Englishman, Irishman, travel writer, comedian: Pete McCarthy loses battle with cancer aged 51

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The Independent Culture

Pete McCarthy, the Englishman with Irish blood who traded on his name to bring the craic and the characters of the saloon bars of the Emerald Isle to millions of readers, has died at the age of 51.

The travel writer and broadcaster, who was diagnosed as suffering from cancer eight months ago, died at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton on Wednesday.

Despite having lived all his life in England, McCarthy entertained readers around the world with tales of tracing his Irish heritage.

Some of the characters about whom McCarthy wrote in McCarthy's Bar - his humorous account of his experiences in the bars of Ireland - were among those who paid tribute to him.

Adrienne MacCarthy, whose Castletownbere bar and dog appeared on the front cover of McCarthy's book, said: "He turned up on the night of my birthday six years ago. We didn't know who he was but he said he was a McCarthy so we welcomed him in and you could say it turned out to be fun and long celebration. We didn't know he was writing the book or even that we were in it when it was published. But he became a good friend. We would see him once or twice a year, every year," said the 47-year-old who took over McCarthy's Bar and Grocery 25 years ago.

"He was always very concerned that by naming the pub he would ruin it. But we have changed a bit. It has certainly been good for business - we get people coming in holding a copy of the book as if it's a tour guide. Sometimes they ask me to sign it and I do. But essentially it's the same place Pete walked into six years ago." She added: "He was a very private person. He would sit and listen and could talk about any subject. But he never said much about himself. He was more an observer."

McCarthy was also a presenter on the Channel 4 series Travelog and hosted the Radio 4 panel show X Marks The Spot.

Born in Warrington to an Irish mother and English father, his books explored his Irish heritage as he chronicled his travels from Cork to Donegal obeying one basic principle: "Never pass a bar that has your name on it". It was a simple idea that earned him the admiration of thousands of fans as his first book sold nearly a million copies and won him the newcomer of the year prize at the British Book Awards in 2002.

The follow up volume - The Road to McCarthy - took him on a pilgrimage across four continents from Cork to Alaska in search of Irish connections and into contact with a variety of characters of Irish origin.

Adrian Mealing, who was a friend and tour manager for many of the writer's personal appearances, said: "Pete was was thrilled and delighted with the worldwide reaction to his books and had been planning his third. These books endeared him to generations around the globe who were either Irish, part Irish or who embraced the Celtic alternative to the Anglo-Saxon rulebook. Pete's books caused seismic public laughter on suburban trains, transatlantic planes, storm-tossed ferries, in cheap student accommodation and very definitely on the Underground. The man himself was lovely and shall be missed."

McCarthy, a former stand-up comedian, started out touring with poet Roger McGough, earning himself a Perrier Award nomination and becoming resident compère at The Comedy Store in London.

He was soon supplying television scripts for the comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, but he never used a typewriter or computer. In the 1990s he emerged from behind the cameras to become a travel presenter, fronting Channel 4's Travelog and Desperately Seeking Something, and BBC2's Country Tracks.

But it was as a writer that he found lasting fame after the publication of McCarthy's Bar in 2000 and The Road to McCarthy in 2002. "At 14, when I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, I knew that I wanted to write," he said last year. "If you write, you can make up your own rules. It was never a desire for fame," .

Ms MacCarthy said the writer's memory would be toasted. "It is sad but he wouldn't want us to be really miserable. He would have said there is enough hardship and sadness in the world. So we'll raise a dram in his memory."

Obituary, page 52