A recent post on this website, ‘The cradle of Temperance,’ has generated quite an amount of interest and comment.
Among the ‘History Heads’ there has been some discussion about the early days of the society and the significance of 2017 being the bicentennial of the founding of the first temperance movement in Ireland and Europe.
Mr Geoffrey Sedwards, a poor nailer, is credited with founding the society in Skibbereen in 1817. In the late 1840s Mr Sedwards lived in a cabin in Bridgetown.
Some years ago the late Fr. James Coombes, a very distinguished historian, did quite an amount of research into the early days of the Temperance movement in Skibbereen. Unfortunately, records from those early days of the Society are very scarce.
Over the years we have come across some interesting snippets in the ‘Cork Examiner’ and ‘Southern Reporter’ newspapers that help tell some of the story of the early days of Temperance in Skibbereen. Unfortunately, these reports appear only occasionally and while they are incredibly interesting they contribute only a little in helping us try to piece together the history of the society.
One of the more interesting little snippets we did come across one time was a report from the ‘Cork Examiner’ of Saturday, August 13 1864. Under the heading ‘DEATH OF A VETERAN TEETOTALLER’, the report concerns a Mr. Denis O’Meara of Skibbereen who was one of the early advocates of the abstinence association in Skibbereen.
The Cork Examiner, Saturday Evening, August 13 1864
“DEATH OF A VETERAN TEETOTALLER
The oldest pledged teetotaller on record has just passed away. Mr. Denis O’Meara, of Skibbereen, Co. Cork, joined the standard of total abstinence in the year 1818, under the Founder of the cause, Mr. Geoffrey Sedward, now deceased, an humble mechanic of that town. Mr. O’Meara was commonly known by the name of Mr. Sedward’s “eldest son”. Some of the documents of this original institution were given a short time since to the Rev. Charles Davis, R.C.A., by Mr. H.H. Becher, J.P., Lakelands, Skibbereen, who also claims the honour of being one of the faithful sons of Mr. Sedward. On the arrival of the Mathew Temperance in Skibbereen, a few years since, under the sanction and approval of the Right Rev. Dr. O’Hea, R.C., Bishop of Ross, and which is now under the presidency of Father Davis, the “eldest son” became one of its most prominent members, and so continued till the hour of his death. Mr. O’Meara was born in the same town, and died at the age of 75. He was borne to his last resting place on the 8th inst. The Temperance Society, numbering about 200, walked in procession in the following order, viz.: The committee, the members, the reverent chaplain, the treasurer and secretary. Then came the coffin, the chief mourners, the general public. The procession moved through the principal streets of the town till it reached the earthly home of honest Denis O’Meara, an upright man, a sincere friend, and a faithful teetotaller, when all that was mortal of him was laid in the grave amid all the ceremony and pomp of the church he so devotedly loved. May he rest in peace.”
NUMBER OF PUBS?
Another item of discussion around the general temperance issue has been the decline in the number of licenced premises in Skibbereen. Is it ten or eleven pubs we now have in Skibbereen? That’s a dramatic decline indeed. Without stretching our memory too very far, we can remember double that number in the past twenty years or so.
It would be an interesting enough study, wouldn’t it? Documenting the decline in the number of public houses in Skibbereen. We’re sure there’s plenty of people out there who could help us in that!
In Slater’s Directory of 1856, there are 33 public houses listed in the town. Add the two hotels listed, and that’s 35 licenced premises.
In Guy’s Postal Directory of 1914, the number has increased dramatically. There are 54 public houses listed and 6 hotels, that makes 60 licenced premises in total.
Dr. Denis Kelly, Bishop of Ross from 1897 to 1924, was a great advocate of temperance and a promoter of its ideals. In a letter dated October 18 1905 Dr Kelly welcomed the decline in the consumption of drink in Skibbereen and said that it had seriously affected the publicans. However, he bemoaned the fact that there were still 62 publicans in the town.
So, 62 licenced premises in Skibbereen in 1905. Ten or eleven in 2017. There’s definitely a story there!