Off the drink for Lent, except for St. Patrick's Day

Cadogan always goes off the drink for the seven weeks of Lent. For that reason no man in the world looks forward to St. Patrick's Day more than Cadogan does.

That is because you get an exemption from the vow for the national feast day and you can drink your fill. I spoke to him on the phone yesterday and he was already getting excited.

Cadogan is a drinking man that enjoys not just his pint but all the attendant public house joys that come attached.

He told me that this Lent has gone hard on him since Ash Wednesday, but that it has not been the worst because Patrick's Day is falling about midway through the seven weeks of suffering. Because Easter is a flexible feast on the calendar and moves up and down the spring weeks, there can be some dreadful Lents for the men who go teetotal for the period.

Cadogan said there was one Lent in the nineties when St. Patrick's Day only arrived about a week before Easter. "By that time I was as thorny as a briar with Herself and the kids. I was ready to eat my own weight in barbed wire!"

But he stuck it out, and he certainly will stick it out again. I quizzed him on the subject and he said that he “never, ever" broke,” though he was tempted.

It made me think how deeply the old tradition is embedded still in the Irish Catholic psyche despite all the social, religious and economic changes of the past decade in particular.

Cadogan has not seen the inside of a chapel for more than 20 years, but when I asked him about his reasons for abstaining he agreed that the abstention was more a "religious" practice than anything else.

His father always did Lent, he said, and that is how and why he started. He worked on the buildings in England for a while in his twenties, and he even kept up the practice in that hard-drinking society.

"You know what they call the Easter Duty, going to Communion at least once during Lent. It is like that even more than keeping off for a couple of months just to prove to yourself that you can,” he said.

It is important to note here that Cadogan, though a drinking man, has never had a drink problem. He is a hardworking carpenter by trade, a good husband and father, a very decent fellow.

Like tens of thousands more in rural Ireland, three or four of his evenings each week end up at the bar in his local pub having the Guinness and the craic.

I've not seen him for some time, but my recollection of his drinking pattern would be that he drank two or three very slow pints each evening. They were more of a passport into the debate and fun than for the alcohol intake involved.

He is a big brawny man in his late forties with massive arms especially. I reckon that even with the lower breathalyzer levels he would probably pass any random Garda (police) test.

I've known him for about 20 years, coming and going, and I've never seen him other than sober. He is a somewhat shy man and would talk a little more freely with his few pints aboard, especially about football and hurling.

He's the salt of the earth and nowadays he's dry. For sure he misses the company more than the Guinness.

I asked him does he still never go near the pub when he is abstaining, and he said that is the case. "I would not trust myself to do that,” he said.

What he does instead during the long seven weeks is the bits and pieces of carpentry repairs and projects inside the house that his wife Mena asks him to do during the rest of the year.

"I'm putting a nice big pine cupboard under the stairs this year, taking my time, taking it easy, doing it properly,” he said.

He's an artist as well as a tradesman. Last Lent, painstakingly, he restored the walnut cage around the old grandfather clock that is Mena's pride and joy.

Come the afternoon of St. Patrick's Day she will drop him down to the pub early. Cadogan will be wearing the biggest bunch of shamrock in the parish, selected from the big hedge of his own back garden. He will be in great form entirely.

When he calls his first pint he will let it sit on the bar in front of him for a long time before attacking it. That will be done with mighty relish.

Through the evening, again in the company of his friends, he will view the GAA club finals on RTE and hope that the Munster teams win. After the game there is always music and a singsong on St. Patrick's Day.

Normally he is too shy to sing, but he will drink far more than his three normal pints, and they will have more of an effect on him.

If the company is lucky he will be prevailed upon to sing the old Jim Reeves song "Put Your Sweet Lips Closer to the Phone."

He has a surprisingly good voice and can hit all the low notes in that one. It is the only song he sings.

Mena will call for him when he rings her. It will be well after legal closing time. He will go happily home and will not be seen again until the Easter celebrations.

In the rural Ireland in which so much changes and yet in which so much of the old ways remain, and the old penances, there will be tens of thousands of countrymen who will celebrate the national day that way. It is somehow heartening.

What they call their Easter Duty is done again, spring is sprung, and the long summer stretches ahead. And there is a new pine cupboard or suchlike under the stairs of home.

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