Father Mathew, Temperance and Irish Identity
Paul A. Townend
In Father Mathew, Temperance and Irish Identity, Paul A. Townend has produced a lasting contribution to the increasingly crowded field of works on the temperance movements in nineteenth-century Ireland.
Father Theobald Mathew’s temperance crusade was the single most extraordinary social movement in pre-famine Ireland, enlisting millions of Irish men and women. Ranking among the more unique and under-examined mass mobilizations of men and women in modern European history, this book, through new and exhaustive research, provides startling insights into Irish culture, society, and politics of the 1830’s and 1840’s while giving a detailed picture of the rise and fall of the movement. Despite its beginnings as a marginalized local organization, the leaders of the Cork Total Abstinence Society were determined to launch a national crusade to convert the entire Irish population to the “doctrine of total abstinence”. To achieve this, Father Mathew and the temperance advocates crafted a distinctly Irish crusade, laden with pietistic and patriotic fervour. Camp-meetings, enthusiasm and the gospel of self-improvement were the hallmarks of the movement. Temperance urged a reformation in drinking habits as the best way to regenerate the Irish nation. Remarkably, in the wake of a series of these mass meetings all across Ireland, a forceful ethic emerged and prevailed. Temperance became, for a time, dominant in Irish public life. However, Daniel O’Connell’s relentless political opportunism and the cautious opposition of an anxious Catholic Church resulted in the collapse of the crusade and the ultimate demise of the movement. This fate, the author argues, was all too predictable because the campaign was not rooted in existing religious or political power structures and thus ended a most extraordinary response to an evident social need for leadership and identity in nineteenth-century Ireland. Illustrating the power of the press and public opinion in pre-famine culture, the movement, has claim to a significant place in our understanding of pre-and post-Famine Ireland. It also reveals a great deal about class, sectarian and regional divisions and established “a new benchmark for the potential of mass movements in Ireland.” Ultimately, Father Mathew’s success as the “Apostle of Temperance”, made a singular and unique contribution to the construction of a collective identity and nationalism in pre-famine Ireland.