Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's amazing what you learn simply by chance. Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856) was basically the founder of the Temperance Movement here in Ireland. He also played a major role in its development in the USA during travels to that country. There are two statues to him, one on O'Connell St. in Dublin and another here in Cork near St. Patrick's Bridge. The Irish group that he founded in 1838 was the Teetotal Abstinence Society. The word "teetotal" comes from the work of an English anti-alcohol crusader, John Turner, but Mathew's unique contribution to the English language was the term "the pledge". People who signed up to the Irish group, and others that he influenced in the USA, took "the Total Abstinence Pledge", swearing never again to drink. An unexpected side effect was a great influence in the consumption of ether!!!!, far more harmful than alcohol.
Mathew's dedication to sobriety had its darker side as well. During his trips to the USA he was promoted variously by pro-slavery and by Abolitionist groups. While his personal views were anti-slavery the pro-slavery promoters basically could contribute more to his campaign. The end result- he refused to publicly commit himself to Abolitionism, and thereby alienated his Abolitionist allies.
My first thought upon viewing his statue here in Cork was that maybe one day the Church will declare him a saint. In such a case he would be first in line to replace St. Jude as the patron saint of the impossible (though government action has massively changed the drinking patterns here in Ireland recently-but more on that later).
But his record of choosing support for the impossible given by unethical people over support for the possible (Abolition was, after all, achieved) from less prominent but more ethical people may qualify him for another position in the Calender of Saints- the patron saint of fools.

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