Broad humor follows the author on his travels to unearth a selection of far-flung kinsmen.
McCarthy (McCarthy’s Bar, 2001) takes his stereotype—the silver-tongued Irishman who unreels one fine little story after another, typically involving a pub—and runs with it. But he elevates the cliché with his peerless sense of timing, his sharp eye for the absurd, and his willingness to unbend his elbow and go find life elsewhere. Not that bars have lost their allure, be they abroad, where “experience has taught me that you can sometimes meet interesting and colorful people in hotel bars in old colonial outposts,” or at home, where “the room went quiet and everyone stood as he played the national anthem, indicating that it was now an hour and a half after closing time. Then we all carried on drinking.” But here McCarthy is interested in sussing out the Irish who have traveled from home, whether partaking of the “wholesome, brightly lit neo-drunkenness” of Madison Square Garden, or learning in Alaska that “if [you] can keep both ends warm, the middle part takes care of itself.” Pursuing his clan chief to the unlikely location of Morocco gets the author thinking: “The unaccustomed moistness of the Irish climate must have broken down their skin pigment, a kind of genetic rusting process that led inevitably over the centuries to red hair and freckles.” Morocco also leads him to a curious encounter with Mohammed Mrabet, the fabled storyteller who fascinated Paul Bowles. Other intriguing passages consider “the tail-end of Dublin’s bohemian-aristocratic avant-garde” and rumors of a 2,500-year-old Jewish sect in Queens. “If you travel in hope rather than certain knowledge, something interesting usually happens,” McCarthy opines. In his case, at least, this is true.
A boon for fans, and likely to gather yet more admirers of McCarthy’s travels.