to return to New York, despite his bad memories. But the plane home stopped on Bali. And so did he. "The people," he said, "were so warm."
He has been there since the mid-1990's, and so he missed out on all the McCourt hoopla in New York. This being the global age, however, word quickly spread to Bali of the work of his father, uncle and brother.
"I'm asked if I'm Frank's brother, or if I wrote that book. I just tell them I'm Frank's nephew," he said.
Was he surprised to find himself a member of one of the world's most famous families?
"Frank's first book surprised me," he said. " I read it three times. It was a great book." Er, what about his father's book? "It was hilarious, but I wasn't surprised because even as a little kid, I knew his life would make a great book. My father was a wild man."
That sound you hear is the voice of the elder Malachy saying: "Is, my son, is."