SO here we go then, all set for a major national fiesta on Good Friday, with most people off work and the pubs open all day for the first time since 1927.
But what’s the occasion? The one significant thing about Good Friday for the majority of us in this country is that it marks, with due solemnity, the day when Christ was crucified and died on the cross. If that doesn’t mean anything to you then I don’t know why you’re taking the day off at all. Just get back to work. It’s not even an official public holiday here - although it has been declared so now in communist Cuba - and it’s certainly not a feast day.
The opening of the pubs on Good Friday is, I’m told, a sign of real progress – a reflection of modern Ireland. The chance to sit at a bar counter, denied for so long – 12 hours by my reckoning - will help to dispel the gloom and enable us all to escape the harsh realities of life emphasised by the day that is in it. It might even help resolve our unfortunate relationship with the demon drink by not having to resort to a shebeen.
It will be great for tourism too - €30 million extra in the greasy till. Sorry, but to me, it appears more like the hijacking of a Christian day of commemoration. Any excuse for a party, so to speak!
I’m not completely against pub opening on Good Friday. It just irks me to see a day sacred to many being used as an excuse for revelling. When I was a young reporter covering local courts, the weeks after Easter always saw a formidable list of Good Friday found-ons from licensed premises in the locality, placed before the District Judge. The more remote the pub, the more likely it was to have harboured Good Friday recalcitrants. I don’t think there are any remote pubs left in the country now, and more’s the pity, seeing that they survived every disaster, even the Good Friday raids, before finally succumbing to the drink driving laws. Anyway, my sympathies then, despite my youthful piety, were almost entirely with the clientele and with the publican too, who, more often than not, voluntarily paid the penalty for all the offenders. My solidarity, by the way, was based on nothing more outrageous than my peasant distaste for too much regulation.
I changed my mind once, when I heard a rumour that a guard had been transferred to the back-end of the West of Ireland, after raiding a pub with well-known political affiliations on Good Friday – a deadly sin compared to the venality of the illegal drinkers. My sympathies, at that point, switched entirely to the side of the guards, who were expected to uphold the letter of the law while handicapped with a blind eye. The day that was in it, didn’t even count.
What bothers me now, however, is the sheer crassness and hypocrisy surrounding the decision to dispense with the Good Friday ban on the sale of drink in licensed premises. It’s for our own good, a sign of progress. It reflects a different Ireland, we’re assured. How is it that the older I get, the more I find myself confronted with the theory of a different Ireland, while I can’t even spot the difference apart from the more blatant hedonism?
Like most people, I’m gobsmacked at the sight of trolley loads of booze heading unashamedly towards the cash desks in my local supermarket on Holy Thursdays, but I was never scandalised enough to shout open up the pubs, before they drink themselves to death at home. Yet one of the arguments put forward for Good Friday pub opening is that it will help us to deal with the cross we carry so willingly - our complex relationship with alcohol. How convenient is that?
There are better and more honest ways of carrying the cross. When I was young, Good Friday was a day of Fast and Abstinence, and now you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows the difference between the two. We abstained from meat and we fasted by making do with one full meal and two collations. The day was interminable and tedious, but there was a certain momentousness too. Sometimes there were tangible signs of hope and new beginnings and somehow we all found ways to fill the day. Somebody in the neighbourhood would be putting down cabbage plants and someone else would be opening potato drills. The promise of the Word was in the air.
But as the Gospel says, one man considers one day sacred and another doesn’t. We really weren’t any saintlier than our latter day bar-stool tipplers. But we were happy to deny ourselves for one day and, more to the point, we certainly were never in denial.