A Story to Tell

Barry McMahon’s journey back to par

By Mike Allen, photos by Kara Thorpe and courtesy of Barry McMahon

There’s an old Gaelic proverb that says, “He that travels has a story to tell.” Sometimes the story spans continents and seas and sometimes it lies wholly within one’s heart and mind. For Barry McMahon it is both. His journey has brought him from County Clare, Ireland to Warrenton; from a young man to a business owner; and from the guy who put the fun in dysfunctional to the man who has learned to overcome his burdens and give to those around him. This is his story.

I first met Barry McMahon eight years ago. He was bartending at the time and, like most Irish bartenders, was quick witted, good natured, friendly, and genuine. He was the affable bartender with the ready drink and a good story. An excellent golfer who could talk sports, gambling, and world travels, he liked telling ribald jokes and recounting adventures he’d had with his friends. Like all good Irishmen, he liked to share stories, including how he hit a hole in one the first time he played golf and has been seeking his second ever since. 

Barry’s story starts with golf. “It’s kind of bred into you,” Barry explained. At age 13, he started hanging around the golf courses in County Clare. “As kids in Ireland, the only form of income we could get was to go to the golf course and find a ton of golf balls and sell them back to the golfers for $5 a dozen. So since we were hanging around there, we just started to play golf. It was £39 (about $44) for my dad to get me an annual membership to the golf course, and I had to beg him for two summers to do it; that’s how tight money was. Then I played a lot and got very good, and the pro ended up giving me lessons for free every Thursday just because he could see how dedicated I was to it.”  

Barry with his Dad

Unfortunately, Barry lost his dad at a young age when he suffered a heart attack on the golf course the day after he bought his son a beer for the first time. The sudden and tragic loss of his father, the regret of lost moments, and the burden of life ahead without his “number one fan” would prove difficult to navigate for the 17-year-old. In an attempt to shield his hurt from the outside world and to douse his pain, Barry turned to alcohol and anything else that would help him forget. He even abandoned golf for awhile. 

At 20 years old, looking for a fresh start following the death of his father and wanting to travel the world, Barry began traveling in Europe and then the United States, making his way to New York City where he had some connections. It wasn’t long before the young man with some cash in “the city that doesn’t sleep” found ways to spend his money and entertain himself that almost always involved alcohol and drugs. His demons had followed him in his carryon baggage. When he drank, he forgot. When he drank, he became the life of the party. His crazy antics made him popular and all the lads wanted to hang out with him. Lonely nights were replaced with all-nighters of forgetfulness. “Alcohol was my best friend,” Barry admitted. 

Finally, a ray of light appeared in the form of his uncle. His dad’s brother showed up on his doorstep, and by the next morning had bought him a set of golf clubs and arranged a tee time. Time for Barry to get back to what he knew and loved. “When it comes to passion for something, you can’t hide it away, even from yourself,” Barry said. His uncle helped him realize that instead of associating golf with the pain of losing his father, he could use the sport, and by extension, those memories, to remember and honor him. 

He returned to Ireland briefly but soon fell in with the same people and the same habits. So Barry returned to the U.S., this time to the environs of Washington D.C., and this time with his clubs. He worked in a number of Irish bars, finally arriving at what seemed like the edge of civilization, Warrenton. He began working at a local bar, McMahon’s Irish Pub, for new proprietor and friend Francis Fusco. It was during this time that he began wondering how he could turn his love of the game of golf into a profession, perhaps as an instructor. 

However, he would have to clear a bigger hurdle first. Living in a room above the bar and a world away from most of the people he knew, it wasn’t long before the solitude took its toll. He was still able to maintain a mask of normalcy, but those close to him could see the cracks in it. Barry needed help.

Ultimately, Francis took the first step in intervention and with a firm fatherly hand gave him an ultimatum: “I’m your friend, but I can’t help you anymore. I’ll take you to rehab, or here’s a ticket to go see your mom. I have her here on the phone.” Barry chose the latter, and the next morning he was met in Ireland by his mother. Her stern demeanor said it all. She told Barry in no uncertain terms that they were going home, that he was to get a good night’s sleep, and that in the morning he was going to see Michael O’Doherty, a local therapist and bioenergist.

Barry related, “My mom said, ‘You’re coming home to quit drinking and this guy is going to help you get in the right mindset to take care of this.’ With Michael, it was just like, ‘hey, get off your ass, change your diet, walk your dog, and stop isolating yourself like a depressed freak.’ He just kicked me in the ass and told me it was time to get my life together. But he did it in a therapeutic, enjoyable way. I went to my first ever AA meeting the next day.” After Michael, Barry worked with another County Clare local bioenergist and therapist, Jeff McInerney. 

