End of an Irish Catholic era: Limerick pubs to open Good Friday, defy nation’s ‘dry’ holy day

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Irish pubs to open on Good Friday for first time

DUBLIN — As long as Ireland has had pubs, Good Friday has been off-limits as a “dry” holy day — until now.

A Limerick judge ruled Thursday that the city’s 110 pubs can open April 2 because the city is hosting a major Irish rugby match attracting tens of thousands of visitors. This will be the first time in the history of the Republic of Ireland that pubs anywhere in the country will open on Good Friday.

Such a judgment would have been unthinkable in the Ireland of old, where the Catholic Church enjoyed unquestioned authority from the public and deference from the government. Commentators were quick to suggest that Thursday’s judgment represented a watershed in the shifting relations between church and state in this rapidly secularizing land.

“This could be the beginning of the end of Good Friday, because now legislation will have to be changed,” said a jubilant David Hickey, one of the Limerick pub owners who successfully sued the state for the right to do business like any other Friday. “The option should be given to let publicans open if they want to and close if they want to. Today was a huge decision in that direction.”

His side argued that keeping pubs shut for the match between hometown favorites Munster versus Dublin-based rivals Leinster would represent an economic sin in Limerick, a city suffering from exceptionally high unemployment following the shock closure of its major employer, a Dell Computers plant. Accountants testified that keeping the bars closed could cost the city an estimated euro7.3 million ($10 million) in lost income.

District Court Judge Tom O’Donnell agreed, ruling that it also would encourage the estimated 26,000 rugby fans attending to disperse peacefully and rapidly after the match — straight into the watering holes of Limerick.

While the Limerick public appeared overwhelmingly behind the move, the city’s Roman Catholic priests expressed sadness that only one of two “dry” holy days on the Irish calendar — the other being Christmas — was being turned into another long boozy weekend.

The Rev. Tony Mullins, administrator of the Limerick Diocese, said the judge’s decision reflected “a changing society, where religious beliefs and the practice of one’s faith is becoming more a matter for the individual.”

He appealed to the Catholic faithful among locals and rugby tourists alike to choose to attend afternoon Masses in the city and avoid the drinking dens. “The challenge in this new emerging Ireland is for Catholics to give even stronger witness to their faith and belief,” he said.

Several Franciscan friars who live in an impoverished housing project beside Limerick’s rugby stadium said they might pray, protest and erect the Stations of the Cross — church artworks that illustrate the stages of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter — outside the gates as 26,000 rugby fans arrive.

Munster and Leinster are the two perennial powerhouses of Irish rugby with rabid fan bases.

On the Net:

Stadium information on match, www.thomondpark.ie/events/6201.php

Catholic Church reply to judgment, tinyurl.com/yztozu3

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