The Temperance Call
Drunkenness was not a widespread vice of the Irish people until the early part of the eighteenth century. It became prevalent owing to the insecurity resulting from the Penal Laws. Previous temperance efforts in America and Europe concentrated on the middle and upper classes while the poor were regarded as unredeemable.
The Quaker, William Martin founded the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1835. It made little headway and Martin realised that without an influential priest the movement would fail. Martin sought out Fr Theobald Mathew, the best known and most influential priest in the City. Fr Mathew had often denounced the evils of excessive drinking in his sermons and entrusted himself whole heartedly to the temperance cause. He discovered that if the cause were removed the effects would cease, with the words “Here goes in the name of God” he signed the Cork Total Abstinence Society on 10th April 1838, and his campaign began.
He was convinced that total abstinence was the only cure for drunkenness. He became President of the Cork Total Abstinence Society and after just ten months over 6000 had taken the pledge.
“I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks, except used medically and by order of a medical man, and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.”
By the end of 1839 it was estimated that approximately 60,000 had pledged.
On invitation from Bishop John Ryan, Fr Mathew visited Limerick to preach on a charity sermon. He spent three days administering the pledge to over 6000 people. After this episode he was sure he had discovered his calling. Over the next few years Fr. Mathew travelled the country on his crusade of Temperance. He made it a habit of not going to a place unless he was invited. His success in Ireland was so remarkable he was invited to visit other countries. In 1842 he visited Scotland followed by an extensive visit to England where by his own estimate enrolled over 200,000 people. In 1849 he made his long awaited visit to the USA where he visited all the States. He was entertained at the white House by President Zachary Taylor however illness forced him to curtail his work and return to Ireland.