The “Offensive” Drunkenness Act (Ireland) of 1905 and a nation’s struggle...

The “Offensive” Drunkenness Act (Ireland) of 1905 and a nation’s struggle...
The “Offensive” Drunkenness Act (Ireland) of 1905 and a nation’s struggle...

In the House of Commons, members considered amendments to a bill which the Irish Nationalist MP for South Louth, Joseph Nolan, condemned for the beautiful fame as “inappropriate, rash, malicious in its provisions and unnecessarily offensive to any Irishman who was considerate.” his country. “

The MP found the title – the Drunkenness Act (Ireland) – objectionable.

Nolan’s comments were published in the Irish Times the next day, July 8, 1905. The provisions of the law, which were to come into effect under a different name in November 1908, found widespread support in the House of Commons. The aim was, among other things, to financially protect the spouses of “habitual drunkards” – both husbands and wives – and to establish penalties for those responsible for a child when drunk. It also made it a criminal offense to buy a drink to a drunk person in or around a licensed building – those found guilty were fined forty shillings or less, or imprisoned with or without forced labor for a maximum period of time one month punished. “

Nolan questioned the idea that Ireland was a special case where the population was uniquely drunk enough to demand their own action, “as if there was more drunkenness there than in England, Scotland or Wales.”

Maybe he was right. But in general, “intemperance” in the Irish population had been a topic of discussion that appeared frequently on the pages of the Irish Times until Nolan defended the “fair glory” of Ireland. The debate was less about their existence – there was undoubtedly a problem – than about the solution.

A search for “drunkenness” and “Ireland” in the Irish Times archives yields some interesting results. The moderation movement gained tremendous support worldwide in the 19th century, and Ireland was no different. Any number of organizations came into being in the name of alcohol abstinence – many, many meetings on the subject followed. Drinking was associated with almost every “evil” imaginable.

Sweden comes up a lot. On August 17, 1860, the Irish Times published a story about a meeting of the Blackrock chapter of the Hibernian Bible Society that learned how the Gospels found their way through Sweden, where the drink had previously taken hold. “In Sweden … which was notable as one of the countries where drunkenness was a plague, a wonderful revival had taken place and the scriptures were being disseminated across the country with the most encouraging result.”

“A melancholy fact”

Just below the story was an account of the meeting of the Total Abstinence Society at the Metropolitan Hall in Dublin that was brought up by Benjamin Benson, an agent of the Irish Temperance League in America. Benson, who later owned a hotel and restaurant with Temperance in Dublin, was a black man – and in his address he was inextricably linked with alcohol and slavery. This happened less than three years before the declaration of emancipation.

The Irish Times reported: “Mr Benson was first introduced to the meeting and after pointing out his African ancestry, there was prejudice against Africans as they had lost their national character. It was also a melancholy fact that slavery and intemperance went hand in hand. Strong drink is the father of slavery and has been from Noah and the Patriarchs to this day. “

Drinkers in an Irish village scene between 1890 and 1910. Photo: National Library of Ireland / Flickr Commons

The same club, four years later, in the same place, held a similar type of meeting. A petition was read stating that “the joint sale of intoxicating alcohols is the leading cause of drunkenness, immorality, madness, crime and poverty in the nation”.

Lunacy is interesting. In census reports from the 19th century, the number of “madmen” per county is listed along with the causes, which are divided into “moral & mental” and “physical”. The first group contains the following: grief, terror, religious excitement, and reversal of happiness. The latter had “causes” such as: head injury, epilepsy, nervous system disease and intemperance. For example, in 1881 census reports listed “intemperance” as the second most common “physical” cause of insanity.

Those “lunatics” believed to have created their own condition through drinking did not find unanimous sympathy. At the annual Stewart Institute for Imbeciles supporters’ meeting in January 1875, a doctor named Banks said that residents there “had more emphatic objects for compassion than the madman who causes insanity through drunkenness, because intemperance was one of the most fertile causes for mental illness. “

Moral and social problems were, of course, a frequent topic. In an editorial on Christmas Eve in 1874, the Irish Times weighed in, “There are also some who believe that Christmas is a time for debauchery and drunkenness and for robbing their children’s food,” the play said, perhaps in a try to awaken the conscience of potential drinkers. “May the voices of our ancient temple bells, sweeping over houses and rolling happily yet tenderly across the sidewalk, stop them on their way and tell them that Christmas is the only festival of the year that should keep women, children and home holy.”

Sunday closes

Crime was probably the biggest selling point. Drunkenness itself was a crime that received light penalties, but it was seen as the basis of many other, more serious, crimes. As a result, there was renewed pressure throughout the century to close pubs on Sundays in the 1870s. In the late 1870s, Sunday was often identified as the drunkest day of the week in Irish Times reports.

A letter from then Catholic Cardinal Paul Cullen dated March 1870 shows the attitude of those who support the Sunday closing:

“Almost all of the crimes we face in Ireland are due to drunkenness. and so long as the doors of the inn are open on Sunday leisure, it will indeed be very difficult to eradicate this degrading vice from among our people. “Cullen called for laws to enforce the Sunday ban for the” spiritual and temporal good of our distinguished people. “

Religious figures were generally against alcohol. A number of bishops, in the absence of legislation, urged people to forego drinks on Sundays, with (as they said) evident local success. The Irish Times wrote of the Bishop of Cashel after his death in January 1875 that he had made “war” on drunkenness – but that he was far from being the only one. In Bessbrook, Co Armagh, a no-drink-on Sunday policy had resulted in the need for police – at least according to a member of the Irish Sunday Closing Association speaking in October 1875.

A law was passed to close pubs on Sundays in all cities except Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Belfast and Cork – although tax collectors could sell alcohol to “good faith” travelers over long distances – more than three miles. It came into effect on October 1, 1878 – initially for a trial period of four years – and was met with relative conformity. Some questions remained puzzled – how could a customs officer tell how far a self-appointed traveler had come? The Irish Times even held a Q&A session with Isaac Butt on October 5th.

Whether it actually worked or not is a different matter. Initial results after six months indicated a sharp decline in drunkenness arrests. However, the issues in later years had stories claiming the exact opposite, saying that drunkenness had increased in the counties and cities covered by the law. Unsurprisingly, the Victims’ Association shared the latter opinion.

However, the numbers often supported the pro-Sunday closers. By December 1881, 9,403 fewer arrests and a total of 22,855 arrests were reported on Sundays. Between the implementation of the law and the end of 1880, the consumption of wine and spirits had dropped by nearly £ 3 million, according to proponents of the law.

The Sunday Closing Association’s focus was on expanding jurisdiction to include the five cities, but this was heavily opposed. The law that expired after the trial was renewed annually under the Law on the Persistence of Laws. This lasted 24 years when the law went into effect in 1906 and reduced sales hours in major cities from five (2pm to 7pm) to three.

The argument in favor of Sunday closings was that if temptation made the thief, the provision of strong liquor made the drunkard. But the Irish Times, which criticized some of the political tactics used to defy the legislation, really disagreed with the idea from the start. “If all public houses were closed on Sundays, there would still be drunk men and women,” reads an editorial dated February 3, 1877 – an article that contradicts some arguments already against the possible restriction of opening times outside the license in the In 2020.

Proponents of the movement, the newspaper said, “would find that it is the Saturday night care that makes the drunk on Sunday and the galvanized drinker on Holy Monday and the wo-begone, half silly, half mad man on Tuesday.” Half a liter jug ​​- some of them “very neatly shaped to fit in the breast pocket of the vest” – cost a cent at the time. You could fill this up with liquor on a Saturday, act, or no act.

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