On Friday, for the first time in 90 years, pubs in Ireland were allowed to stay open – and to celebrate members of Atheist Ireland gathered at the Hairy Lemon in Dublin.
It is reported by The Independent that the opening is believed to have generated more than £35-million in sales.
It was the first time that people were allowed to drink alcohol legally in pubs in 90 years and the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland believe it had a significant impact on the sector, saying it stood by a previous projection of €40-million in sales.
In announcing the Atheist Ireland’s Atheists in the Pub session, AI’s Michael Nugent explained the reason why pubs previously had to shut on Good Friday. He wrote on his blog:
In 1924, Ireland had one pub for every 200 people, twice the ratio of England. The new Irish Free State parliament debated keeping Good Friday and St Patrick’s Day dry, as well as closing pubs during “the hours of Divine Service” on Sunday mornings.
Were the new regulations aimed at keeping public order? No. Justice Minister Kevin O’Higgins made clear that: “They were not inserted from that angle at all, but rather as an attempt to interpret the collective mind or wish of the people concerning matters that are partly religious and partly sentimental.”
Most TDs agreed. Deputy Jouis J. D’Alton said Good Friday “should be specially devoted to the Lord. It is a day on which there should be devotions for all Christians”. Deputy Tom Johnson said it was “a Christian memorial day” and the ban would “fit in with the wishes of the people when seriously contemplating their religion”.
But TDs wanted a tipple on our national holiday. Deputy John Daly noted that “Good Friday is a day of sorrow, but St Patrick’s Day should be observed as a day of joy”. And Major Cooper said “Good Friday is a day of mortification. Is St Patrick’s Day to be a day of mortification, too?” And so we ended up with only one day of mortification.
Nearly a century later, we live in a pluralist and multicultural Ireland. The 2016 census results on religion broke a significant barrier – more Irish people now have no religion (468,400) than members of all minority religions combined (439,000).
Another 125,300 people declined to answer the religion question. So the actual figure for No Religion, whatever it is, is over 10%. Also, in Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire and Galway, more than one in three of the population is non-Catholic.
A global WIN-Gallup poll some years ago showed fewer than half of Irish people considered themselves religious. An MRBI poll at the time of the last Eucharistic Congress in Dublin showed nearly one in 10 Irish Catholics do not even believe in God.
All of this should encourage more atheists to stand up for our rights, particularly in the education and healthcare systems, and to support equal treatment for everyone, regardless of religious or nonreligious beliefs.
Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for ethical secularism. We support the right of every citizen to believe in any gods, and to practise their religion without infringing on the rights of others. But the State should remain neutral between religious and non-religious beliefs.
The Good Friday drink ban is silly. If Christians or atheists want to remain sober on any day of the year, they are perfectly entitled to do so. But we should be adult enough to be able to separate the issues of religion, alcohol, citizenship and personal liberty.
The Good Friday ban is just one annual note in the constant background noise of religious interference in our public life. Every day RTE broadcasts the Angelus, a Christian call to prayer. Can you imagine the outrage if they broadcast a minute of Richard Dawkins before the news every day?
The Dail starts every day by asking the christian god to direct its work. The President, judges, Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Attorney General and other Council of State members have to swear a religious oath, preventing many conscientious atheists from holding these important posts.
The Catholic Church still controls over 90pc of our state-funded primary schools. They integrate their religious ethos into the whole curriculum, and they can legally discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion.
Our abortion laws are still subject to the religiously-inspired ‘pro-life’ amendment, though this might change with the referendum in May. Atheist Ireland is campaigning for a Yes vote as part of the Together For Yes group.
Will allowing us to drink on Good Friday solve these problems? Not on its own, although it might help some people to forget the problems for a day! But as a small part of a wider package of secular changes, it will help Ireland to respect all of its citizens equally.
Independently of religion, we should of course tackle the social problems caused by excessive drinking. But these problems do not depend on the day of the week. We should be free to drink in the same way on any Friday as we can on any Thursday or Saturday.
Vintners’ Federation of Ireland Chief Executive, Padraig Cribben, above, said that many people visited due to the novelty factor of visiting a pub on Good Friday.
Our members are reporting a brisk trade from lunchtime throughout the afternoon. At this early stage, it would appear city publicans in places like Cork and Kilkenny were particularly busy.
The overall reaction from publicans is very positive. Consumers are also happy so we feel the debate about Good Friday trading is over and by this time next year it will be a normal part of Irish life.
We don’t have figures for how many pubs remained closed but those who did were primarily in rural areas of the country. The clear majority of our 4,000 members were happy to have the extra day’s trading.