Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Father Mathew's Crusade: Temperance in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Irish America

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Father Mathew's Crusade: Temperance in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Irish America

Article excerpt

Father Mathew's Crusade: Temperance in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Irish America. By John F. Quinn. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. 2002. Pp. ix, 263. $60.00 library cloth edition. $18.95 paperback.) Father Theobald Mathew, according to John F. Quinn,"should be seen as a man behind his times" (p. T). During the 1820's, Irish Catholic nationalism emerged at the popular level. Daniel O'Connell's Catholic Association collected the "Catholic Rent" from millions of ordinary Irishmen and women. Meanwhile, the Protestant Second Reformation impelled a strident response from the Irish Catholic Church. But Mathew, the son of a landed Catholic family, would have been more comfortable with the elitist Catholic Committee of the 1800's than the populist Catholic Association of the 1820's. Mathew did use populist techniques to secure over five million temperance pledges in Ireland, most of them from Irish Catholics. He viewed the temperance campaign, however, as a means to promote sober, tolerant behavior, not to train a disciplined brigade of Irish nationalists. In fact, the friar considered his Protestant cousins to be some of his closest friends. Mathew thus was "out of step" with his politically contentious generation (p. 34).

Quinn depicts Mathew as a tragic figure. Despite his unprecedented success as a temperance activist, Mathew believed that he never received the respect and financial support that he deserved. Some clergy, jealous that he could draw tens of thousands of people to take the temperance pledge from him, considered Mathew a charlatan. Other critics questioned Mathew's refusal to use the temperance movement to promote Irish Catholic nationalism. Mathew never reciprocated O'Connell's praise, because he did not want teetotalism to be linked with Repeal. These evasive tactics proved futile, however, as Repealers often co-opted temperance reading rooms and bands for their own purposes.

The damning stroke that ruined Mathew's reputation with Irish Catholic nationalists was his acceptance of a British pension. …

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