Raise a glass to new Good Friday drinking era
I'm sitting in The Swan, a fine Victorian pub in Aungier Street, Dublin, having a usual Friday evening pint. But this Friday, it just doesn't quite seem the same.
It is, of course, Good Friday and the first time I could sit in such an establishment savouring a sip of a legally purchased pint.
As if on cue, 'regulars', the historian Diarmaid Ferriter and Catriona Crowe of the National Archive, arrive and I learn that the 'dry' Good Friday was introduced in 1927 by the then Minister for Justice Kevin O'Higgins, because the Catholic Church thought we were drinking too much.
What's new? "It's the first time I've had a drink on Good Friday in 50 years," says one of my companions.
Looking across the street at the crowd coming and going from Whitefriar Street church, I realise that not everybody feels liberated by this change in the licensing laws. Of course, this isn't the first drink I've ever had on a Good Friday.
I remember many years ago passing the railway station in Mullingar, after a leisurely stroll through the near empty town, where not only pubs but almost all shops shut in the 1970s for the religious 'ceremonies'.
Blissfully unaware of the licensing laws, I walked in and found scenes of unrestrained gaiety in the station, which had a bar at that time. Men with rolled-up sleeves were serving up bottles of stout as fast as they could.
One of the customers explained that all you needed was a ticket - most of them had paid 10 bob for the cheapest, to Edgeworthstown - and you could drink for the day "on production of the said ticket" as the regulations said.
It was a Myles na gCopaleen paradox: a crowded bar on a 'dry' day where no-one was boarding empty trains coming and going from a packed railway station.
A year or two later, when I was living in Longford, I remember the grandly named Fountain Blue, now a ruined weed-covered monument to the demise of what was then known as "The Roadhouse", opening its doors at midnight on Good Friday/Holy Saturday and joining the throngs of sweating, drinking, dancing people throwing off the shackles of Catholic domination and defying their parents' religious sensibilities by going on what was known as "the tear" to celebrate the pagan/Christian feast.
On another Good Friday, we joined a few other families on a weekend trip to an island in Lough Derg on the Shannon. Easter was late that year and the weather balmy for the time of year. We had taken our own supplies, but as we sipped a bottle of beer in the sunshine, someone (there's always someone) said: "I'd love a pint."
So we piled into the boat and headed to Terryglass and, sending the gang of children to explore the lake shore, the adults, about eight of us, went into the hotel to suss out the lie of the land.
"You can only have a drink if you have a full meal," the patron, a matronly lady, insisted, immediately suspicious when the first order was a round of drinks, rather than food. We agreed, deviously.
Drinks and starters arrived and a second round was ordered and the patron appeared, again insisting that a main course was a condition of serving alcohol.
How are we going to get out of this, I wondered? Just then the children, about 14 of them, came tumbling noisily into the dining room, an unruly mob including a youthful Vogue Williams, dripping water and mud on the carpet after falling or jumping into the lake.
The owner threw her eyes to heaven, she knew she'd been 'had' as she ordered us all out with a "and don't ever come back" farewell.
We lit the fire and that evening we sat around drinking bottles of beer, laughing over our adventure and playing Jenga. And, of course, Vogue won the hotly contested championship. Even then, she was going places.
Sitting on the wooden bar stool looking at a picture of John Lynch, the former Irish and Lions rugby player who owns The Swan, and remembering the Easters of yesteryear, I'm still not convinced about abandoning 91 years of traditions, but slainte to this new era.