A Letter from Ireland:
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A Trip to McCarthys Bar.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to your Letter from Ireland on a changeable Sunday morning here in Cork. I’m having a glass of water from the well this morning – back to the simple things in life – and I do hope you’ll have a cup of whatever you fancy as you join me for today’s Letter.

Have you been on a trip to Ireland? Last week, Patrick Mullen (one of our readers) was looking for help. You see, he was planning his first trip to Ireland and was concerned about:

  1. driving on the “wrong side of the road” and
  2. the driving habits of the native Irish!

He was wondering should he go for a bus tour or hire a car with all the uncertainties that might bring! Maybe you’ve been faced with this decision in the past?

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Always Drive on the Left Side of the Road in Ireland.

Anyway, he got a mountain of suggestions and advice and I’m sure he’ll figure out the right thing for himself. However, I felt that Patrick should also read the following book before making up his mind – “McCarthys Bar” by Pete McCarthy. Maybe you have read it?

Always Go Into a Bar With Your Name Over The Door.

I’m always struck by the connection most of our readers feel with the land, people and culture of Ireland. Some people call it a “genetic memory” – others just like to think of it as “coming home” when they manage to make the trip.

Pete McCarthy was second-generation Irish who was born in England to an English father and an Irish mother. He spent many of his early summers with his Irish cousins near the West Cork town of Drimoleague in the 1960s. He always questioned the attraction he felt to Ireland and his own resulting identity. Was he an Englishman? An Irishman? In 1999 he made a trip around the west of Ireland.  He travelled around a country that was rapidly changing into a modern economy. He was an acute observer with many ties to the country through his own family. He was also a brilliant comic writer!

He wandered the land in a  Volvo nicknamed “The Tank” that was on it’s last legs, and spontaneously made his way from one hilarious encounter to the next. He had a general plan, but let each day uncover it’s own possibility. He was also fond of the warmth and conviviality to be found in the pubs of Ireland and had the guiding principle of “never passing a pub that had my name over the door”. His surname was McCarthy. That involved a lot of pubs in the south of Ireland! Pubs such as this McCarthy’s Bar in the town of Castletownbere – used on the cover of his book.

Irish Surname McCarthy

McCarthy’s Bar, Castletownbere, County Cork.

The book McCarthy’s Bar was published in 2000 and went on the sell well over a million copies around the world. Still well worth the buy. Especially if you are planning a trip to Ireland and you need to sprinkle your timetable with healthy doses of inspiration and serendipity.

Aussie Bikes, A Convent and a Surreal Encounter.

If you do read the book “McCarthy‘s Bar”, you’ll hear Pete talking about “Con and Karen” and his favourite lodgings – a wonderful Convent turned into a guest house somewhere in West Cork.

Con (which is short for Conn!) and Karen are friends of ours and they used to run this convent guesthouse near Timoleague in West Cork. By the way, they now run the really marvellous Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty – do go over to their Facebook page and say hi! I’d like to tell you a story they told me about Pete McCarthy.

After Pete stayed at their “Convent” while researching his book in 1999, he became a close friend and returned many times with his family over the years. Over those years, “McCarthys Bar” became more famous and attracted many “pilgrims” to the country to travel in the footsteps of Pete McCarthy. One morning, the breakfast room at the Convent was really busy so Pete decided to help with serving. He went up to a table of Aussie bikers who were on a “McCarthy’s Bar” tour of Ireland. They were spending two weeks tracing the obscure places mentioned through the book – including the Convent they were now in.

McCarthy

Another West Cork McCarthy!

They carefully explained all this to their waiter – a Mr. Pete McCarthy – completely unaware of who he was. Pete decided not to say anything, probably aware of the possible heart attacks and brain meltdowns that might ensue from such a surreal moment.

I do like picturing that story. It is so typical in Ireland – an everyday surreal turn of events. And back to our reader, Patrick Mullen – I do hope you have a chance to read McCarthys Bar – and get a sense of the treasures that may come your way on this island when you open yourself up to the magic of spontaneous everyday encounters. Take a coach or hire a car? I know which one I’d do. Also, if you head to the right part of the country, you’ll find plenty of pubs with “Mullen” over the door.

So do leave a comment below if you want to share a story, ask a question about your Irish surname or just to say hello!

