Under the spell of the phoney MacCarthy Mór

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews The Road to McCarthy by Pete McCarthy, Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99 hbk

WITH HIS first book McCarthy’s Bar, Pete McCarthy acquired a reputation as an hilariously funny travel writer.

In the current volume, Pete McCarthy sets out in search of his ‘clan chief’ by which he means Terence McCarthy who was recognised as the MacCarthy Mór by the Irish state and other European heraldic jurisdictions for many years. The Chief Herald of Ireland withdrew the recognition in 1999 when a two-year investigation by the Dublin Genealogical Office pointed to fraud.

Undeterred by such irritating matters of fact, the author sets out to Morocco to where the erstwhile Prince of Desmond had fled with his partner when the scam was revealed.

Throughout the book, however, the author laments that he can’t really judge whether the man is a fraud or not. This, in spite, of the fact that long before his book was published, the Pete McCarthy was offered, and shown, evidence by those who could judge and which evidence he blithely ignored.

He paints one authority in a comical but very insulting manner, not letting accuracy stand in the way of a good story. I hasten to add, I do not refer to myself but another published authority.

This is the style of the author and his pretentious denigration of serious matters. Yet the curious thing is that when the author meets Terence McCarthy, he seems so besotted and respectful of the soi-dissant MacCarthy Mór that you might come away with the impression that Mr McCarthy is a genuine scion of the royal Eóghanacht dynasty and the victim of some bizarre conspiracy.

One has to be reminded that a large number of people suffered financially over the ‘MacCarthy Mór affair’ including the owner of his publishers Gryfons -- not Gryfos as they appear Pete McCarthy’s book -- in the USA.

Yet Pete McCarthy also assures us that MacCarthy Mór is still a ‘respected historian’ and pays acknowledgement to a couple of his titles in the book.

If Pete McCarthy is going to write further on Ireland, then he needs someone to vet his manuscript to prevent the howlers he asserts as facts. And he should be careful about digging up ancient and well-known anecdotes -- such as the poitín in the chicken one -- as contemporary episodes.

He also badly needs someone to check the appalling mistakes in the phrases of Irish he throws into the text.

This is entertainment for the unthinking and unknowledgeable. It’s a waste of talent for I believe that Pete McCarthy can write and has a good eye for comedy. He just needs to be directed away from areas he doesn’t know about and can’t be bothered to learn about.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-10-02 15:31:05.
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