Tuesday, January 16, 2018

McCarthy's Bar

'McCarthy's Bar' is an odd book.  The title makes one think that the author owns a bar named for himself.  Not true.  McCarthy has a penchant for visiting bars of that name.  The beginning of the book is rife with frat boy-like drunkenness, to the point where I almost gave up on it.
But then it starts to get interesting.  McCarthy was born in England, though he thinks of himself as Irish, and he starts picking apart exactly what that means, as he explores Ireland's west coast.  (I cannot call it the 'Wild Atlantic Way'-  that just sounds silly.)  He also explains the difference between English and British.  If a white man commits a crime, he's British.  If a black, Asian or Irishman commits a crime, he's English.

It is well worth the read, but I can give you the highlights.  McCarthy stumbles upon a Famine memorial in Skibereen, with victims buried beneath it.  He considers why it was so rarely spoken of by his relatives, and comes to the conclusion that it was shame.  He guesses how many victims were in the pit-  maybe a few hundred?- and is astonished to read that it held 9,000.

McCarthy travels with William Makepeace Thackeray's 'Irish Sketchbook,' if only to not look like everyone else, clutching their copies of Lonely Planet.  He is impressed by the settled-ness of immigrants in Ireland who swear they feel very Irish.  In the midst of a religious pilgrimage on one of the Aran Islands, one of his companions says:  "It's an easy place to be at home in, in Ireland.  I notice, watching the different nationalities on the mountain, the fluidity of interaction the Irish people have with the visitors, and with each other.  It's a skill that's less developed in other nationalities, and it's so instinctive, it doesn't even look like a skill."