‘Who’s-Dead McCarthy’ by Kevin Barry

Who’s-Dead McCarthy by Kevin Barry, 2020

The magic trick:

Tying a character portrait to more universal truths

There is something approaching beauty in this story. I’m not sure it quite reaches its aim. It’s maybe a little too simple, too straightforward to truly transcend. But it does create a very nice effect.

The titular McCarthy is a bit of a town crank, spending his days rehearsing and reciting news of the recent dead for any local audience he can find along O’Connell Street in Limerick. There’s comedy in his character, to be sure. But there also is the connection – made blunt in the line “Con McCarthy’s city was disappearing all around him.” – of the man and the changing city.

He becomes an odd and, yes, almost beautiful reminder of the passage of time.

And that’s quite a trick on Barry’s part.

The selection:

I became morbidly fascinated by Con McCarthy. I asked around the town about him. I came to understand that he was in many ways a mysterious figure. Some said he came from Hyde Road, others from Ballynanty. The city was just about big enough to afford a measure of anonymity. You could be a great familiar of O’Connell Street but relatively unknown beyond the normal hours of the day and night.

We might know broadly of your standing, your people and their afflictions, but the view would be fuzzy, the detail blurred. So it was with Con.

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