Beaghmore Stone Circles
Ireland Reviews

Andrew McCarthy’s LA Times Article Sells Ireland Short

Beaghmore Stone Circles
Beaghmore Stone Circles – County Tyrone

 

The LA Times article, In Ireland, Optimism is in the Air, written by Andrew McCarthy suggests that the economic crash has brought the Irish to their knees, and in their humiliation they’ve cast off their arrogant, materialistic attitudes and are returning to the days when they were hospitable and offered a warm welcome. The article also states that misery suits the Irish. The opening paragraph ends with this sentence …

And no one, I mean no one, does misery like the Irish.

Andrew McCarthy is one of America’s most gifted travel writers. I love his stuff … usually. But having just returned from this year’s tour of Ireland I find his commentary trite, and his article an impotent attempt to put a happy face on Ireland’s collapsed economy. The article glazes over the economic plight of the Irish, presenting it as something “they’re used to” … and … “as beneficial for us tourists because the Irish aren’t so full of themselves like they used to be.” It’s condescending tone wore me out toward the end.

The quotes and travel experience for this article come mostly from Dublin which is where Andrew begins and ends his journey, and has most of his conversations. He also visits Galway and the Burren. And he mentions Cong … to say that it’s postcard-ish, and it’s near Ashford Castle. Dublin does not equal Ireland any more than Baltimore equals Marion Station (look that one up). Though patrons may be pouring out of the pubs and packing the restaurants in the larger cities, the small town pubs and businesses are still struggling. These small towns are the gems of Ireland – the real Ireland – where hospitality was never forced to take a back seat to the Euro, and publicans are less likely to pontificate.

Actually, I retract that statement. I’ve never met a publican who didn’t pontificate.

Most of the Irish people I know didn’t buy several cars or purchase houses they couldn’t afford. Most of them (as Andrew quotes the Dublin publican saying) never trusted the bubble, and knew it wouldn’t last. But people who made sensible decisions are still suffering under the broken economy. Andrew’s smarmy article insults the majority of the Irish people who weren’t careless spendthrifts rushing to max out the line of credit.

Native of Inis Oirr - Aran Islands - County Galway
Native of Inis Oirr – Aran Islands – County Galway

 

Early in the article Andrew writes how he remembers the Ireland of 25 years ago. My memories concur. B&B’s accommodations were often a family home. Guests ate breakfast at the family dining room table and sat in the living room with their host family in the evening. Housing guests and providing breakfast was extra income during the tourist season for many Irish families.  But this quote from the LA Times article …

Yet the very direness of the situation swung doors wide to me that might never have opened had the people’s necessity not dictated. I paid strangers just a few pounds to sleep in their spare rooms. I ate breakfast at the family table and in the evening watched the Rose of Tralee beauty contest on a black-and-white television beside a mother and father with a vested interest.

To me this reads that the “direness of the situation” forced these people to welcome him. Perhaps Andrew is letting his humor flow here, but this isn’t funny. It discredits the people who took pride in being hospitable, who genuinely gave their guests a warm welcome, even though their humble homes didn’t rival hotels for luxury and privacy. Many were entrepreneurs hoping to grow their business as opposed to being hosts that were shoving tourists into spare rooms to just to make a buck.  And that nostalgic picture of old Andrew paints wouldn’t fly with today’s tourists.

To be fair, Andrew is correct that the quick onslaught of wealth shifted Irish cultural behaviors – on the surface anyway. The flow of money allowed the Irish to have more things of convenience. They upgraded their lifestyles. Who wouldn’t? As an American writer, I’d be hesitant to throw any jabs across the sea about being materialistic. I think the shift in culture, however was way more complex than arrogance brought on by materialism. Much of the shift was caused by the demands of the local and visiting patrons who didn’t want to ingest the smoke in bars or have to walk down the hall to the bathroom in a B&B. Many private B&B owners told me that when the economy was surging, they couldn’t compete without having bathrooms en suite and a separate dining room / lounge area for guests.