Slán for now – Mike : )

  • Chris Teague Atkinson says:

    My husband found this book on sale before our 2012 …2 week motorcycle tour…I read it and loved it..carried it with us to Ireland..but ended up leaving it at Celtic Riders with our luggage as we could not fit anything else on our saddle bags…well being our first time in Ireland I had a lose agenda…it was first to Gougane Barra…oh did I do well there.. Our first day to ride and truly sight see was beyond belief.. The Beara Peninsula ..we found Carringnass Castle, Keakill Stone Circle and yes had lunch at The MacCarthy’s Bar only because Murphy’s did not serve lunch until 12 and its was 11:45 …it was like we were led there…with no idea it the very Bar on his book cover..as you said a serendipitous monent for sure…we met ADRIENNE the daughter who now ran the pub, told her of the motorcycle and that we were celebrating 40 yrs of marriage …she was awesome and directed us to Healys Pass..oh what a ride..before we left my husband and I each took a pic of us standing outside the pub leaning against the door…… The kicker is …we both never knew at any time this was the actual bar on the cover…Adrienne never said anything and honestly we had no idea until we got back to the States maybe even a month, looking at pics and realizing with the book in hand that they were the same….it was two weeks of traveling the South and West of Ireland the last week of Sept and first of Oct. that led to many moments of unexpected serendipitous experiences…it was like falling in Love and not have an explanation or caring about a one…so much so we are coming back the 1st 2 weeks of Oct. 2015 and doing it all again..by motorcycle , so I can taken another 3500 pics or more of this magical land!

  • Marge says:

    This is a grand book! The story about McCarthy’ s Bar is also a delightful read.

  • Betty Gough says:

    West cork is fantastic for touring. It ticks all the boxes. Now, when you have done that, there are equally splendid scenic and historical places in Munster. I would suggest a tour of parts of Co. Tipperary.

    It is inland, but has a great scenic lake on its western side PPP running from Portumna in co. Galway to Killaloe in co. Clare. Places along the way – Terrygass, Dromineer and Killaloe. See Lorra Abbey, Nenagh town and its Norman
    castle. A fab. View from the top of the Castle. Visit Nenagh Heritage Centre. Go on to Holycross Abbey on the bank of the river Suir. Close by is the Rock of Cashel, one of the most ancient and historical sites in Ireland. Then on to Cahir to see Cahir Castle (one of the best preserved Norman strongholds in Ireland). You might like to drop in on Tipperary town on your way to visit the famous Glen of Aherlow. A charming view across a magical valley. All on excellent quality roads. There are so many other places to visit on this route. Farley Castle, near Holycross, for morning coffee or afternoon tea. The owners live there, and could well serve you and pull up a chair and sit with you for a chat. When you are up around Nenagh you could drop in to Larkins of Garrykennedy on the shore of Lough Derg for a great meal. It’s a great pub, old fashioned like many of the McCarthys bars. There is a great historical McCarthys Bar in the town of Fethard, not far from Cashel or Cahir. Fethard town still has most of its walls built in the Middle Ages. McCarthys do great food and have accommodation as well. Cashel, Fethard and Cahir,are all close to the famous Coolmore stud where the famous late Vincent O’Brien trained so many winners, It is where Aidan O’ Brien continues to train and win today. McCarthys bar in Fethard is where to meet many of the staff, jockeys and owners, if you are lucky. You will get stories there at night, when the pub is full.
    My tip. Do as much research as possible before you visit.

    • Deb Mullen says:

      We have been to the Bears, a lovely rugged seascape, and visited McCarthy’s Bar for a pint! We always rent an automatic car, enjoy the ability to stop when and where we want, have been over 8 times now!

  • Ed Duffy says:

    15 Trips to Ireland

  • Randy Melody says:

    Will be traveling to the island in two weeks, 18 Oct for two weeks. Dublin then Roscommon and then where the winds blows. I’m looking for Melody and Killian families in Roscommon; Fenlons in Carlow and McSweeney’s in Clonakilty.

    In my many years on off and on research I’very found many Melodys in Clare and Galway but only one in Roscommon which is mine.

    What might have motivated someone to move a considerable distance from one place to another back in the 17or 1880’s. I guess I’m fortunate to have a single line to follow rather several..

    Randy

  • Sandy Kennedy LaFerriere says:

    Lol, I am laughing all over again just thinking about McCarthy’s Bar. Such a great book and every page presents a picture in your mind and brings laughter too. Pete had an Irish way with words and left us with great memories of his adventures in Ireland.☘☘☘☘

  • […] Letter 1: A Trip to McCarthy’s Bar  […]

  • Sharon says:

    Good morning Mike and Carina….I had the book McCarthy’s Bar but I think I gave it to someone and never got it back :(…I know Pete McCarthy had passed away but I just wanted to add that I loved the cover of the book with the Sister sitting and sipping by the front door!
    Thank you for all the great McCarthy info!…Sharon

  • Susan Pittsley says:

    Hello Mike and Carina, i know it must be a very popular name but i grew up with a Patrick Mullen, a police officer from Halifax, Massachusetts. I fancy the thought that it might have been him. Love your storkes, Thank you. Sue Pittsley.
    With Surnames as McCarthy, Barker, Tobin, Butler, Reynolds

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