McCarthy’s Bar, Pete McCarthy, 2000, Hodder and Stoughton.
Like Red Haired Girl from the Bog, McCarthy’s Bar starts with an author of Irish descent undertaking a search for identity in Ireland. McCarthy, however, has a much more down-to-earth approach, which begins with the rule that you should never pass up a bar with your name on it (sage advice for someone traveling in Ireland with the name of McCarthy, no doubt, but for us Goldsteins it should be understood that we might have to assume an alias to avoid serious sobriety and/or dehydration).
McCarthy’s writing is reminiscent of Bill Bryson — self-deprecating, incisive, descriptive, and howlingly funny in places. The humor shouldn’t suggest that he’s not very serious about his quest, nor does it soften the keen edge to his observations.
Monaghan’s writing makes it seem that she was relatively comfortable in accepting the mantle of identity. She is in many ways more distant from her heritage, and is able to project certain things on them (being poets and sennachie). McCarthy dwells more, perhaps, on what identity means to him. He meets more relatives on his trail, is accepted as a relative to people who may or may not be blood relations, and ruminates on non-Irish who are working at becoming Irish.
Of the two books, McCarthy’s Bar is probably a better travelogue. Reading it meshed more closely with our experiences, and sometimes this added to the humor (e.g., the derelict Titanic themed bar we passed in Cobh, which he describes as being planned but observes that the local predictions for it are not promising).