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Skibbereen Temperance movement was first abstinence body in Europe

November 18th, 2017 6:25 PM

By Southern Star Team

Author John Deasy from Riverdale, Skibbereen, with his daughter Carol, at the plaque to Geoffrey Sedwards, at Townshend Street in Skibbereen.

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BY JACKIE KEOGH

 

A SKIBBEREEN man has written a compelling new book about the formation of the town’s Temperance movement ahead of its 200th anniversary.

John Deasy (69) told The Southern Star that he has been a member of what is now called the Pioneers Total Abstinence Association for more than 50 years.

‘I never envisaged that I would one day write a book about the town’s Temperance movement, but with the 200th anniversary looming, I was inspired to research the subject and the book was born out of that,’ said John.

Entitled Temperance 1817-2017 and PTAA in Cork, it details the history of the organisation throughout Cork county. Skibbereen takes pride of place because Geoffrey Sedwards, a Quaker who grew up in Bridgetown, Skibbereen, established the Temperance movement in 1817.

‘It is notable that this was not just the first Temperance movement in Ireland, but Europe. And the organisation was established with the support of just a handful of his friends.’

The movement quickly grew and by 1833 they had their own Temperance Hall in Townshend Street, Skibbereen.

That hall was burned in a fire but rebuilt in 1865 and remained as a Temperance Hall under the auspices of the Catholic Church until it became the town’s fire brigade station in 1961.

John pointed out that in 1970 the Skibbereen Pioneers erected a plaque on the building – which is now a dwelling following the relocation of the fire brigade to a purpose-built facility in Cork Road – in honour of Geoffrey Sedwards.

In the early years between 1817 and 1837, John said that Geoffrey Sedwards was responsible for setting up 72 Temperance Halls in West Cork between Bantry and Kinsale.

The book gives an account of these meetings and the social life of its members, which makes the book of sociological, as well as historical, interest.

After being in existence for 20 years, Quakers in Cork city were inspired by the success of the Skibbereen organisation and made representations to Fr Mathew to promote the movement because he was considered to be a very charismatic man. Fr Mathew took over the organisation in 1938 and for the next five years the rate of growth was phenomenal.

John explained: ‘Fr Mathew had his followers and his enemies, both in the lay community and the church, and he ran into some opposition. But there was no ignoring the fact that there was abject poverty in Ireland at the time and that alcohol consumption was a major problem. In fact, it was said the beggars on London’s streets were better dressed than the labourers in Ireland.’

In 1831, Ireland had a population of just under 8m people but the consumption of spirits was in the region of 7.5m gallons per annum. In 1838, this figure had risen to over 12m gallons of spirits per annum.

‘In the years after Fr Mathew took over the movement,’ John said, ‘these figures dropped significantly and it was reported that there were 5m members of the Temperance Movement throughout Ireland by the early 1840s.’

Details of the movement throughout the Famine years makes for harrowing reading, but that should not detract people from buying the book, which is available directly from John Deasy of Riverdale, Skibbereen (028 22469). 

The book will be launched by Bishop John Buckley in the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen on Sunday, November 19th.

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