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:
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 : )
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