It’s difficult to call time on the habits of our forefathers

Country Living with Francis Farragher

I’m not really quite sure whether or not I’ll be able to enjoy a pint of plain in my local nightclub this summer as the clock ticks towards six-o-clock in the morning, and come to think of it, I’m not too bothered either.

Before our ex-Taoiseach announced his early departure from the top job in Irish politics, he went on the record to say that he wanted Justice Minister Helen McEntee to ‘get a move on’ with the new licensing laws.

All this aroused a certain level of curiosity within me about our rather curious relationship with ‘the drink’ both now and back through the decades and centuries.

As far back as the late 1870s, we were hit with laws dealing with the problem of ‘habitual drunkards’ and also a ‘Sunday closing’ law prohibiting the sale of alcohol on the Sabbath Day.

Towards the end of the 19th century, there were thousands of Irish people – mostly males – being arrested for drunkenness, so, for well over a hundred years back, we had our issues with ‘the drink’.

But in our typically Irish way of going from one extreme to the other a Tipperary born Capuchin priest, Fr Theobald Mathew sowed the seeds for ‘The Pioneers’ or the Catholic Total Abstinence Association as it was known at the time.

The movement took off like a storm through the 1830s and 1840s when hundreds of thousands signed up to ‘the pledge’ in a matter of days with a reputed three million of the adult Irish population having ‘joined’ by the time The Famine struck.

Not even our St. Patrick’s Day National Holiday survived the anti-drink lobby with voluntary closures for the feast day sought during the early 1920s, before a law was enacted later in the decade banning the opening of pubs on March 17, which stayed in force for a number of decades.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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