I WONDER what Napper Tandy would think if he was around now. For, without a doubt, this is still the most distressful country that ever yet was seen . . .” There’s always something woeful going on. If we’re not suppressed or oppressed, we’re repressed and depressed, and while they’re not hanging men and women for the wearing of the green anymore, the powers that be still won’t open the pubs on Good Friday.
Ochon, ochon, but where are we going to get a drink on Good Friday then? Our tongues will be hanging out with the longing. And what about all the tourists and 1916 revellers, lured to our shores by wildly exaggerated accounts of our unique pub culture and never-ending penchant for anarchy? Are we going to leave them in the lurch without a hope of slaking the ubiquitous thirst? Oh cruel, archaic and draconian laws! “Was it for this all that blood was shed?” as Yeats mused - in a different context, of course. And let’s not even mention the greasy till.
We should stop and listen to ourselves sometimes. But that’s the trouble. We never stop and listen to ourselves, especially when we’re whingeing. If we had any sense we’d be turning this Good Friday pub ban into a major tourist attraction – the last frontier of self denial and mortification in this increasingly hedonistic world. Instead we’re so outraged at being denied access to the public houses that future generations, I fear, will almost certainly confuse the Good Friday pub ban with the infamous Penal Laws that nearly exterminated our ancestors. That’s how history gets distorted.
We have even convinced ourselves that Ireland is the only country where ‘draconian’ Good Friday laws prevail. In Germany, they don’t even allow dancing in public on Good Friday, and some German states impose a ban on laughing - out of respect for the religious significance of the day. But other states don’t stop the pubs from opening, and whatever about the dancing and the laughter, that, apparently, is where we feel the pain most acutely.
Now, I know I’m not a great model myself for penitence or self-denial, but the obligations of Good Friday are hardly as demanding as, say, the great fast of Ramadan or other examples of religious rigours respected by believers and non-believers alike in every truly pluralist society.
The austerity of Good Friday has certainly been watered down an awful lot since I was a child, existing on one meatless meal and two collations for the whole day, and fretting that maybe I might, inadvertently, have turned one of the collations into another full meal. Like the pub with no beer, there’s nothing like denial to give you an appetite for self indulgence.
It was always a grey and melancholy day, if my memory serves me correctly, but then it was never meant to be a fun day. If it had been, then I’m certain that the joy of Easter would have been diluted and no-one would have risen early to see the rising sun dancing in the sky on Easter Sunday morning. I remember one Good Friday, when I was about ten years old, taking up my knitting needles to knit a scarf, and being told by an elderly neighbour that I’d be ripping it in Purgatory – with my nose, if you don’t mind – if I didn’t leave it aside on this holiest of days. The same man used to arise at dawn on Easter Sunday every year to see the sun dancing in the sky.
Now we’re living in a so-called secular Ireland where apparently it’s nobody else’s business what anyone does on Good Friday. In that case, why don’t they just call the holiday off altogether and go back to work. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about the pub being out of bounds on the day.
On the other hand maybe someone should remind those self proclaimed progressives that this country is still overwhelmingly Christian, with a massive 3.86 million people describing themselves as Roman Catholics in the last census in 2006. As well as that, an awful lot of them have been off the drink for the whole of January and if they can do ‘dry January’ for their own physical and financial well-being, then I’m sure a dry Good Friday won’t kill them.
Good Friday, of course, wasn’t the only day the pub was declared off limits in the 1927 Licensing Act. St Patrick’s Day and Christmas Day were also included. Christmas could soon be the only survivor and how long that will last is anyone’s guess. But look what happened when they opened the pub doors on St Patrick’ Day nearly 40 years ago. We nearly drowned ourselves, not to talk of the shamrock.
State imposed pub closures inspire rebellion – especially at Easter when the rebel gene is most active.
It comes as no surprise at all to learn that when the Good Friday pub ban was first introduced in 1927, the people of Limerick – the drinkers anyway - ignored that law and continued to frequent the licensed premises of the city. How it ended, I don’t know. Maybe they’re still as defiant as ever.
A Limerick man, however, was one of the main political supporters of the 1927 Licensing Act.
The man was James O’Meara, of the well known bacon factory family, who, ironically, was also the man who 20 years earlier, as a young MP in the Irish Parliamentary Party, had succeeded in Westminster, in getting St Patrick’s Day declared a national holiday in Ireland for the first time.
Good Friday, on the other hand, was never declared a national holiday.
So what grounds are there then for secular Ireland’s claim to Good Friday as a day for carousing?