It’s that time of year in Ireland where news websites are filled with sassy headlines such as “Good Friday: Where can you get an elusive pint while pubs are closed?” and “Lots of pubs flout Good Friday ban.”
But after 90 years, could this be the predominantly Catholic country’s last “dry” Good Friday?
The government is supporting legislation to end the ban on Good Friday alcohol sales in 2018. That’s a policy shift for officials who have long favored the prohibition, while pubs, restaurants and other businesses pushed for its demise.
“Not being able to go the pub on Good Friday is a farce,” wrote Colette Sheridan, in a columnfor Cork’s Evening Echo titled, “All drinkers will raise a glass to end of Good Friday prohibition.”
The legislative ban on alcohol sales on Good Friday, St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas was enacted in 1927, largely due to a push by the powerful Catholic Church and out of respect for the day’s religious significance. Good Friday, of course, is a solemn day for Christians marking the crucifixion of Jesus. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. And Jesus’ birth is commemorated on Christmas.
By 1960, the ban of sales on St. Patrick’s Day was lifted because of “waning church influence and growing commercial pressure,” according to an editorial in the Irish Times.
“It’s about time this country finally severed the vestiges of church and state,” Sheridan wrote. “The ban of alcohol sales on Good Friday, that blighted day in the calendar (for poor Jesus, who was crucified, and poor old sodden drinkers who can’t go to the pub that day) is well past its sell-by date.”
Catholics still make up 78 percent of the Republic of Ireland’s population, down from 84 percent five years ago. The number of Catholics dropped by 132,000, from almost 3.86 million to 3.73 million during that period, according to newly released census figures.
Some attribute the decrease, in part, to growing disinterest in and even hostility to organized religion, in part because of scandals involving clergy sexual abuse. Most recently, outrage greeted the uncovering of hidden graves of children found in Tuam, where the nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of Bon Secours had operated a Mother and Baby Home from the 1920s to the 1960s.
“The census confirms that Ireland is less Catholic than it was five years ago, but it is not a tsunami,” Tom Inglis, who teaches sociology at University College Dublin, told the Independent.
The Good Friday ban has been bent on occasion. In 2010, dozens of pubs in Limerick were allowed to sell pints for a rugby match between Munster and Leinster. In celebration, vendors sold T-shirts bearing messages such as “Officially bigger than the Catholic Church: Munster Rugby.”
Even now, some limited exceptions remain in place for alcohol to be served.
“The law allows tourist-friendly exemptions such as alcohol with your hotel dinner, or in the railway station, or at the dogs, or the airport or on the ferry,” the Irish Times reported.
Of course, not everyone is calling for change. Some say it’s important to continue traditions. Others fear that lifting the ban will encourage alcohol abuse.
“If we are serious, as a country, about tackling the many problems associated with alcohol misuse, then let us start by protecting the ban on Good Friday and putting our words into action,” Raymond O’Connor of Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, told the Irish Times.
If the measure is adopted, that means alcohol sales will be banned on only one holiday.