In a country awash with drink, meet the people who don't...
More and more Irish people are giving up alcohol, writes Deirdre Reynolds
Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00
It's the morning after the night before -- and practically everyone is feeling the effects of yesterday's Patrick's Day revelry.
But across the country, there's one growing group of people who won't need to stretch for the Panadol to get over the midday hump.
While the rest of us have our heads buried in the waste-paper basket, Ireland's teetotallers woke up with a clear head this morning -- and every morning.
Some label themselves Pioneers, others have just stopped using alcohol, defying the national stereotype in favour of an entirely sober existence.
After detoxing for good himself, dance instructor David Mooney (33) set up a monthly event for fellow non-drinkers to socialise over organic smoothies two and a half years ago.
"Around my mid-twenties, I completely lost my appetite for drinking," recalls David, from Dublin. "I had just come back from living in Paris, where they have a different attitude to drink -- they drink to enjoy the taste rather than to get drunk.
"But unless you want to get drunk, there's nowhere to go out in Dublin -- so I hired a hall, a DJ and invited all my friends along.
"Word spread very quickly and soon it went from being a handful of my friends to 400 people aged from 18-50 from all over the country. Now we've got events in Cork and Galway too."
"In Ireland, if you're not drinking you become isolated very quickly," he says from experience. "Whenever I tell someone I don't drink, typically they either think that I'm a recovering alcoholic or that there's something physically wrong with me that I can't drink."
With chai tea, massage and trendy beats, Funky Seomra's alternative night out couldn't be further from Ireland's binge-drinking norm.
Billed as Ireland's only drink-free nightclub, Funky Seomra -- which takes place at the RDS on April 23 -- is fast gaining a cult following of tee-total hipsters throughout the land.
Yet it also crushes the stereotype of the designated driver who sits in the corner glumly sipping rock shandy all night.
"As a nation, we have such an ingrained attitude towards drink that I was really surprised the idea took off," says David.
"In another way though, I wasn't -- lots of young people are sick of drunken nights out that cost a fortune but you can't even remember the next day.
"The event is deliberately designed to feel more like an ordinary nightclub than some squeaky-clean Church group," he adds.
Sisters Mary McCaffrey and Kay McWeeney have just celebrated 50 years as Pioneers -- meaning they've never touched a drop in their lives.
"I've never tasted alcohol in my life," says grandmother-of-four Mary from Galway.
"When we made our Confirmation Pledge, we made it for life -- apart from anything else, we didn't have the money to drink. Growing up, you'd be offered it left, right and centre, but I was never even curious what it tasted like.
"Having worked in the hotel and restaurant industry, I've seen too many people's lives destroyed by drink," she adds.
"I've no problem with anybody taking a drink -- that's their choice. I made my choice and I'm still happy with it."
Despite our love affair with the black -- and every other colour -- stuff, it's thought that around 200,000 adults here never suffer a hangover.
And of those of us who innocently swore we'd steer clear of beer as 12-year-olds, around 150,000 took their Confirmation Pledge seriously by becoming card-carrying pioneers.
"Most people will remember vowing to abstain at Confirmation age," says Raymond O'Connor of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, "but peer pressure kicks in and good intentions go by the wayside."
"In our heyday in the 50s, around half a million Irish people were pioneers.
"So long as society has a problem with alcohol, there'll always be a need for an association like ours to counter-balance it."
Across the globe, it's estimated that 13 million pints of Guinness were guzzled yesterday. So with alcohol so entwined with the notion of what it means to be Irish, why would anyone refrain from even an occasional tipple?
"Abstinence is not easy," admits pioneer Raymond. "Of course, I would have loved a pint yesterday -- but I'm prepared to make that sacrifice in solidarity with people who have lost their freedom to choose.
"There's a misconception that Pioneers are totally anti-alcohol," he adds. "We're pro-alcohol in moderation. However, we encourage those who want to go a step further to take up the challenge not to drink at all."
"Wearing a pioneer pin is a public display of that commitment -- and in today's world, that takes courage."
But what about the teens and 20-somethings who buck the trend by abstaining from booze?
Funky Seomra founder David says it is possible to be "on the dry" in Ireland and enjoy oneself.
He says of his event: "Even people who drink come along just to get a weekend off from the regular scene.
"And since no-one's drunk, it's also a brilliant place to strike up a new friendship or romance -- one guy even proposed to his girlfriend at one of our events recently!"
For more information on Funky Seomra events see www.dancefree.ie