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Bonzer Words!: The Drunkenness Of The Irish?

From personal experience, Tony Kearney dismisses the idea that the Irish are a particularly drunken race. "Indeed, the house and atmosphere in which we were reared,'' he says "was almost entirely teetotal. My mother enjoyed sherry when entertaining her card-playing friends. However, her limit was two glasses and I remember that these brought redness to her face and garrulity to her tongue.''

Tony writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please do visit www.bonzer.org.au

When a joke about an Irishman is told, he is usually portrayed as being drunk, or stupid or pugnacious or any combination of the three. The reputation for possessing these traits exists despite the fact that, so far as I am aware, no statistical evidence has ever been produced to show that the Irish drink more or are less wise or are more pugnacious than any other races.

In so far as drunkenness is concerned, I can speak from some personal experience. I lived in Ballintemple, a village about a mile from Cork City for my first nineteen years (1919-1938) and I can remember encountering drunkenness on only two occasions during that period.

One was when my three sisters, brother and I were astonished and horrified to see three bank clerks who boarded nearby, reeling down the street in a mild, but nevertheless unmistakable, state of inebriation.

What was the event that brought this about we never discovered but it must have been one of great importance perhaps a promotion or an engagement—because bank clerks were very poorly paid despite the fact they were required to maintain a high standard of decorum and dress.

Some idea of the genteel poverty in which they existed may be gleaned from the fact that a bank clerk's lunch was the expression used to describe a sandwich, and a pee in a hotel toilet!

The second and even more surprising occasion was when a doctor friend (a highly regarded eye surgeon) of my father turned up footless at our front door one balmy summer's evening. Again, we did not ever discover the full whys and wherefores of that particular incident. However, there was some reason for believing that he had his eye on one of my sisters; she was young enough to be his daughter!

Indeed, the house and atmosphere in which we were reared was almost entirely teetotal. My mother enjoyed sherry when entertaining her card-playing friends. However, her limit was two glasses and I remember that these brought redness to her face and garrulity to her tongue.

My father was staunchly teetotal until his declining years when he also had the occasional glass of sherry. However, he still regarded himself as being a teetotaller because, in his opinion—and he was a man of strongly held opinions—sherry did not constitute an alcoholic drink.

I am doing him less than justice in referring to his 'declining' years. In fact he was still a very powerful and energetic man when, in his early eighties, he was knocked down by a bus on his way to Mass.


© Tony Kearney

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