An excerpt from
The Road to McCarthy
by the number one bestselling author Pete McCarthy
The Fethard McCarthy (page 419-424)
"On the way back to Clonmel the mist evaporates in a ninety-second meteorological epiphany to reveal bright sun pouring down from a cumulus-studded blue sky on to a patchwork landscape of rolling green fields studded with toytown cows. The thicker the mist, the more impressive the special effects that usually follow. You’d have little hope of convincing a new arrival how bleak the weather was looking just twenty minutes ago. The thin film of pure Irish mineral water greasing the tarmac would be the only forensic evidence you could submit in support of your claim, and that’s already evaporating beneath my tyres in an incongruous, possibly miraculous, rainbow heat haze. The day still has many hours to run, and I’m not about to rule out the possibility of visions just yet. If the statues are ever going to start moving again, this would be as good an afternoon as any for them to give it a go.
Halfway back I pass through Fethard, a famous horse-racing village packed to the gills, according to its reputation, with those bright-eyed Irish jockeys and urbane matter-of-fact trainers you see forever being interviewed on British TV in the winners’ enclosure after they’ve walked away with another major race. If you look closely you can usually see clutches of gleeful Irishmen in the dubious haberdashery of the betting fraternity, brandishing wads of cash on the other side of the railings. Fethard is completely deserted, as if all the people who weren’t in Ballingarry an hour ago aren’t here either. On my left as I head down the main street I pass a large pub called McCarthy’s. I hit the brakes, reverse, park and go in.
There’s a bar on the right, a pot-bellied stove on the left, and four lads are chatting at a table just inside the door. A grey-haired man in his sixties, who looks as if this isn’t the first time he’s had a few drinks in the afternoon, is sitting at the bar drinking stout, with what appears to be a dead dog on the floor beside him. A solitary barmaid has the look of someone who might do a bit of glass polishing or shelf stocking in a little while, but doesn’t feel under any pressure to start just yet. The meteorological special effects were an omen, or possibly an opening sequence. You can’t plan these moments. You just have to know them when fate sends them your way, and accept them for what they are.
I sit one stool away from the dead dog owner, order a drink and wait for something to happen. He’s sitting sideways reading the paper with his back to me. He doesn’t seem to have noticed I’m here, but then he breaks the ice with a classic ploy favoured by solo drinkers all over the world: he starts talking to himself out loud.
‘Fockin’ nonsense it is! Jaysus, but they must think that we’re idiots! If that’s what we’re expected to believe, then where the fock has the rest of it gone!’
Then he pretends to notice me, as the Good Drinker’s Book of Bar Etiquette demands. I nod and smile back as required, and he says, ‘Is it on holiday y’are? So what part of England would ye be from?’ So I tell him and he asks, ‘Is that pub still there just across from the dog track in Hove? We did some drinking in that place. Years ago that was now, mind.’
What were you doing in Hove? I wonder.
‘Sure I was on tour with the circus.’
This is pub chat of an extremely high calibre. Unhindered by the conventional topics of sport, weather and politics, eager to get off-script as quickly as possible, in seconds he has transported us into a magical-realist world of life as an itinerant circus hand in the Britain of the 1960s and 1970s, and he isn’t going to stop while he’s ahead, which may be most of the afternoon.
‘‘Twas a great life all right, but because I was Irish they thought I knew everything about animals. I soon learned, mind. Shetland ponies? Fockn’ vicious bastards they are. People buy ‘em for their kids, but they get to six years old and they’ll bite fockn’ lumps outta ya.
The dog opens one eye, possibly in rigor mortis, maybe in agreement.
‘Chimps? Fockn’ bastards! They’d go up the pole in the centre of the ring, then drop down into our arms. Heavy, nasty bastards they were. And the fockn’ ostriches! God Almighty! You wouldn’t want to go near those fockers!’
He starts to rock forward on his stool with laughter at the memory of it. The beer’s already come down my nose twice.
‘The fockn’ ostriches fockn’ escaped once in fockn’ Southsea. We had to chase ‘em, the nasty bastards’ he can’t quite finish the sentence, and has to pinch the centre of his forehead between his thumb and first finger ‘chase the bastards with fockn’ nets through the centre of fockn’ town. Took seventeen elephants to the sea for a publicity stunt while we were there. Couldn’t get the bastards out of the fockn’ water. You’ll have to excuse my language, but that bull elephant was a right cunt. And we had a fockn’ rhinoceros!’
What did a rhinoceros do in a circus?
‘I had to feed it fockn’ cabbages!’
Dear God, I don’t think I can take much more of this.
‘I used to go to the fruit and veg shops, get all the rotten stuff for the chimps, fockn’ nasty bastards that they were. The PG Tips chimps? Loada fockn’ nonsense that was. The owner comes to me one night and says, “the fockn’ chimps are drunk. They won’t do their fockn’ tricks. Fockn’ pissed, every last one of ‘em.” I’d given ‘em peaches that were, you know, when they go fizzy up your nose.
