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Book Review: McCarthy's Bar
English-born to an Irish mother, Pete McCarthy spent childhood summers with relatives in West Cork. In this often side-splitting book, we get an adult perspective on a journey around the south and west of Ireland which culminates in a visit to Lough Derg, an ancient penitential retreat.
He narrates a series of hilarious and surprising adventures with an acerbic eye and a comedian's gift for timing. As with all good travelers, he encounters an eclectic assortment of characters, including a pagan Christian priest who's rejected the Church, an Anglo-Irish Marquess, eccentric and talkative bachelors and landladies who turn up in pubs, B&Bs, and the middle of the road.
Throughout his journey, McCarthy skilfully mines a rich comic vein, yielding hilarious stories that made us laugh out loud. He strikes some serious notes, too, adeptly capturing the impact of Ireland's recent social changes, from its astounding economic growth to the "bungalow blight" marring the beautiful countryside. He visits places where historic tragedies still loom large; his account of a mass grave for potato famine victims is simple and moving.
McCarthy writes in an entertaining manner, filling his book with numerous anecdotes that underscore the warmth, intelligence, and endearing ways of the Irish people. Early chapters on modern-day hippies living in West Cork and an all-night bash on the Beara Peninsula are just two examples. In addition, while driving along the west coast of Ireland, the author makes some astute observations about the Irish landscape and how it has been shaped by Irish history. "Crossing the River Shannon," says McCarthy, "has less to do with geography than it does with outlook." Unlike England, the author's home, the Irish landscape of counties Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Donegal remain largely untouched by man, and the approach to life is relaxed and unhurried.
Fundamental to the success and enjoyment of this book is how McCarthy has mastered the art of getting creatively lost. He wanders the back lanes of Ireland where the hype of tourism has yet to arrive; he pursues stone circles, impossibly romantic ruined abbeys, and, of course, he ends up in a lot of the local pubs. What he discovers is that "In Ireland, the unexpected happens more than you expect," which makes for a most unusual tour through one of the most beautiful, friendly, and quirky places on earth.
When we pack our suitcases for the next trip, McCarthy's Bar is going with us. A reviewer from Dublin says it all :
As a native Irishwoman I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. Mr McCarthy definitely understands the Irish at their best and worst. He truly captures the Ireland and Irish of today and not the American version that includes scenes from The Quite Man or chapters from Angela's Ashes. I would recommend that anyone who is of Irish descent or plans to visit Ireland read this book it will give you a good understanding of the Irish people; we're an irreverent, funny and unique bunch.
Resources: Content edited and adapted from editorial and reader reviews on amazon. There were marvelous lines and paragraphs that echoed our own opinion. We unashamedly clipped, cut and borrowed the words we liked the best.
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Holly and Ivy hanging up and
something wet in every cup*
Not so long ago, Irish Christmas decorations were much simpler than they are now. The children gathered holly and ivy for adorning, windows, doorways, mantles and pictures, and the father would carve out a turnip in which would be placed a large red candle. This would go in the window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve. Only in relatively recent times did an Irish family have a Nativity scene and a decorated tree in the house. As for Mistletoe, it's quite rare in ireland and is generally associated with ancient Celtic and Druidic fertility celebrations; this is most likely where the custom of kissing under the mistletoe comes from.
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March 4, 2011
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