Jackie Goodall meets the son of the larger-than-life Kerryman who established The Embankment in Tallaght as the hub of live entertainment for many years
Legend has it that when Bob Dylan visited Dublin during his 1966 World Tour, he asked a taxi driver to take him to a place where he could hear some good music. He ended up at The Embankment in Tallaght. As usual, the pub was thronged and the doorman said, “No admittance.” “But it’s Bob Dylan,” the taxi man protested. The doorman had never heard of him but with some persistence, Bob was eventually allowed in. On stage, a group of young men called The Dubliners were playing and he was captivated. Most likely Bob stayed on the premises well past the legal closing hour, as was customary.
The Embankment was the ‘El Dorado’ of live music venues and haunt of many a wild night for over two decades, from 1963 to 1985, and gave a spotlight to a host of singers and musicians such as Liam Clancy and Tommy Macken, The Fureys & Davy Arthur, Paddy Reilly and Planxty.
The man behind it all, Mick McCarthy, was a larger than life figure from Listowel in North Kerry.
One of ten children, he stowed away on a cattle boat to Liverpool at the age of 14 without a penny in his pocket. Finding his way to London’s Piccadilly Circus he saw a picture of a boy on a bicycle in a Lyon’s Corner House which read ‘Would You Like To Be This Boy?’
He got the job and cycled around London as a messenger boy for a year, getting to know all its nooks and crannies, eventually becoming a bricklayer’s apprentice.
I met up with Mick’s son, Lionel McCarthy, who runs a consultancy business in Dublin; light years away from the harsh environment of early 20th century rural Ireland, where his father’s unmarried sister lay dying, in labour, on the side of the road because no Catholic hospital would take her in.
Despite, or perhaps, in spite of these hardships, Mick McCarthy went on to carve out a very successful life for himself, his wife Kitty and their two sons. He was, at various times, a bricklayer, union activist, soldier, publican and like his brother Sean, a singer and storyteller.
“Pop was certainly the most driven one of the family,” Lionel says. “He married my mother, Kitty, at 18.
“When WW2 started he joined the RAF and went to West Africa, but not before they’d moved to Belfast to avoid the bombings in London, only to get bombed in Belfast. I was born during this time so my mother took me back to her home in Waterford and spent the rest of the war there.
“Meanwhile, in Belfast, Pop became Chairman of the Bricklayer’s Union.”