Friday, June 6, 2014



Fr. Theobald Mathew giving
"the pledge."
Alcohol, and the availability and abuse of it, were a constant problem in nineteenth century Lowell.
In any given year, alcohol related offenses led the list of arrests and cases heard before the Lowell Police Court.  This was, unfortunately, also a major problem within the Irish community.  There were many 'rum cellars'  - mostly unlicensed - all along Lowell street. All too sadly the epithet “drunken Irishman” had some foundation in fact.  In 1840, Father Theobald Matthew, a priest in Ireland, was preaching total abstinence from alcohol and many thousands were “taking the pledge” to stop drinking – or to never start.  In Lowell, Father James T. McDermott, pastor of St. Patrick's Church, urged his congregation to take the pledge. After one Sunday sermon, it was reported that 501 parishioners had done so.   On a subsequent Sunday, another 500 also pledged total abstinence.  At the same time the 'Cold Water Army' was active, urging abstinence on the part of all, Catholic and Protestant alike.  In a letter printed in the ADVERTISER on 19 June, a writer commented that, “From present indications, our Protestant population will be outdone in the great work of temperance, by their Catholic brethren”.  Visitors to Lowell street on a Saturday commented that “...not a drunkard was seen.”
A positive step taken as a result of Fr. McDermott's effort occurred at a Merrimack street business.  A letter appearing in the COURIER of June 20, related that “A gentleman has just informed us that as he was passing a store on Merrimack street yesterday, his attention was attracted by some ten or a dozen men, who were all busily engaged in removing casks from a store where “the ardent” has formerly freely been dealt out.  On inquiring, he learned that the owner, although a licensed retailer, had voluntarily surrendered his license, and was removing all his liquor casks of all description from his store.  That owner was Hugh Cummiskey, a trader will known and possessing great influence in Lowell.  We cannot heap too much praise upon him for this act”.

This short recitation of the 1840 temperance movement was prompted by the discovery, in the ADVERTISER of June1,  of the following “gem.”

June 1, 1840 – William Congden was brought up, charged with being a drunkard.  It appeared in evidence that said Congden was decidedly drunk in the Catholic Church, and behaved very improperly during divine service.  His Honor regarded it as an offense of rather an aggravated character, and fined him $5.00 and costs. [note: about $10.00 total or almost two weeks pay]  He evidently got into the “wrong pew.”

One wonders,  Could it have been the 'sacramental wine'?
Submitted by Walter Hickey

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