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McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery In Ireland Paperback – March 3, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

Although Pete McCarthy was raised in England, his mother hails from West Cork and, despite never having lived there, he can't shake the strange feeling that Ireland is more home than home. A return pilgrimage reveals immediately why he (or anyone, for that matter) feels "involved and engaged" in Ireland. On arriving at the airport in Cork he's greeted by a guy in a giant rubber Celtic cross getup who's telling jokes with a latter-day St. Patrick (the guy who cast all snakes and pagans out of Ireland). Later, when McCarthy happens to mention that his surname matches that of the pub he's in (ever faithful to his Eighth Rule of Travel: Never pass a bar that has your name on it), the owner buys him a Guinness, invites him to her raucous all-night birthday party, then insists he move to Ireland because, well, obviously he belongs. McCarthy's Second Rule of Travel states: The more bright primary colours and ancient Celtic symbols outside the pub, the more phoney the interior. While the island is turning into a haven for upmarket tourists--and McCarthy offers outstanding examples of bumbleheaded tourists in action--he still finds plenty of pubs where you can buy a bicycle and which still exist primarily as venues for conversation and Irish music sessions.

While most travel writers seek out opportunities to meet the famous--or the infamous--McCarthy has the charming knack of just bumping into them on his rambles, which is how he met Noel Redding, formerly of Jimi Hendrix's band, and the author Frank McCourt. Far more interesting, though, are the eccentric and talkative bachelors and landladies who turn up in pubs, B&Bs, and the middle of the road. McCarthy has mastered the art of getting creatively lost, wandering the back lanes of Ireland where the hype of tourism has yet to arrive, pursuing stone circles, impossibly romantic ruined abbeys, and, of course, pubs. What he discovers is that "In Ireland, the unexpected happens more than you expect," which makes for a hilarious tour through one of the most beautiful, friendly, and quirky places on earth with a comedian who has honed the art of telling a good story and of having fun.--Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

McCarthy, writer and performer of the BBC series Desperately Seeking Something, is a worthy addition to the ranks of P.J. O'Rourke, Bill Bryson and Peter Mayle. English-born to an Irish mother, McCarthy spent childhood summers with relatives in West Cork. As an adult, he travels around the south and west of Ireland on a quasi-pilgrimage culminating in a visit to Lough Derg, an ancient penitential retreat. Following the mandate "Never Pass a Bar That Has Your Name on It," he narrates a series of hilarious and surprising adventures with an acerbic eye and a comedian's gift for timing. Like all good travelers, he encounters an eclectic assortment of characters, including a pagan Christian priest who's rejected the Church, an Anglo-Irish Marquess, Jimi Hendrix's bass player Noel Redding, and Frank McCourt. Although occasionally indulging in tourist stereotyping--e.g., earnest Germans and loud, lazy Americans--McCarthy mines a rich comic vein, yielding delightful, often sidesplitting stories steeped in the peculiarities of British humor. 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. This wonderful debut will appeal to readers who are looking for a well-observed travel guide, or simply for its incisive hilarity. (Mar. 19)Forecast: A bestseller in Ireland, this book will surely find an American audience if conspicuously displayed, given the Emerald Isle's current status as a hot vacation spot. The attractive cover photo of the author in front of an Irish bar is a plus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (March 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312311338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312311339
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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: were an irreverant, funny and unique bunch.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Big Sky dweller on September 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
While it is old news, I just completed a google search to find out when Pete McCarthy might be releasing a new book. I was stunned and saddened to hear of his passing in October following an 8 month bout with cancer. I had no idea.

I loved this book. If you don't take yourself too seriously, nor are you one easily offended when someone takes the mickey out of the Irish, then you too will find yourself howling as you read Mr. McCarthy's observations. Look at the reviews. Obviously, Pete McCarthy was not for everyone. I however, thought he was the most hilarious travel writer out there. It is one of those books that I can pass along to someone and say, "If you don't think this is funny, then we have absolutely nothing in common."

