< back to writing

My Favorite Place in Ireland: The Wild West

From National Geographic Traveler March 2, 2015 (Photograph by Jim Richardson, Marshall Ikonography)

By Andrew McCarthy

An innkeeper, a painter, a bodhran maker.

Almost 30 years ago on a chilly June night I stumbled into Ballinalacken Castle House Hotel in County Clare and came upon a gruff lion of a man with an unruly mop of hair who offered me a country welcome amid peat fires, heavy blankets, and flowing pints of Guinness.

Denis O’Callaghan has endured my comings and goings at all hours, my crashing into his car, my insistent requests for more of his wife Mary’s unmatchable soda bread, nearly every year since.

He has become as much a part of my visits to the west of Ireland as the nearby Cliffs of Moher, the traditional Irish music played in McDermott’s Pub just down the hill in Doolin, or my wind-whipped hikes across the Burren. His site on a bluff overlooking the sea and the Aran Islandsbeyond is a place I return to in my mind on a weekly basis.

A large canvas covered by a roiling blue-green sea led me to find Carol Cronin halfway out on theDingle peninsula, a craggy finger of unmanicured land jutting out into the Atlantic in County Kerry.Carol’s gallery on Green Street in the town of Dingle is filled with a riot of seascapes—gray, golden, turquoise; some placid, some in turmoil.

She can be found there painting—usually barefoot, long brown hair yanked back off her face—on most afternoons. It’s Carol who pointed me to Curran’s, a Main Street pub where the owner/barkeep shared with me crumbling letters of gratitude sent to his grandfather by so many of the people who had fled Ireland during the Great Famine with a few pounds of the elder Curran’s money in their pockets to ease the way.

It was Carol, too, who insisted I go out to the Blasket Islands, the now deserted, treeless outcrops that were home to a few dozen rugged, Irish-speaking people until the mid-20th century. Alone on Great Blasket, amid the handful of derelict houses, under raging wind then lashing rain then burning sun, I spent a day in potent silence that I have never forgotten.

And it was out in Roundstone along the coast road in Connemara that Malachy Kearns told me, “I had a wild call to be by the sea and I couldn’t wish it away.”

It explains why Ireland’s premier bodhran maker has secluded himself far from the beaten path in County Galway, and why musicians make the pilgrimage to his seaside studio for his custom-made drums.

An outsize man in every way, with pale blue eyes full of mayhem, Malachy embodies much about this wild, merciless, untamable corner of an already wild and untamed west. Connemara is Ireland’s Ireland, “a different world out here, to be sure.”

For more than a quarter of a century I’ve traveled this coast, up from the filigreed fringe of west Cork, along the lakes of Killarney, to the world-class golf links of Ballybunion and Lahinch, to Yeats country in Sligo, meeting people like Denis, Carol, and Malachy.

Next year, I’ll meet still more.

related articles

back to top

JOIN ANDREW McCARTHY ON TOUR

Tuesday, March 28 at 7pm
Barnes & Noble Union Square
In conversation with Gayle Forman
33 E. 17th St., New York, NY 10003

Wednesday, March 29 at 7pm
Barnes & Noble
Vernon Hills Shopping Center
680 Post Rd., Eastchester, NY 10583

Thursday, March 30 at 7pm
Books & Greetings
271 Livingston St., Northvale, NJ 07647

Saturday, April 1
Texas Teen Book Con | Houston, TX

Sunday, April 2
Alamo Drafthouse | Austin, TX

Monday, April 3 at 7pm
Books, Inc Opera Plaza
Not Your Mother’s Book Club
601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94107

Tuesday, April 4 at 7pm
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925

Wednesday, April 5 at 8pm
Live Talks LA
In conversation with Pico Iyer
Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre, New Roads School
3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404

Thursday, April 6 at 7pm
Elliott Bay Books
1521 10th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122

Friday, April 7 at 7pm
Powell’s Books
3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005

Sunday, April 9 at 5pm
Politics & Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008

Monday, April 10 at 7pm
Boswell Books
2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53211

Tuesday, April 11 at 7pm
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court
In conversation with Betsy Bird
811 Elm St., Winnetka, IL 60093

Wednesday, April 12 at 7pm
Talk of the Stacks Series
Hennepin County Library
Minneapolis Central Library
300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401

Thursday, April 13 at 6:30pm
Parnassus Books
Hillsboro Plaza Shopping Center
3900 Hillsboro Pike #14, Nashville, TN 37215

Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30pm
Rainy Day Books
At Woodneath Library
8900 N. Flintock Rd., Kansas City, MO 64157

Wednesday, April 19 at 7pm
St. Louis County Library
With The Novel Neighbor
1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131

Thursday, April 20 at 7pm
Georgia Center for the Book
With Little Shop of Stories
Dekalb County Public Library
215 Sycamore St., Decatur, GA 30030

Friday, April 21 at 7pm
Books & Books
265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33134

Tuesday, April 25 at 7pm
Barnes & Noble
Market Fair, 3535 US-1 #400, Princeton, NJ 08540

Wednesday, April 26 at 7pm
Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 02446

Monday, May 1 at 7pm
Darien Library
In conversation with Dani Shapiro
1441 Post Rd., Darien, CT 06820

PRE-ORDER NOW