Visitor demands were met when B&B owners acquired the means to make improvements. Now these poor owners that reinvested in upgrades to their B&Bs are being criticized for not providing the “old hospitality.” I’ve never experienced an inhospitable B&B owner and I have met scores of them. Though B&B accommodations have become more upscale and private, the Irish hosts have continued to welcome me warmly. It’s in their nature.

Killary Harbor - Connemara - Counties Mayo and Galway
Killary Harbor – Connemara – Counties Mayo and Galway

 

Andrew seems to paint the whole nation with one wide “arrogant – now humbled” brush. And though one of Andrew’s great gifts is his wit, the sentence “Farmers put down their beloved Guinness and picked up Pinot Grigio” is not funny, and its sarcasm bites right into the Irish spirit. First of all, don’t berate Guinness. Secondly, it’s just stupid to categorize farmers as social climbing trend chasers that gave up beer for fine wine.

I will yield that Andrew’s insight on the Irish loving their misery was spot on – but he only scrapes the surface.

The Irish know how to shape misery into art that speaks to every human heart. The suffering becomes palpable in their songs, music, poetry, and stories. Yes, the oppression of 700 years, the injustice of the Great Hunger, the coffin ships, lost loved ones who were forced to emigrate, the Troubles – these are the stuff of Ireland’s artistic legacy. But misery isn’t their complete identity. They are a nation of warriors, navigators, equestrians, sailors, healers, writers, musicians, druids and saints. But perhaps the anguish in our own hearts draws us to the Irish gift for interpreting suffering. It’s easy to feel the connection. It plays on our inherent compassion to comfort those who have suffered that unbearable loss.

The Irish embrace of misery goes well beyond pub conversation and an arrogant people’s comeuppance since the crash. I’m not as well traveled as Andrew McCarthy, and as a writer, I’m probably not worthy to stand in his shadow, but I wish he’d done better by Ireland in this article because so many people read his work.

Crosses - Inis Oirr - Aran Islands
Crosses – Inis Oirr – Aran Islands

 

My vision of Ireland is so different from Andrew McCarthy’s, but I admit I’m not visiting just for the pub craic, the shopping, or to rub elbows at Ashford Castle. It’s what lies just below the visible surface that draws me to choose Ireland year after year.  I am drawn to the enchanted land that spawned a nation of storytellers and free spirited people – people who have perfected the art of finding meaning in myth and connecting to the elemental forces in their landscape.

Swirling in that mix of landscape and people is everything I love about Ireland – simple conversation, the sacred hills, the Trad sessions in the pubs, the fairy trees, the seaside cliffs, the Irish dancing, the cairns, the holy wells, the poetry, the makeshift shrines, the spiritual devotion, the curraghs and clippers, the standing stones, the music – all the music, the passage tombs, the monastic ruins, the tea and brown bread, the endless stone walls, the holy mountains, the Connemara ponies.

But most of all I love the stories. Every Irish person I’ve ever known can tell a story. And there’s a story for every stone, every lake, every hill, every mountain. How can you not fall in love with a country with this kind of magic? And how can something so boring as a cultural shift in attitude toward wealth overshadow the intrinsic value of a country that makes us want to believe, to remember, to climb, to walk, to sing?

If the good and bad things Andrew McCarthy mentioned about Ireland were pebbles in a dish, the things I love would be like water poured over them. They encase everything. They hold it all together. The temporary stuff of boom and bust can be plucked out at any time and a new pebble tossed in. But the inherent draw of the land and legacy of the Irish people remains constant. It defines Ireland’s charism.  It reason enough to visit Ireland.

 
 

 
 

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11 Comments

  1. If people want to read about Ireland then they should most definitely read McCarthey that’s.. Pete McCarthy.. author of Mc Carthy’s Bar a little old now (Pete saddly died a few years ago now) but accurate and still relevant.