‘That’s it. Oh, dear God. We had two giraffes on a bus. Holes cut in the roof to stick their heads through. The fockn’ driver skidded and turned the fockn’ bus over on a roundabout. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! The fockn’ things are concussed. The boss comes along with a fockn’ gun this time, because they’re licensed to have ‘ em in case the lions go berserk. He says, “You’re a fockn’ dead man if anything happens to them giraffes.” Ah, Jaysus. And we had five tiger cubs. Little things. Like hats.'
‘No. Like cats. A guy sold one of them to a publican in Hamp-shire so he could buy drink. We didn’t earn much money, but Christ, the craic. I didn’t know anyone there who had money as their god. Lovely men. All very generous people. But those fockn’ chimps were bastards.’
It’s my round, which provides a welcome hiatus for the wiping away of tears, and a natural change of subject.
‘Did ye ever go to Cheltenham?’
I don’t think he means the Book Festival.
‘I was in Baltimore in County Cork they’ve a McCarthy’s there as well delivering a cement mixer for them to take out to Sherkin Island and we’re having a few drinks in the evening, and one of the lads accepts a £100 bet that he can’t get from Baltimore to Cheltenham on a fockn’ Honda 50. Anyway didn’t he go there on the fockn’ motorway from the ferry? Mother of God! Turns up in the Queen’s Hotel with a head on him looking like this! The bike was knackered and he wanted to send it home on the train, but the driver wouldn’t let him put it in the fockn’ taxi. We stayed at a convent, the five of us.
‘Well, the Mother Superior is from Listowel. She only wanted fifty quid, but we gave her a hundred to kip down in a dormitory. It’s more than that for one night at the Queen’s, no matter how many you squeeze in the fockn’ room. And once you’ve got your head down it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the Ritz or a bloody hostel. Got up at seven, went to the shop for a paper, got a bottle of whiskey for Madge and four flagons of cider, you know, the plastic ones.
The lads by the door have gone now so it’s just the two of us, the barmaid and the dog, which appears to have had a relapse. ‘Here,’ says the barmaid, ‘would you like a T-shirt?’ MCCARTHY’S FETHARD COUNTY TIPPERARY, it says. PUBLICAN RESTAURANT UNDERTAKER.
‘Ah, yeah,’ she says. ‘Has he told ya about the time he was barred? Tell him, Jim. The letter’s on the wall in case you don’t believe him.’
It seems he was once barred by Mrs McCarthy, Publican, Restauranteur and Undertaker, for some non-specific misdemean-our. Distraught at being refused entrance to his home from home, he attended his local TD’s constituency surgery to ask him to intervene. And where was the surgery held? Here, in the very pub from which he was excluded. His elected representative duly wrote to Mrs McCarthy. The officially embossed letter is displayed in a frame on the wall at the far end of the bar.
I am writing on behalf of Jim who wishes to apologise for any alleged disturbance inadvertently created at your premises. He wishes to be reinstated as an esteemed and valued customer. He promises to return the glass and continue his custom right to the very end, including transport to Calvary Cemetery.
Perhaps you might consider this plea under the Mental Health Act?
Noel Davern TD
‘You know the monsignor who built the airport at Knock? Well, didn’t he die at Lourdes? So a few of us decided to go to the funeral, you know, to represent South Tip. We set off at night, in a Transit full of cider with a cooker in the back. Anyway we got lost, and couldn’t find fockn’ Knock anywhere. Ended up getting guided there behind a female garda with a flashing light on her car. We went for breakfast in a café full of retired priests and nuns. One of the lads asked the waiter where was the best pub in Knock for the craic, so I said, “We’re not here for the craic, we’re here for the fockn’ monsignor’s funeral, so show some fockn’ respect.” So we went to the pub when it opened, bought some of those dispos-able razors on the way. One of the lads goes into the toilet and doesn’t come out. So in we go, and isn’t he only trying to shave without taking the little orange plastic things off the blade, throw-ing all the razors away and saying “useless fockn’ things”.’
‘Did he tell you about the duck?’ asks the barmaid.
‘They reckon he’s the only man in Ireland ever had a duck that drowned.’
Drowned, in what sense?
‘Well, I took it indoors for the winter, then put it back on the pond when spring came. Its feathers must have dried up, it’s natural oils like, in front of the stove, because the poor thing got water-logged and fockn’ keeled over and drowned. Sure it made the newspapers.
As I head for the door he says, ‘I promised Mrs McCarthy she can have my funeral, all paid in advance, just as long as we don’t take fockn’ Cromwell’s route through the town. Good luck now. And remember, you see any Shetland ponies, don’t take your kids within a hundred yards of the bastards.’