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Home > A nation of extremes. The pioneers in twentieth-century Ireland.

Ferriter, Diarmaid (1999) A nation of extremes. The pioneers in twentieth-century Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Explores the extraordinary relationship the Irish have with alcohol from the point of view of the group who were intent on reducing alcohol consumption through membership in the Pioneer Total Abstinence of the Sacred Heart. The Pioneers was formed in 1898, by the mid 1950s the association was to claim a membership of nearly half a million, identifiable by the wearing of a pin, the outward expression of an internal and deeply personal piety. It was a startling figure for such a small country but the stereotype of the Irish as a nation of heavy drinkers continued unabated, aided by vast expenditure on alcohol. As the century progressed two diametrically opposed cultures - abstinence and heavy drinking - were lying alongside each other.

Ferriter makes use of previously unpublished sources, examines the Irish temperance movement in the context of Irish society as a whole and attempts to tease out some of the intricacies and ambiguities associated with these two cultures. Although the leaders of this temperance crusade insisted that it was primarily a religious movement, given the pervasiveness of the Irish drink culture it was inevitable that in their desire to transform attitudes they would have to involve themselves in the wider, and more material debates about the role of drink in Irish society. The fact that the movement was founded at a time of intense cultural nationalism gave these debates an added potency, particularly as it had often been contended that increased sobriety was essential for any self-respecting self-governing nation. After Independence, the quest for sobriety and an initially robust Catholic crusade ultimately led to confrontation and confusion.

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