    • Loved that book, Tony. Read it years ago. On our 2011 Thin Places tour we toured the Beara Peninsula. As a few of us walked down the main street of Castletownbere and I saw the bar. I said to one of the guests, “I’ve seen that bar before … maybe in a book.” He said, “Yeah… it had a nun in the picture.” Then we remembered it. What a great book and a great cover. Sorry to see Pete is no longer with us. The tour group had lunch at McCarthy’s that day. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. The problem is that Andrew has never, really had to deal with all that the Irish have for the centuries. He does not have the feelings, the soul of the Irish. It is said we have a long memory and that is very true. Partly because we keep the old songs alive, the stories, the poetry, it is all a part of who we are. Money comes and money goes, but history will show that the Irish will have weathered this just as they have for centuries and will come out the better for it. And Andrew will be just a little side note in the books.
    By the way, love your writing Mindie.

    • If you don’t mind my responding to your post. First, I will be honest in saying that I am quite fond of Andrew McCarthy. I have had the pleasure of getting to know him from various travel talks he’s given in recent years as well as through other correspondence. Quite honestly, I have not met a more humble, self-deprecating person in my life, despite the fame and fortune that could have cast him otherwise. I don’t know what you mean or what it takes to have “the feelings, the soul of the Irish,” however, most that have met and gotten to know him do know he is one of the most sensitive and genuine people around.

      As I have stated, I know nothing about the Irish culture, as I am of Eastern European decent. I will cautiously say that you should tread carefully on judging one person’s character or one group’s character over another’s. Because this same, beautiful culture you speak of was one of the most prejudiced against my ancestors when they arrived in America, mainly because they could not speak English. Much of the Polish/Slovak heritage was lost because of this, often seen in name changes to avoid embarrassment. I people are starting to take Andrew’s article a little too seriously. That same article was read aloud last night at yet another book talk by a full-blooded Irishman who loved every word of it. It was Patrick Stoner of WHYY.

      My request: please remember to walk a mile in another’s shoes before jumping to conclusions. Better yet, perhaps don’t take this article quite so seriously. Most saw it as a bit of satire. For me, the closest I will get to anything Irish is a Notre Dame football game.

  3. ‘The Irish know how to shape misery into art that speaks to every human heart. The suffering becomes palpable in their songs, music, poetry, and stories. Yes, the oppression of 700 years, the injustice of the Great Hunger, the coffin ships, lost loved ones who were forced to emigrate, the Troubles – these are the stuff of Ireland’s artistic legacy. But misery isn’t their complete identity. They are a nation of warriors, navigators, equestrians, sailors, healers, writers, musicians, druids and saints. But perhaps the anguish in our own hearts draws us to the Irish gift for interpreting suffering. It’s easy to feel the connection. It plays on our inherent compassion to comfort those who have suffered that unbearable loss.’

    The McCarthy types will never understand-how sad

  4. I have not been to Ireland but had the opportunity to visit when my alma mater Notre Dame arranged to play Navy in the Emerald Classic in Dublin this past summer. This game was arranged, in no small part, to help the economy of Ireland. Some 30,000+ fans made the trip from the United States to watch this historic match. Sadly, due to health reasons, I was not able to make the trip, so what I write comes from secondhand observations.

    As stated, Notre Dame would not have taken on such an endeavor had the Irish economy been in such dire straits. I was an extremely generous and gracious gesture on part of the University, and it is one I am quite proud of as an alumni. Notre Dame has always shown a generosity of spirit in giving back not only to the local community, but worldwide. So, I tend to agree with Mr. McCarthy that the economy just have taken a huge toll for even my Notre Dame to extend such a gesture.

    Second, I would have to agree that Ireland embraced secularism when “the good times rolled” by evidence of the complete collapse of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not have to be reminded of the scandals that revolve around the church. However, there is still plenty of good to be found, yet most of that had been traded for worship at the alter of material gains. You admit as much in your article. Yet I would argue that Mr. McCarthy, being married to a woman from Dublin whose family are successful business owners, have a pretty good pulse on economic climate of Ireland. And he, who I suspect is somewhat frugal in his own right, would be put off by a newfound spendthrift attitude that comes with a sudden infusion of cash. We had the same phenomenon here in the US and look where it got us…a horrible recession.

    I don’t think Mr. McCarthy is that far off the mark. It may be a little bit more of the truth hurts.

