Two Irish travel yarns

 I found Pint-Sized Ireland by Evan McHugh last weekend in a used book store in Dallas. There were at least 20 copies on the shelf, and having blown through the book in just three days, I can’t believe they weren’t flying off the shelve.Written in 2001, Pint-Sized Ireland is about the wonderings of Evan McHugh and his girlfriend, Twidkiwodm (The Woman I Didn’t Know I Would One Day Marry, also pronounced Michelle) from hostel to hostel and their search for the best pint of Guinness. They go through the same progression as I and any other non-Irish person when it comes to Guinness. First impression is that it looks like motor oil drained from your crankcase about 10,000 miles after you really should have changed it. Second impression, is that it tastes like the same motor oil. But by the time you leave Ireland, you prefer it to Smithwick’s, Harp or any other beer that’s closer to the light lager were accustomed to here in the United States.McHugh describes an Italian traveling companion’s first taste of Guinness: “He took a sip and a quick swallow. Obviously he immediately regretted it. His dark eyes actually ballooned, and, in the middle of his pale face and jet-black curly hair, they looked like bowling balls. As the liquid made its way down his throat, his face gradually compressed. Eventually, he was frowning so hard his knitted eyebrows looked like they’d make a sweater. Meanwhile, the knuckles on the hand that was holding his pint had gone white. …”But despite the title, time spent in a pub, though daily, is only a fraction of the book, which entertainingly captures the travails of hitchhiking, the wonders of Ireland’s hills, shores, small towns and historic and prehistoric sites, the rewards of experiencing a different culture and the ease of making new friends in Ireland. And it’s a hilarious page turner.“There’s no such thing as strangers – they are only friends we haven’t met,” says a sign in one pub.
McHugh eventually married Twidkiwodm, now known as the-cheese-and-kisses (the misses). They live in Sydney, where he writes a weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph. He has written a couple of other travel books on Sydney and Australia and also writes for TV and radio.

McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy is about an Anglo-Irish bloke wandering the countryside in hopes of finding his long-lost Irish identity while following what he calls the Eighth Rule of Travel: Never pass a bar that has your name on it.“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.”So begins McCarthy’s Bar, and so it continues for 374 side-splitting pages.Somehow I heard about the book during my first few days in Ireland two summers ago. Then when my bicycle trip around the Beara Peninsula took me to the Castletownbere pub that’s pictured on the cover, I had to buy the book. There was a whole chapter on the Castletownbere MacCarthy’s (the way they really spelled the pub’s name). This pub was one-third grocery store, two-thirds pub and a rousing good time starting about 10 at night, when a few of the locals whipped out their musical instruments and turned a corner table and a few stools around it into their stage.McCarthy’s book seemed to be a recap of my trip, taken to extremes, or course, including a visit to pre-historic standing stones in a wild, lonely field protected by a bull.McCarthy wrote McCarthy’s Bar in 2000 and followed it with The Road to McCarthy, which sought out Irish communities on four continents, a couple of years later. He was planning a third book when he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2004.

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