Father Mathew (the temperance priest) was a Roman Catholic priest who was a native of Co Tipperary, Ireland. He was educated at St Canice’s Academy, Kilkenny City. With William Martin he led a campaign to promote temperance in Ireland and abroad during the 19th century.
Theobald Mathew was born at Thomastown Castle, near Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland in 1790. In 1807, at the age of seventeen, he entered the Royal College of Saint Patrick Maynooth to study for the priesthood. He left after a year and joined the Capuchin Order in Dublin where he was ordained a priest on April 17th 1813.
Father Mathew returned to Kilkenny city for his first assignment as a Capuchin. A year later he was transferred to the Capuchin Friary (South Friary) in the city of Cork. He became a well-known and popular figure in Cork where he organised schools, benefit societies and a library.
Drunkenness was a widespread and serious problem in Ireland at the time. Father Mathew had frequently spoken on the dangers and evils of excessive drinking and many temperance efforts had failed. A Quaker called William Martin had begun a campaign of total abstinence in 1835. Father Mathew joined the campaign by taking the Total Abstinence Pledge on April 10th 1838. What became known as ‘The Pledge’ was a commitment to refrain from taking alcohol for life.
The temperance movement spread quickly and Fr Mathew began to travel the country encouraging people to take the pledge. By the early 1840’s close to 3 million people had taken the pledge. James Haughton, father of Samuel Haughton of Burrin Street Carlow, became one of his greatest supporters. One of those to take the pledge was Frederick Douglass, the former slave, who was visiting Cork in 1845.
The temperance movement appears to have had a big influence on crime. It also caused the closure of many distilleries and breweries. The number of people committed to jail or sentenced to be transported fell by almost 50% between 1838 and 1845. Other crime rates also fell dramatically.
Fr Mathew took his campaign to Britain, beginning in Glasgow in 1842. He then went on to visit cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, and London. During the famine in Ireland he helped to organise societies for the collection and delivery of food. He also used his influence to raise funds in Britain and America for victims of the famine.
Fr Mathew went to the USA in 1849. He had dinner at the White House with President Zachary Taylor and was received in Congress with the highest honours. During the following two and half years he travelled widely in America encouraging people to take the pledge. When Fr Mathew visited The USA slave abolitionists hoped he would support their cause. They were hopeful because in 1841, with over 60,000 Irish people (including Daniel O Connell), Fr Mathew had signed a petition encouraging Irish people in the USA not to support slavery. However to the great disappointment of Douglass and the anti-slavery movement Fr Mathew failed to support them.
Having spent two and half years in the USA and suffering from ill-health Fr Mathew returned to Ireland in 1851. He died in Cork at the age of 66 on December 8th 1856. By the late 1800’s the temperance movement had begun to lose its influence. In Ireland it was replaced by the Pioneers Total Abstinence Association in 1898.
Fr Mathew was born in the year 1790 On This Day.
Streets Of Cork – Father Mathew by infomatique on 2011-05-12 14:19:54
Blackrock Road, Cork City by National Library of Ireland on The Commons on 1910-01-01 00:00:00