    • Thanks for the comments Saundra. I never disagreed that the economy took a toll on tourism or that materialism affected the Irish attitude. I disagree with Mr. McCarthy weaving that into the tourism factor so tightly – that things are looking up because the Irish have changed their attitude. He’s a travel writer and the title of the article addresses travel to Ireland. His audience is travelers not social workers. The average traveler doesn’t care what farmers drink, and the assets of that country always outweighed any shift in the culture …. unless, of course you spent most of your visit in Dublin or Galway. That could drive anyone mad.

      So I think he sold Ireland short, in his pitch to traveling readers. And yes he does have a Dublin perspective which is always problematic for the Irish. We have the same issues in the states when a metropolitan view governs all- including the rural areas. It’s so easy to pontificate from Dublin where you’re close to all the resources … and then claim that the pulse you feel there is same pulse in Tipperary or West Cork or Athlone or Sligo. It’s not.

      I’m also a little unnerved about the arrogance and self assuredness of Mr. McCarthy projects. On twitter his nine-word response to my post that he sold Ireland short in the article was “not according to the hundreds of Irish who responded.”

      I’m wondering if he got hundreds of emails because there were only five comments in the online version of his article and four were negative. Dismal odds really. There were hundreds of LIKES on Facebook and over a hundred shares on Twitter, but we have no way of knowing how many were Irish. Maybe he get hundreds of fan email everyday.

      I just think that was a weird response.

      He’s very successful and, as I stated – I love much of his work. And I’m just a little travel blogger from Marion Station who dared to challenge his article. But I know a little bit about travel to Ireland, and while what he wrote about the social situation may be true, I still think it sold Ireland short when it comes to travel…. and it was unnecessary.

      I can assure Mr. McCarthy that there were a few Irish who took offense to his article and found him condescending.

      So we agree on a few things, and perhaps disagree on a few more. But please accept my thanks for taking the time to not only read this post but also to write such a thoughtful comment. … and I hope you’re feeling better. My Lord, I watched that game. We HAD to route for Navy because our son is in the Navy. Painful! but the Fighting Irish really shined. Congrats to your alma mater.

      Mindie

      • I actually found both takes very fascinating because the only Irish affiliation I have is by virtue of going to Notre Dame (I’m 100% Polish). Most of what I have read and heard about Ireland’s economy has come from Notre Dame outlets I must say. And for me, as I stated, secularism was the rejection of religion. However, I can understand your point that one should not cast the whole country into the same mold.

        I did take note that Mr. McCarthy’s reply to you seemed snarky. That actually caught my attention enough to research both sides of the story. I wonder if McCarthy was acting like I do towards ND…I have a complete love of the University but will be the first to lay out its wounds. This is where the country becomes such a mystery to me. The people are such a mystery to me. To this day, I really don’t “get” the native Irish culture. It is much different than the Polish culture. I find this all very fascinating, to say the least.

        As for the football game, trust me, we were rooting for Navy to put points on the board as well. And sure you should pull for them, especially with your son serving. That is special. Navy had our number recently!

        I certainly hope that each of us learn that there is so much more to like than secular wealth. There’s much to be said for health, happiness, and the love of family and friends. Personally, I’m not sure I could want for much more.

  5. Oh my! What is it about the Irish that invites tedious conversations that quickly devolve to stereotype. Just when I thought it was safe to eat the Lucky Charms again begosh and begorra. I didn’t buy all the la de da about the Celtic Tiger and now I don’t buy this malarky. It’s probably a good thing that Ireland is not such a choice destination for people seeking stereotypical blarnystone experiences. It means that the Irish have the opportunity to live their lives with a bit of peace. Unfortunately re-adjusting expectations to a more modest scale can impose hardships. Ireland will survive this. Thanks for sharing this, Mindie!

    • I so agree Steve. So many tour Ireland for the Cliffs of Moher, Guinness factory, kiss-the-blarney-stone whirlwind tour. That’s the surface Ireland. It’s like ordering a flashy cocktail at the bar and saying you’ve dined at the restaurant. That’s the Ireland that McCarthy addresses. The stereotypes are meaningless to the traveler that gets out and sees the country.

      By the way …. I still L.O.V.E. Lucky Charms. Could eat a whole box in one sitting which is why we NEVER buy them. 🙂