Taking the pledge will not make you dryJuly 13, 2012 - 7:00am
Those of us who received the sacrament of Confirmation in primary school will remember part of the ritual of being confirmed involved ‘Taking the Pledge’ and receiving a juvenile Pioneer Pin.
Some people kept their commitment until they were 18; others fell by the wayside sooner, lured by the pub and intoxicating liquor. But for some, that youthful pledge to be a Pioneer became a lifetime commitment. Noel Boyle is one such person. Originally from Castlebar, but a long-time resident of Galway city, Noel joined in primary school because “I saw so much drink around me”, and he has been in the organisation for the past 65 years.
Noel was one of the founder members of the Mervue/Ballybane Pioneer Centre over 40 years ago and is still very active in the organisation.
The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart – to give it its full title – is a spiritual, prayer-based organisation which was founded in Ireland in 1898 by a Jesuit priest, Fr James Cullen to help address problems caused by alcohol and drug abuse.
The Pioneers promote temperance, especially sobriety through faith and prayer, self-denial and good example. When it comes to alcohol, they also offer alternatives to individuals, especially the young. Well known contemporary members include Aidan O’Brien, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and Mickey Harte.
The Association was set up at a time when there was a major problem with drink in Ireland – some might say a similar situation exists today. But as the influence of the Catholic Church has declined, so too has the strength of the Pioneers.
Nonetheless, people like Noel and members of the Mervue/Ballybane Centre remain as active as ever in spreading the message of the Pioneers.
“It’s not that we are against drinking alcohol in moderation,” Noel stresses several times during our interview. “We are just against the abuse of alcohol.”
Fellow members of the Centre, Mary Cannon, Theresa Heaney, Maura Traynor, and Noel’s wife Mary, nod in agreement.
What distinguishes Pioneer members from other people who don’t drink alcohol is the Association’s spiritual aspect.
“I saw the value of being a Pioneer both spiritually and physically – from a health point of view and also by giving glory to the Sacred Heart by saying a little prayer and getting grace for that,” says Mary of her reason for joining.
Mary says the Pioneer prayer, known as the Heroic Offering to the Sacred Heart, twice daily. Its aspiration is pretty straightforward – “to give good example, practise self denial, to make reparation . . . for the sins of intemperance, and for the conversion of excessive drinkers”.
In its early years the Mervue/Ballybane Centre started a Pioneer Youth Club to attract young people. That was in 1970 and it ran for nearly 20 years until it eventually fizzled out. It offered games and activities for people aged 12 to 15 and, with drama, singing and dancing, it also helped with their self-development, observes Mary Boyle.
In addition, Sr Consillio, who set up the Cuan Mhuire alcohol addiction treatment centres, regularly gave talk to club members. Mervue/Ballybane took part in the annual fast for Cuan Mhuire for over 35 years, but now, as members are older and numbers have declined, their role in the fasts is a more supportive one.
Donations raised by the Club members over the years helped pay for basic expenses at Cuan Mhuire, such as heating, electricity and food. In return, youth members visited the centre and it was enlightening for them to see people being treated for alcoholism, says Mary Boyle.
In its early days, the Club had 120 members, with young people coming from all over town for the hops that were held every Friday night after the Club’s activity.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.