Pubs and the Church – what do they have in common?

Pubs and the Church – what do they have in common? Sally Phillips with her son Olly

Years ago, the Vintners Association of Ireland were concerned that the Pioneer movement would exert sufficient influence on the Government to restrict the opening hours of public houses. But how gentle and civilised were the advocates of temperance in comparison to the ferocious damage being wrought by the Covid pandemic, and the nostrums of those managing it!

Dublin, birthplace of the literary pub-crawl, as tourists followed in the footsteps of James Joyce, Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh around the taverns of the city, faces another season of pub closure, to the despair of the hospitality industry.


I daresay even the most ardent abstainer must feel sorry for the families who run pubs, the many employees who earn a living from the trade, and the tourism revenue generated by the fame of the Irish pub.

Moreover, I’m not so sure that the alternative of imbibing at home is always such a great idea. We know there is an established link between domestic abuse and the home consumption of alcohol.

Strangely, there is a kind of parallel between the pub and the church, in this respect: both are involved with congregation – the meeting-together of people. Both answer to a deep human need for community and fellowship.

I feel the Church has lacked an energetic response to the Covid emergency”

Maybe new ways have to be explored to continue facilitating congregation. One, certainly, is to shift more activities to outdoors, since the fresh air is a known mitigation: put up more tents and marquees…and remember outdoor religious processions?

When I see a church closed because there has been a case of Covid, I can’t help thinking of the circumstances in which people of Faith attended Mass in the past: on wild rocks: in secret passageways: in tiny cabins. They risked everything.

I feel the Church has lacked an energetic response to the Covid emergency. More imaginative thinking has been needed. There has been a distinct shortage of innovative solutions and blue-skies thinking.

It’s obvious we are in for the long haul with Covid. The publicans are forming their own lobby to underline their crisis. Has the Church been somewhat less active in addressing the needs of the Faithful?


Everyone deserves a fair chance in performing arts

The British screen actress Sally Phillips is an admirable campaigner on behalf of Down Syndrome children. She has a Down Syndrome son, Olly, 16, whom she adores, and she finds it offensive that some countries, such as Iceland, have sought to expunge Down Syndrome babies from existence.

Her latest campaign has been against a nasty t-shirt seen on Amazon UK last week bearing the slogan ‘Let’s make Down Syndrome Extinct!’ with a rear-angle picture of a Neanderthal figure against rainbow colours. Sally took her objections to Amazon, and the advertisements for the tee-shirts have been removed.

Sally believes that these horrible messages against disabled people are part of “eugenic ideas” that are “really taking hold…the idea that there is this subclass of humans and it is better if we get rid of them”.


An alternative t-shirt message has now been posted on-line, with a similar Neanderthal image and the slogan: ‘Let’s Make Hate Crime/Discrimination Extinct!’

Sally also believes that disabled actors should be cast in dramas to play disabled people – able-bodied actors have traditionally represented disabled characters, perhaps the most famous being Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown in My Left Foot. (Day-Lewis did Method acting, and stayed almost permanently in a wheelchair during the filming: it irritated his co-star Brenda Fricker that even off-set, he continued to behave as though seriously crippled.)

I don’t think there can be rigid rules, in drama, about who is permitted to play what – drama is also about suspending disbelief and the power of telling a story – but surely disabled actors should be given every fair chance in the performing arts.


There was a time when dress code mattered

Finola Kennedy, the acclaimed biographer of Frank Duff, discloses in the current issue of Studies magazine that she was once refused Holy Communion. It happened when she was a young woman studying in Italy.

“I located the local church and went to Mass. Because the weather was scorching I wore a sleeveless summer dress. At the altar rails the priest sounded cross, even angry, and passed me by.”

Two Italian women spotted Finola was senza maniche, and quickly covered her bare arms with a shawl.

The priest was persuaded to return and offer the Eucharist.

The Italian priest was being rather churlish, surely, but the bare arms rule seems to have been something of a Mediterranean focus.

I’ve often seen notices in parts of France outlining dress codes, including requests that women cover their shoulders and arms.

I don’t think dress codes have ever been a big issue in Ireland, although I do remember, back in the day, a Galway cousin of mine refraining from applying lipstick before attending Holy Communion: she thought it apt for the dancehall, not the church.