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The temperance movement revived

Wednesday, 6th March, 2019 4:35pm

The celebration of the new St Francis Total Abstinence Hall at 20 Sheares Street was marked at the annual meeting of the society on Saturday 1 March 1919.

The newly elected lord mayor of Cork William O'Connor was in the chair. William was a native of Cork. He received his early education at the Presentation Brothers' College, and obtained his MA degree at UCC, later qualifying as a solicitor.

He was appointed Cork high sheriff in 1917 and was elected lord mayor a year later. A keen golfer, he was for some time captain of Muskerry Golf Club.

During his mayoralty, he associated himself with the cause of temperance and total abstinence from intoxicating drink.

The rev president Fr Francis spoke after the lord mayor and detailed that the furnishing was almost complete with three full-sized billiard tables, reading room, library, card room, committee room, a special room for boys, besides a large space behind on which a concert hall was built.

He outlined the rising numbers of the society. “The soul of the place are the members and these number several hundred, which number will be doubled when the hall is fully finished.”

Around 4,000 members are highlighted in the speeches. The rev president Fr Francis also spoke about statistics published in 1919 which reveal that £18,397,518 was spent on alcohol by the public, which was up from around £12m in 1913.

The St Francis Total Abstinence Society was founded around 1900. Based initially on Fr Mathew Street, it hosted sermons and talks by the Capuchin order.

Documentation from its early years is hazy and scarce. The society possibly co-utilised the Capuchin recreational space for the Fr Mathew Temperance Campaign.

On 30 January 1907, the early Fr Mathew Hall was opened in what was then Queen Street. There was a good auditorium for plays and concerts and plenty of rooms for activities such as a billiard room, a card room, a reading room.

For the St Francis Total Abstinence Society, talk of needing a premises accelerated in the 1910s. Charity events were organised. For example, in February 1917 fundraising concerts were held at Cork City Hall where the Cork School of Music Choral Society under the conductorship of professor Theo Gmur were heard as well as music by professor JC Shanahan.

Cork Corporation gave the space for free. Advertisements in the Cork Examiner in August 1917 records outings to Crosshaven by train, whereby lunch was served near Church Bay, followed by football matches and sports activities. The Greenmount Band provided the music on the outings.

The site chosen for their new hall was the former Irish Volunteer Hall on Sheares Street. The St Francis Hall continued as a dance hall venue for several decades after.

The St Francis Total Abstinence Society was also part of a wider renewal in temperance activity across Ireland.

Previously in 1838, Fr Theobald Mathew established his temperance campaign and within a decade enrolled three million people, or more than half of the adult population of Ireland.

By 1898 though, over sixty years after the Fr Mathew campaign, the influence of the pioneer movement had waned.

In 1898 Fr James Aloysius Cullen initiated the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association in Dublin, which created branches of its association and inspired solo societies.

Guy’s Directory of Cork City and County lists nine temperance societies in the city. Apart from the St Francis Total Abstinence Society, there was also the Church of Ireland Temperance Society, Cork Women’s Christian Temperance, the Pioneer Division No 790 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Total Abstinence Benefit Society (based at Hibernian Hall, Morrisons Island), St Mary’s Hall (North Cathedral Parish), St Vincent’s Hall for Girls (St Mary’s Road), the Third Order of St Francis Hall (Grattan Street), Fr O’Leary Total Abstinence Hall (Bandon Road) and Fr Mathew Total Abstinence Hall (Queen Street).

There were also temperance halls in Rochestown, Blarney, Bantry, Buttevant, Doneraile, Kinsale, Skibbereen and Youghal.

The Fr O’Leary Hall on Bandon Road hosted a prominent temperance campaign. As curate in the Lough parish between 1890 and 1915, Fr Patrick O’Leary took a leading part in the temperance movement. Whilst serving in the Lough parish, he began the study of the Irish language and in a short time he became a fluent Irish speaker. He wrote several Irish text books, and the one by which he was best known was ‘Ceacta Beag’, a book which was widely used in schools throughout the country.

Opening on 10 October 1900, the Bandon Road hall was initially named St Finbarr’s Working Men’s Temperance Club and was based on principles of the League of the Cross, which was a Roman Catholic total abstinence confraternity.

Established in London in 1873 by Cardinal Henry Manning, its aim was to unite Catholics, both clergy and laity, against intemperance.

The hall was designed by James McMullen and built by the contractor Alderman Edward Fitzgerald. The body of the hall was rectangular with a raised platform at one end, suitable for the holding of concerts and events. It was divided into three apartments, separated by glass partitions and arranged so that the three could be merged into one room if it were found neccessary. There was an additional spacious gallery, in which was situated the billiard-room and the library. The rooms on the ground floor were intended for reading rooms and general recreation rooms.

Kieran is also showcasing some of the older column series on the River Lee on his heritage Facebook page at the moment, Cork:Our City, Our Town.

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