Irish Drinking: McCarthy’s Bar

Reading this will make you feel the need…for a drink

When I was a kid I used to watch sports every second I could steal away from school, and when I wasn’t actually playing sports. I’d sit and watch the Sonics and then head across the street, to Richmond Beach Park, to shoot hoops, take on all-comers and dream that I was Gus Williams, DJ, Downtown Freddy or, later, Magic, Jordan or Bird.

These days I get a similar urge when reading about drinking or when I hear songs about drinking, say 40-Ounces to Freedom or something from Flogging Molly. And that’s not a good thing because I could be driving, at any hour of the day, headed somewhere important, and then a song comes on and, damn it, where’s the nearest bar. Maybe that’s an exaggeration because I try to apply the nothing before noon rule, no matter the day or the celebration, but then, it’s always noon somewhere, right. Tough deal this abstinence by the hour.

So I have an invitation and a warning here: you should read McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy, but you shouldn’t do so prior to noon or you’ll be in a pub in Butte before you know it and that could turn into an all-day train wreck. You were supposed to be going fishing, remember? But Pete McCarthy is an excellent writer, mostly because he puts himself into interesting situations and he’s keenly aware of his surroundings. And he isn’t afraid to speak with anybody, which means he hears some big-time stories. And he shares them with us in his perusal of Ireland, which is the foundation of McCarthy’s Bar.

McCarthy has a golden rule as he travels from Cork to Donegal—never pass a bar with your name on it. So he hits every McCarthy’s he can find, as well as other dark and inviting pubs and he pens unbelievable stories along the way. He’s super witty and if you pick up this book (remember I warned you) you’re going to laugh outloud. Clever man this McCarthy.

Take his opening salvo for instance: “The harp player had just fallen off the stage and cracked his head on an Italian tourist’s pint. There was a big cheer, and Con the barman rang a bell on the counter. St. Patrick’s Day, and McCarthy’s bar was heaving.”

Who wouldn’t want to be there?

And this, from his opening chapter: “The women all have pierced noses, but there is only one with dreadlocks. She has a non-English accent that I can’t quite identify through the music and whif. Maybe she’s Irish. Dublin, perhaps; or maybe Belfast? She’s in leggings, like the pregnant twenty-year-old in the tie-dyed vest next to her. Leggings. Bloody hell. Imagined by fatties everywhere to create a slimming effect, they make the average body look like a sackful of hammers.

These things don’t end. For instance: “Because of the time and care lavished on the pouring of a pint of stout, the trick in Ireland is to order your next one five minutes before the previous one is at an end. That way there’s be no uncomfortable drinking hiatus; but it takes a day or two to become reacclimated to this. While I wait for the half-poured pint to settle, I get talking to the guy next to me. Mancunian hard knock; two ear studs; powder-blue eyes; feathered hair longer at the back than on top, in the manner of rural New Zealand or vintage Rod Stewart. A mullet, I believe it’s called, which seems hard on the fish.

“He tells me he’s an ex-roadie for Manchester bands and asks me do I know the roadies’ mantra? No, I don’t.

If it’s wet, drink it; if it’s dry, smoke it;

if it moves, screw it; if it don’t move,

sling it in the back of the van.

McCarthy’s Bar is full of this type of humor and along the way it covers a lot of Irish history and some personal revelations from the author. When reading this book you’ll learn the nuances of travel in Ireland and what to look out for, where to go, what to eat and how to drink.

I’ll leave you with this as one more teaser to buy this book and give it a read.

After an elderly woman, flying through the air in her car, almost takes out the author, he comments, “Not for the first time I have cause to reflect that all the recklessly fast drivers I come across, who in England would be men in their twenties, seem to be elderly women with a strange gleam in their eyes.

“Yet their driving seems entirely devoid of aggression; they’re just, y’know—fast. And at least they retain that old-style country habit of raising a finger off the steering wheel in acknowledgment, for all the world as if you’re the only person they’ve driven past all week. At least, I think it’s in acknowledgment. If it’s ‘Sit on this, ya English fecker,’ then I have to say it’s done with great charm.”

Order McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland from Amazon at, $10,95 softbound

NOTE: Pete McCarthy died in 2004, at age 51.

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