Next time I'm in a pub, I'll steal a quiet moment, say a small prayer, drink one for Pete McCarthy and look for something completely absurd happening around me. Rest in peace Mr. McCarthy.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By bensmomma on December 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
Pete McCarthy and his aging Volvo, known as the Tank, spend a picaresque summer pottering around Ireland, flittering from pub to bed-and-breakfast to pub and back to another pub again. McCarthy's mother was Irish (although he himself was raised in England), and this fact has generated in him an Irish lilt to his prose, if not to his actual voice.

McCarthy's tone exactly captures an Irish skill for simultaneous disdain and affection for everyone he runs across. All tourists, including himself, are faintly (or more than faintly) ridiculous. McCarthy gets chased by cows while out looking for prehistoric Irish monoliths. He gets admonished by priests with spitshined brogans while on a barefoot 3-day fasting pilgrimage. He drinks a lot (a LOT), and for some odd reason, he seems to stop at every Chinese restaurant in Ireland.

If you can overlook McCarthy's paradoxically happy good-humored dislike of almost everything (and you should), you'll find the book funny, appealing, even charming. McCarthy would be a very entertaining fellow to run into at the pub. A perfect read in anticipation or in memory of your own vacation to Ireland.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Peter Lorenzi on March 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
Pete McCarthy's style quickly reminded me of America's P. J. O'Rourke, who has made a significant contribution to humorous travel writing. McCarthy is English-Irish and his affinity for his roots shows through his writing. He looks for and finds humor in the little things about travel - talk radio, second-hand cars, hitch hikers, tourist traps, off-the-beaten-path finds, bad food, good company, pleasant and unpleasant surprises, nosy hoteliers, apparent (to McCarthy and the reader, at least) ironies, rapid changes in the weather, obnoxious tourists, embedded cultural curiosities, and, well, you get the picture.
For an American reader, some of the history, terms, and geographic references are not unexpectedly foreign. Some humor and lessons are lost in the 'translation'. And McCarthy is pretty hard on American tourists in Ireland, although not noticeably harder on them than on other foreigners searching for quaint elements of Irish tradition or cheap land to buy. Hippies, yuppie Englishmen, rich Germans, and other demographic and ethnic groups earn his disbelief and, often, mild contempt. He catalogs the changes he has seen in Ireland in his lifetime, and many of them are not pretty. The Celtic Tiger has lost some of its charm and sold out some of its character to tourism and those eager to buy inexpensive land.
Consistently observant, funny and insightful, my one, major negative from the book is that it left me much less likely to visit Ireland. There may still be a chance to save the country from foreign invaders, so I'll do my part.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Joe TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
Author and humorist Pete McCarthy, son of an Irish mother and English father, has an identity crisis. His feeling of belonging in the English Midlands having gotten lost somewhere along the way, he searches for his roots and a sense of "home" in the west of Ireland - a journey of discovery and social commentary as related here in McCARTHY'S BAR, the first of his two books on the joys and angst of an Irish heritage.

Whether he's climbing to the top of Ireland's holiest mountain, Croagh Patrick, stopping for a pint at every "McCarthy's Bar" he stumbles upon, enduring a three-day ordeal of fasting, sleep deprivation and barefoot praying at the country's last remaining place of rigorous religious pilgrimage, St. Patrick's Purgatory at Lough Derg, crashing the touristy medieval banquet at Bunratty Castle, taking the dodgy cable car across treacherous waters to Dursey Island, or seeking out the "Ryan's Daughter" commemorative stone on the Dingle Peninsula, McCarthy's narrative is a revelatory introduction to Eire's rugged western counties. And, Pete's strength is always his keen eye for and pungent commentary on the absurdities of the local human condition.

"Outside the church (in Castletownbere) half a dozen shifty-looking men are lurking by the porch, observing their obligation to attend mass, but without actually entering the building and being spotted by the priest ... Hunched and restless, their furtive, well-practiced body language doesn't say 'Church' so much as 'Unemployment Office' or 'Magistrate's Court'.
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