Thursday 23 March 2017

No need for mass panic over Good Friday drinks

After all the hype, Limerick was spared an invasion of revellers in search of alcohol, writes Tommy Conlon

Like so many other things, the build-up to the event was more exciting than the event itself.

This wasn't a dam bursting, they didn't storm the barricades, the doors of the pubs opened with a whimper not a bang. The story had spread like a forest fire across national and international newspapers, radio and television stations but outside the media bubble the public was neither shaken nor stirred.

The Mongol hordes did not descend on Limerick from the four corners of Ireland, as predicted, to enjoy the subversive pleasure of a pint in a public house on a Good Friday.

The city streets were in fact quiet and sparsely populated as the minutes ticked down to the appointed hour.

Some pubs were already open and serving food, small clumps of people gathered outside others and at six o'clock on the dot, bar staff reached for their taps.

But there was a distinct sense of anti-climax in the air. Judge Tom O'Donnell's historic ruling at Limerick District Court on March 25 had opened the door -- but the horse had already bolted.

It was 10 years too late, and maybe more, to generate the illicit buzz that all the hyperbole anticipated.

Good Friday was already being homogenised into another secular day of shopping and leisure long before the law caught up with the times. If people couldn't drink in public, they could drink at home having raided the supermarkets and off-licences during Easter Week.

So when they took their first sips in the pubs of Limerick last Friday, it wasn't really a moment to savour. In the end it was just a plain old pint, the same as the day before and the day after.

In South's bar there was a modest ceremony involving the deputy mayor and a countdown to six o'clock.

But the punters weren't celebrating like a people newly liberated from some long oppression; it wasn't the lifting of the siege of Limerick.

In a back corner of the bar an elderly gentleman and his son were watching the proceedings. Sean Little is a local but spent his working life in England; his son Jack grew up in Berkshire but moved to Limerick 15 years ago.

"I was brought up Catholic," says Jack, "but we never had this in England, I never heard anything about not drinking on Good Friday in England.

"To us, it didn't form part of our mindset at all. All this abstinence and anti-drink and all that, that was a Protestant thing as far as we were concerned!"

By seven o'clock South's is heaving with fans in Munster red. Across the road, two minutes' walk away, St Joseph's Church is hosting its Good Friday ceremony, Meditations on the Cross.

It is by contrast an oasis of peace; there is a depth to the silence. Female voices sign a beautiful hymn. The priest offers some reflections on the death and resurrection. "The eternal dance of life goes on and on and on," he says.

A lay liturgist also speaks from the altar, to a congregation mostly of senior citizens. He is sanguine about the scenes taking place across the road from his church. "I think it's a sign of a different society," says Joe O'Connor after the ceremony. "We have to accommodate people who don't feel the same way about the sacredness of Good Friday. Sad in a way but we just learn to move on."

He says it does make him nostalgic for earlier times "to some extent" but if the opening of the pubs symbolises the secularisation of Irish society, so be it. "Some people would argue that the church had a stranglehold on people's lives for far too long and now, you know, the shoe is on the other foot. It's up to people to make up their own minds."

Down in Jerry Flannery's bar the place is packed but the landlord is missing -- he is rather busy at the moment, getting stuck in for Munster against Leinster in a famous field a few miles away. The crowd is lost in the drama of the game. They have forgotten what day of the week it is, never mind that it is a holy day. It could be Christmas, Yom Kippur and Ramadan all rolled into one but they wouldn't care and it wouldn't matter.

These are hardcore Limerick rugby fans, brought up in a town historically remembered for its massive confraternity movement and the Redemptorist priests who preached Hell and damnation. They have a choice these days. They have rejected the fire and brimstone of the pulpit for the fire and brimstone of Thomond Park.

They even forget they're in a bar, and not the stadium, while Ronan O'Gara is lining up a first-half penalty. Someone shouts "sssssshhh!", in keeping with Munster tradition, and the chatter dwindles to a silence almost as perfect as the silence in St Joseph's Church.

Sunday Independent

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