Thursday, 11 December 2008

The eighth rule of travel...

...states "never pass a pub with your name on it." So, at least, said Pete McCarthy.
I've just re-read the wonderful McCarthy's Bar for the umpteenth time and, as always, it made me want to decamp immediately to West Cork. Any book with the line, "The barman was in his sixties and a cardigan" immediately deserves a prize.

Bill Bryson, in "Notes from a small island" said of Durham "Go! At once! Take my car!" and West Cork fits easily into the same category. Only more so. Durham's fine and dandy and having only visited once I shouldn't really comment but it can't possibly be a patch on West Cork.

Pete manages to make the place come alive to the extent that not only does the reader want to visit but in many ways one feels one already has.

I realise that as a frequent visitor to Ireland over the years that it's a fairly existential concept for me to imagine that I'd not visited somewhere and clear my memory of it in order to imagine - through the book - that I'd somehow glimpsed these people and places through Pete's eyes. But a pint of Guinness certainly helps the process.

The book, essentially, is the story of Pete's quest to find some sense of belonging in a country he knows well through visits and family ties but in which he's never lived. He questions whether it's possible to have a "spiritual ancestry" or whether the Irish just make everyone feel welcome being, as they are, "expert havers of a good-time."

I don't know. I've always felt at home in Ireland, though not - strangely - in the North where, oddly enough, most of the relatives are. What does that say about the diaspora?

What the book mostly throws up is the value of human contact and right across the road from MacCarthy's Bar itself is the source of one of my favourite memories of Ireland...

July, 2001 my good lady and I were sitting down to breakfast in a B&B in a fuzzy-headed-too-much-Guinness-in-MacCarthy's way. The owner of the establishment - a ruddy faced man of indeterminate years - asked us if we'd like tea or coffee and then suggested "you'll have the full Irish?" No, thanks, we're fine. Just bacon and sausage for me please. "Ach sure, you'll manage the full Irish..." No, really. Coffee, bacon, sausage - magic, thanks.

Moments later it duly appeared...including the clearly non-optional eggs, black pudding, white pudding, fried bread and mushrooms that make up the "full Irish" version of bacon and sausage!


yodaspal said...

Not wishing to be a pedant(but realising I can't help myself) although in quantity terms you may have more relatives in the North of Ireland, in terms of genealogical closeness you actually have more relatives in the Republic as there you are in possession of a number of more closely related cousins. All of whom stem from the Irish Granny's side of the family in the North of Dublin, making them Northsiders, and you know what they say in The Commitments about Northsiders......”say it once, say it loud.....”.

Single Track said...

Pedantry always welcome Old Jedi Master...the problem - if one can call it that - with the rellies in the south is that they're all in and around Dublin which, as the Dandy Warhols said of heroin, is soooo passe.

Beara or bust!