After a short speech, the Capuchin friar stepped down from the podium and took a seat at a desk. In the tiny schoolhouse, an audience of sixty watched his every move as he took a pen in hand and dipped it in a jar of ink. He let the pen hang in mid-air and a few excess drops of ink fell back into the glass as he looked thoughtfully into each of the faces before him. The lines and scars that decorated their faces showed the trials they’d endured to maintain their identity, not just as second-class Irishmen or as persecuted Catholics in a Protestant Kingdom, but simply as human beings worthy of dignity and respect.
Dignity and respect. The words echoed in his mind.
“Here goes, in the name of God...” he said aloud and signed his name in the large book opened before him: Very Reverend Theobald Mathew, April 10, 1838. The sixty in the room then followed, one by one, signing their names to the new temperance movement – the Total Abstinence Society of Cork. Before Father Mathew died, more than seven million made the pledge worldwide.
Unfortunately, good works are often accompanied by unforeseen side-effects.
Amidst the Great Famine that struck Ireland a decade later, many looked for an escape from their misery. Unwilling to break their pledge of abstinence, they found an alternative, just as effectively mind-altering: liquid ether.
Swallowed with a cold glass of water, the liquid turned back to gas when it reached body-temperature in their stomachs, resulting in violent burping and flatulence. The volatile ether, heavier than air, crawled through their homes at knee-level until it found ignition in a lit candle. So many deaths resulted from the fires brought on by etheromaniacs that the government was forced to ban its private sale.