Drink and Drunkness

This article was written by Samuel J. Macguire and originally published in the 'Galway Reader' in the 1950s. The 'Galway Reader' is available from Galway Public Library.

Who Drank What

The dreadful drunkness, which prevailed, must be acknowledged to have belonged far more to the landlord and labouring classes than to the merchants, although it is evident that even among these there was too much drinking. The sleek faces and fat figures of the portraits of the century speak of much meat and drink. Many of them could drink their six bottles. Sir Walter Besant surveying the age asks: "Is there a man now living who could drink his six, or even his three, bottles of port?" Whiskey remained the Galway drink, morning, noon and night. Porter and stout came into popularity as the century went on. Throughout the country an average of 2,800 stills a year were seized, but the Commissioners of the Revenue were afraid that not one in fifty of those operating were seized. Poteen was preferred to "Parliament" whiskey. On the whole, it was free from adulteration, and had a smoky flavour which many drinkers liked. The distilling was carried out in cellars and yards in the town, and to a great extent openly. When caught, the 50 fine levied on the landlord was halved by the distillers who carried on the trade.

The Irish Parliament took off all taxes on beer with a view to the discouragement of spirit drinking. There were several breweries in Galway, the most extensive being at Newcastle, where a pale ale was brewed, "that is much liked by many people". The price of porter in 1792 to the retailer was 1 17s. per cask and a deposit of 16/3 had to be paid on the cask. Discount reduced the price to 1 13s. od.

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