Drinkers 'on the dry' for Lent hit an all-time low
The number of people who officially pledged to go "on the dry" for Lent has hit a five-year low.
Only 40 people have signed up for the Pioneer Lenten Challenge, a short-term pledge by the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association to refrain from alcohol from now until Easter, according to project co-ordinator Raymond O'Connor.
The number of people taking the online pledge this year pales in comparison to 134 who signed up in 2013.
While there may be more people taking the pledge locally through their local Pioneer chapters, Mr O'Connor can't explain why the uptake has seemingly been so slow.
"There could be many reasons why but I'm not able to explain it," he told the Sunday Independent.
The association was founded in Dublin in 1898 by Wexford priest Fr James Cullen to "address the enormous damage that he saw excess alcohol was doing in the Ireland of his times".
While many people would argue that history has now repeated itself, it seems the commitment to abstinence from alcohol during Lent or throughout the year is no longer in vogue and is a far cry from the 1950s when up to one in three Irish adults were confirmed teetotal.
While there is no way to gauge how many people are actively abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, and chocolate - indulgences which many people typically forego during Lent - it doesn't appear that the Christian observance has been relegated to the dustbin quite yet, according to Brenda Drumm, a spokeswoman for the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference.
"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that it's still being observed," she said.
While fasting and abstinence are still observed by many Catholics during Lent, there is a new trend for people to take something up -like volunteering to feed the homeless - or giving up Facebook or other social media, she said.
But Evelyn Jones, owner of The Vintry off-licence in Rathgar, south Dublin, said it was business as usual for her on Ash Wednesday, and she hasn't noticed any decline in sales during Lent.
"That whole thing of Lent and sin and guilt has gone by the boards. It's only your older church-goer who would observe Lent now," she said.
But what she has noticed is a new trend among mostly young people to abstain from alcohol during January for health and financial reasons.
"January is the new Lent," she said. "But it's unlikely they'd feel the need to give it (alcohol) up again in February."
But for the faithful who still observe Lent, the fact that Valentine's Day falls during Lent, could seemingly pose some challenges for people who want to exercise self-restraint but not forego a nice meal, a bottle of wine or champagne and chocolates to celebrate the day that's in it.
The good news, according to Michael Kelly, editor of The Irish Catholic, is that because Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday this year, which isn't included in the 40 days of Lent, there is effectively a "get-out-of-jail-free card".
"Luckily, it falls on a Sunday, so you're not obliged to keep the fast," he said. "Eat drink and be merry and get on the wagon the next day."
The same goes for St Patrick's Day, which also falls during Lent. But because it's a feast day, it too is exempt, he said.
Early Church leaders relaxed the rules on fasting when Lent was first observed in the fourth century due to the over-zealousness of some penitents.
"So the early Church decided it was forbidden to do penance on the major feast days," he said.