THIS YEAR 2017 marks a significant milestone in Skibbereen. Two hundred years ago, in 1817, a Total Abstinence Association was founded in Skibbereen.

Messrs Geoffrey Sedwards, William Coughlan, and James White were the founders of the movement, which was the first, and for many years maybe the only Temperance Society in Ireland and in Europe.

The temperance movement in Skibbereen has necessarily passed through many vicissitudes in its long and colourful two hundred year history and we understand that the Skibbereen Pioneer and Total Abstinence Association has plans to commemorate this important anniversary. 

On Friday January 15 1841 the Skibbereen teetotallers held their Anniversary Festival at their “new and superb Temperance Hall just completed.”

The Temperance Hall, which stood for many years in Townshend Street, was one of the first, if not the first established in the United Kingdom. It was built in 1832. It was there that Daniel O’Connell was entertained after his monster meeting on Curragh hill in June 1843. Unfortunately, the hall was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1854 when, as well as all their early records, a fine library was also lost.

Following the burning of its hall in 1854 the movement went into decline in Skibbereen but was revived a few years later and was for some time referred to as the Mathew Temperance Society.

At the invitation of the Skibbereen society, Fr. Mathew, the great Apostle of Temperance, visited Skibbereen on Sunday February 28 1841 and preached a sermon in the cathedral. A collection was taken up to liquidate the debts which had been incurred in completing the new entrance to the church, and on that day, and the following day, Fr Mathew administered the pledge to thousands of people. Fr. Mathew visited Skibbereen again on March 25 1843.

The society in Skibbereen had its own band that played at soirees in its newly-renovated hall and also at some public events. Having gone into a bit of a decline again, the movement was revived in 1891 and the Hall in Townshend Street was refurbished. On one wall was a banner with the legend ‘The cradle of Temperance’.

Following another slump in its fortunes, the hall in Townshend Street was again remodelled in 1932. It remained a temperance hall until it eventually became the base for Skibbereen Fire Brigade in October 1966. That was the home of Skibbereen Fire Brigade until the moved to their new base at the Marsh Road on November 1 2002.

The building was knocked in December 2006 to widen the Townshend Street entrance to the car park and make it two-way.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing more than a plaque there now to mark what is a very important and historical location in Skibbereen’s history.

The Skibbereen and District Historical Society Journal, Vol. 2, 2006, carries an article by the late Fr. James Coombes, ‘Europe’s First Total Abstinence Society’. Copies of that Journal are still available to purchase. Fr. Coombes’ article first appeared in the ‘Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1967.

The plaque at Townshend Street which commemorates the founding of Europe’s First Total Abstinence in Skibbereen in 1817.

The old Fire Station, the site of the first Total Abstinence hall in Ireland which opened in 1832. This building was knocked in December 2006 to allow for the widening of the entrance to the car park.

“The cradle of Temperance”
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