The ‘offending’ Drunkenness (Ireland) Bill of 1905 and a country’s struggle with ‘wo-begone, half ridiculous’ drinkers

In your home of Commons, members were thinking about amendments to a Bill, which Irish Nationalist MP for South Louth, Joseph Nolan, condemned as “uncalled for, ill-considered, naughty in its arrangements, and unnecessarily offensive to every Irishman who had any regard for the reasonable popularity of his nation.”

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

Nolan’s comments were reported in The Irish Times the next day, on July 8th, 1905.

Nolan disagreed with the idea that Ireland was a special case, with an uniquely drunk-enough population to need its own procedures, “as if drunkenness were more prevalent there than in England, Scotland or Wales.”

Maybe he was.

A look for “drunkenness” and “Ireland” in the archive of The Irish Times throws up some fascinating outcomes. The temperance motion was gaining substantial assistance worldwide during the 19 th century, and Ireland was no various. Any amount of organisations sprouted in the name of abstinence from alcohol– lots of, numerous meetings on the topic followed. Drink was linked to practically every “evil” imaginable.

Drinkers featured in ‘an Irish village scene’, dated between 189src and 191src. Photograph: National Library of Ireland/ Flickr Commons
Drinkers featured in ‘an Irish town scene’, dated in between 1890 and1910 Picture: National Library of Ireland/ Flickr Commons.

Sweden comes up a lot.

‘ A melancholy truth’

Straight below the story, appropriately, was a report about the conference of the Total Abstinence Society at Dublin’s Metropolitan Hall, resolved by Benjamin Benson, an agent for the Irish Temperance League in America. Benson, who would later on become the proprietor of a temperance hotel and restaurant in Dublin, was a black man– and in his address, he inextricably linked strong alcohol and slavery. This came less than three years prior to the Emancipation Pronouncement.

The Irish Times reported: “Mr Benson was initially introduced to the meeting, and having mentioned his being of African descent, stated there existed prejudices versus the Africans as they had lost their national character. It was likewise a melancholy truth that slavery and intemperance went hand in hand together. Strong beverage is the dad of slavery, and was so from the time of Noah and the patriarchs to today hour.”

The very same association, in the same place four years later on, held a comparable sort of meeting. A petition read that stated the “common sale of intoxicating alcohols is the primary cause of the drunkenness, immorality, lunacy, criminal offense and pauperism of the country.”

Lunacy is a fascinating one. Census reports from the 19 th century list the variety of “lunatics” per county, in addition to the causes– which are burglarized “moral & mental” and “physical”. The very first group includes the similarity: grief, terror, religious enjoyment and reverse of fortune. The latter held “causes” such as: head injury, epilepsy, nerve system disease and intemperance. In 1881, for instance, the census reports list “intemperance” as the 2nd most typical “physical” reason for lunacy.

Those “lunatics” who were considered to have caused their own condition through drinking did not garner consentaneous compassion. At the annual meeting for advocates of the “Stewart Institute for Imbeciles” in January 1875, a medical professional called Banks said the homeowners there were “more absolutely things for their commiseration than the lunatic who brought on madness by drunkenness, for intemperance was among the most fertile reasons for mental illness.”

Ethical and social issues were, naturally, a typical talking point. In a Christmas Eve editorial in 1874, The Irish Times weighed in. “There are some, too, who think that Christmas is a time for debauch and drunkenness, and for the break-in of their children’s food,” said the piece, possibly in an attempt to awaken the consciences of would-be imbibers. “May the voices of our old temple bells, sweeping over homes and rolling happily yet tenderly along the pavement, stop them in their course and inform them that Christmas is the one celebration of the year which should hallow partner and child and house.”

Sunday closing

Criminal activity was probably the biggest selling point.

A letter composed by then Catholic Cardinal Paul Cullen in March 1870 shows the attitude of those backing Sunday closing:

” Practically all the crime we need to deplore in Ireland might be traced to drunkenness; and as long as the doors of the public-house stand open during the leisure of the Sunday, it will be very difficult indeed to root out from amongst our people that degrading vice.” Cullen required legislation to impose the Sunday restriction, for the “spiritual and temporal welfare of our outstanding people”.

Spiritual figures were anti-liquor, normally.

A Costs was passed into law to shut the pubs on Sundays in all but the cities of Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Belfast and Cork– though publicans could offer liquor to “bona-fide” tourists of fars away– more than three miles. It came into impact on October 1st, 1878– initially for a trial period of 4 years– and was met with relative compliance. Confusion stayed around some issues– how could a publican tell how far a self-proclaimed visitor had come? The Irish Times even ran an “ask the professional” type Q&A with Isaac Butt on October 5th.

Whether it in fact worked or not is another matter. Preliminary results after 6 months suggested a steep drop-off in arrests for drunkenness. Editions in later years, however, brought stories that declared the exact reverse, and said that drunkenness had actually heightened in counties and towns to which the Act used. Unsurprisingly the victuallers’ association was of the latter viewpoint.

The numbers typically supported the pro-Sunday closers. By December 1881, There had been a reported 9,403 less arrests on Sundays, and 22,855 over all. Between the implementation of the Act and the end of 1880, there had been a reduction in the consumption of wine and spirits to the tune of nearly ₤ 3 million, according to the Act’s supporters.

The focus of the Sunday Closing Association relied on broadening the remit to the 5 cities, however that was highly opposed. The Act, when it ended after the trial, was renewed yearly under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. This went on for 24 years, when the Act was made permanent in 1906, and the hours of sale in the huge cities lowered from five (2pm– 7pm) to three.

The argument for the Sunday closures was that if temptation made the thief, then the provision of strong liquor made the alcoholic.

You could fill that with spirits on a Saturday, Act or no Act.

Find Out More

Post Author: Izabella Jaworska

Izabella Jaworska 56 Southend Avenue BLACKHEATH IP19 7ZU 070 7077 0588