The belief of the bioenergists is that a healthy being comes from understanding our unconscious mind. Since our reality is created by our thoughts, in order to be at our healthiest we must have our healthiest thoughts. In other words, Barry would exorcise his own demons by driving out the negative thoughts, guilt, and other burdens he had buried deep and was drowning with alcohol. Then, after recognizing the bad, it would be time to focus on the good. 

After four days of talking with Jeff, Barry came to realize the “sky was blue,” which was something he had forgotten. There was still a lot of good in the world. It was then he found the will to get better. Jeff helped him to help himself. Treatment for addiction requires more than a positive outlook on life, but having a focus on the future, goals, and a purpose is a big step in the right direction. It was time to look up instead of down and focus on what was ahead instead of what he needed to leave behind.

“Do what you love, and love what you do,” Jeff advised. Barry loved golf and Jeff helped him to realize it could be his future. With the unconditional love from his family, positive support from his friends, and a new focus, Barry saw his future. At the start, he attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings seven days a week. “My first six years of sobriety, I pretty much lived at AA,” Barry explains. “Without AA I wouldn’t be sober today.”

Alcoholism is a disease and can only be treated by steadfast determination and the willingness by the afflicted to want to get better. What is just as important is to have the support around you to prop you up when needed. Barry’s mom, Francis, Jeff, other true friends, and now his girlfriend Katie are all vitally important. Of course, Barry also still attends AA meetings and it’s this village of support that over the last seven years has saved a young man from the road to nowhere to being the entrepreneurial success he is today. Barry is thankful for those who have helped him on his journey and is dedicated to giving back. 

Barry returned from Ireland and was soon certified as a golf instructor. He opened his successful golf instruction school, Irish Golf Academy, in Warrenton in 2013 and now uses his natural gifts, his love of golf, and his ability to communicate effectively to achieve his goals. The legacy of golf passed down from his father has become the means to transform his life. Since opening, he has instructed over 2000 golfers in the finer nuances of the game. His patience, affability, and demeanor make him a great instructor whether you’re a high handicapper or scratch golfer. These qualities have helped the Academy outgrow its original venue and it has now moved to a larger home at Chestnut Forks. In addition to the larger physical facilities, Barry has formed mutually beneficial partnerships with local entities like Fauquier Country Club, created summer camps for young golfers, and started a travel business leading golfing ventures back to his native Ireland. These golf outings aren’t your typical tours; he literally invites his travel companions into his home. The goal is for his guests to see “his” Ireland, while shedding their worries for a time. 

He gets his greatest joy working with young people, where he feels he can make a difference. He also knows that while he is giving by helping them improve their swing and imparting the life lessons that golf can provide, he is also receiving strength. “It’s those kids that keep me strong. I might be feeling down and then I’ll get a text asking me a question, thanking me for a tip, or inviting me to their graduation and I know I’m where I’m supposed to be,” Barry explained. The Irish are known for their belief in the strength of the family and community, a belief that makes the Irish Golf Academy much more than a business…it’s Barry’s investment in Warrenton. 

Part of Barry’s purpose in life is to help others with addiction problems. He encourages people to reach out to him. “If my phone rings a hundred times a day with addicts calling me, that’s what I want my life to be. The more addicts I can help, the better,” he said. “Working with another person who is struggling is more valuable than any AA meeting I could go to.” He feels Warrenton is the type of close-knit community that can successfully support recovering addicts. “We really need to get back to the community, and that’s what Warrenton has. We drive down the street and blow the horn and wave at people, and we all take care of each other. We don’t have that many people here, we can all help each other get on the straight and narrow in this community.” 

The road to recovery is ongoing, but if you’re on the right road the traveling is made easier. There’s another Irish proverb that says, “the longest road out is the shortest road home.” In other words, time and effort pay off in the end. “There are a lot of takers and they eat well,” he said, “but the givers always sleep well. I want to be a giver.” David Feherty, a fellow Irishman, professional golfer, author, noted wit, and a man who is also dealing with addiction wrote a book laughing at himself called Somewhere in Ireland a Village is Missing an Idiot. Well I’m not sure about Mr. Feherty, but I know for a fact that somewhere in County Clare there is a village missing one heckuva guy and that’s Warrenton’s gain. 

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