Over the past number of weeks RTE have been broadcasting a short series presented by Irish (American) comedian Des Bishop on the subject of Irish drinking culture. Like Des, I haven’t had a drink since my late teens, so I am one of those seemingly rare breed of Irish folk – the tea-totaller. Unlike Des, I was not an alcoholic. I began drinking socially when I was sixteen. I was never drunk, could certainly go out without drinking at all, and in the main, I drank beer. So why give up? I was a very lucky young man. I had a circle of very good friends (most of whom did drink-but not in a stagger city kind of way) who were honest, and supportive of our peer group. I was at a house party (nothing rowdy – listening to music, joking chatting) one evening and one of the guys at the party (who I didn’t know especially well) suggested to me that I didn’t “need” to drink. Alcohol had a strange effect on me. Unlike most of my friend who got a little louder and braver as the night went on, I would go quiet. I am naturally a loud, opinionated and dare I say, confident, person, and drink made me the opposite. It put a seed in my head – life free of alcohol was a possibility. A few months later, my late father started to teach me to drive. The very first thing he told me was “as soon as you put the key in the ignition, you have control of a lethal weapon – be responsible”. From that very minute I vowed not to drink alcohol. So I went down to my local church (again unusually for a man in his mid-40s in present day Ireland – I’m still an practicing catholic) an took the “pledge” – something I deliberately did NOT do at the time of my confirmation. I did this not for religious reasons, but to get the “pin”. Because in 1986 people would have had the “a sure you’ll have the one” conversation – but they would leave you alone if you wore the pin. And that’s what I did until I sailed for London the following year, where I didn’t have to explain to anyone that I didn’t drink (well not much anyway). In the past few years I have come across a group called the “No-Name Club” who organise youth events (15-18 year olds) with a complete intolerance to alcohol and drugs. These clubs offer an alternative to the belief that you can’t have a good time if you can remember it the next day…they are packed with intelligent, articulate, engaged, talented young people. That’s why I use the word “seemingly” at the beginning. The culture of excessive drinking is alive and well – but there is movement out there to show that there are alternatives.
Thanks Des for a very insightful series.