Alphie McCourt, 75, writer, youngest of famed Irish clan

BY ALBERT AMATEAU | Alphie McCourt, a writer and memoirist whose columns have appeared in The Villager, died suddenly at home on the Upper West Side while taking an afternoon nap on July 2. He was 75. Born in Limerick, Ireland, Alphonsus Joseph McCourt was the youngest brother of the late Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and of Malachy McCourt, the writer and actor. Another older brother, Michael, of San Francisco, died last year. As a young man who came to New York to live for a time with Frank, 10 years his elder, Alphie found work wherever he could and eventually owned two restaurants in Manhattan. In 1975 he married Lyn Rockman, who survives, as does their daughter, Allison.

Alphie McCourt in 2009 on Eighth Ave
Alphie McCourt in 2009 on Eighth Ave. at W. 26th St. File photo

For 20 years, from 1993 until he retired in 2013, Alphie worked for the Penn South Co-op in Chelsea in charge of apartment restorations in the 2,800-unit residential complex. Brendan Keany, general manager of Penn South, recalled meeting Alphie in the late 1980s at Allison’s, named for Alphie’s and Lyn’s daughter. The restaurant on Eighth Ave. near Penn South closed after a time, but Alphie went on to run Los Panchos on Columbus Ave. near 71st St. However, as the father of a family, running bars and restaurants was not ideal, so Alphie found the job at Penn South, inspecting apartments and directing their restoration. It was then that he began submitting columns that won the respect of editors and writers at The Villager. In a 2009 article in The Villager, the late Jerry Tallmer wrote about Alphie on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, “A Long Stone’s Throw.” One paragraph in Tallmer’s article outlined some of the various jobs that Alphie had taken on as a young man: “Working on a great glop-a-da-glop mainframe computer on Wall Street; issuing tickets for British and Irish Railways; a one-day job as bellhop in a Montreal hotel; a bank teller in Montreal; an encyclopedia salesman — for a month; working at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service on 14th Street as a buyer of luggage and musical instruments, knowing nothing about luggage and less about musical instruments; filing clerk; and, oh yes, teacher.” Lyn McCourt recalled first meeting her future husband. “We were friends for a long time before we were married,” she said. “He was working as a bartender at the White Horse Tavern when I came in with a writer friend. He told me that he ‘saw the light behind me’ when I came in. He could twist words and turn something ordinary into something poignant. Just before he went to California around 1970, we spent a whole night walking and talking. He came back from California in 1974 and we got married in 1975. It’s been 40 years,” she said. “Our daughter has special needs and has learning and speech problems. Alphie sang to her every night as a baby and eventually she sang back to him. They were inseparable. He’d have breakfast with her every morning. He was a great father — he, who hadn’t seen his own father very much. When we went to Ireland in 1980 he went north to find his father, and he did find him,” Lyn recalled, adding, “I’m a Jewish girl from the Bronx who wanted to marry an Irishman with a brogue, and I did.” Joe Hurley, of Joe Hurley’s Irish Rock Review, said Alphie, in his later years, had gotten into singing with the group, performing tunes from “the great Irish songbook,” like “The Old Triangle.” “He just performed with us at the High Line Ballroom in March,” Hurley said. “He loved being around young people. The place was full of young people and rock and roll, and then Alphie comes out — you could hear a pin drop. “He would talk about how he had these incredible older brothers…fantastic storyteller,” the musician said. “He never tooted his own horn.” On July 6, a memorial gathering for Alphie McCourt on the Upper West Side attracted nearly 200 friends. “I got calls from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Ireland, Spain,” Lyn said. The call from Ethiopia was from a woman who helped the McCourts with their daughter. “Her husband was in New York and had phoned her. She wanted me to tell her that what she had heard was a lie.” At the July 6 gathering, the words that everyone spoke were, “He was a gentle man.” Malachy was the last speaker and ended his remarks with a song, with everyone joining in. Another celebration of Alphie’s life is planned for September.

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