Examining the Irish Temperance Movement on a Trip to Ireland


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Think you could have survived in Ireland during the Irish Temperance movement? Repeat after me, “I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks except used medicinally and by order of a medical man and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.”

These are the words Father Theobald Mathew asked his parishioners to say as part of a alcohol abstention pledge. He had a burning drive to stop the drinking problems in Ireland.

In fact, in the history of Irish pubs, we touched briefly on how pubs were named. So, if you see Temperance pub, you might want to see if it’s on the same street as the historical headquarters of Father Mathew. He was that influential during his time in Ireland.

The jist of what we need to understand about the Irish Temperance Movement boils down to this: during the early eighteenth century the Irish society had a serious drinking problem.

The drinking issues affected every class equally. Copper stills of whiskey were brewed in the homes, and ornery, public displays of drunken brawling often got out of hand (not that all the Irish were drunks, but it was common). While most of these behaviors were rooted in the uncontrollable politics of Ireland, it certainly doesn’t mean drunkenness wasn’t a significant public issue.

In response, William Martin founded the Cork Total Abstinence Society (CTAS) in 1835. But he needed an influential leader to get results. He recruited Father Mathew, who signed himself over to the cause on April 10, 1838.

Father Mathew believed that total (yup, not one drop of Irish whiskey) abstinence was the key to successfully eliminating drunkenness. To this day, many believe his sermons and policy of only preaching where he was invited were, in fact, a Godsend. What’s the other side say?


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  • Protestants shouldn’t have been included (since Father Mathew was a Catholic priest)
  • He often acted independently, against Catholic doctrines
  • Total abstinence wasn’t realistic
  • The use of honorary medals wasn’t necessary

However the real story goes, Father Matthew’s movement lasted until the Great Famine. And on your trip to Ireland, you’re going to spot lots of relics of this historical period.

Keep your eye out for Orange Lodges, which is a Protestant fraternal order founded in Belfast. Your trip to Ireland also won’t be complete unless you learn about the 1898 Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, which picked up in response to the waning CTAS.

Unlike Father Mathew, total abstinence was not required. But the Pioneers still made a big push to help keep alcohol under control, even encouraging young Catholics to take the pledge and wait until 18 years of age to drink.

So, on your modern day trip to Ireland what Irish drinks will you decide to try? We’d love to know, unless, of course, you took Father Mathew’s pledge!


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