Beginning in 2010 I commenced a study of alcohol-related criminality in Ireland. The resulting monograph, Criminal Irish Drunkards: The Inebriate Reformatory System 1900-1920 was published by The History Press Ireland in December 2014. The book examines the lives of the criminally drunk in early twentieth-century Ireland through the lens of a number of institutions established under the Inebriate Act (Ireland) 1898.
The State Inebriate Reformatory at Ennis began operations in the summer of 1899 and received its first inmate the following year. Men and women were sent there by the courts and all had committed criminal acts that involved their ongoing and proven habitual addiction to alcohol. The reformatory was not successful and after treating and punishing some 330 criminal inebriates it ceased operations in the autumn of 1918. In Ireland, as in Britain, the state inebriate reformatory was operated by the prison system.
Two certified inebriate reformatories were established under the 1898 legislation. St. Patrick’s Certified Inebriate Reformatory for Roman Catholic men received its first inmate in Waterford on 1 August 1906. St. Brigid’s Certified Inebriate Reformatory for Roman Catholic women opened in a former local prison in Wexford in 1908 but did not receive its first inmate for a further two years. The certified reformatories were less severe than the state institution and were financed by a combination of local authority funding and philanthropy. While inmates came in through the court system their offences were generally less serious. They were typically managed by religious orders.
The certified inebriate retreat was the least punitive of the three institutions created by the 1898 act. There was only one such institution in Ireland, located initially in Sydenham Avenue in Belfast. Although established in 1902, it was formally licenced as an inebriate retreat in 1903. It catered only for fee-paying Protestant women and entry was purely on a voluntary basis although some level of coercion was likely necessary. The Lodge, as it was known, moved to Irwin Avenue in Belfast in 1907.
Although my book has analysed all of these institutions in great detail – depending on the availability of primary sources – I am in the fortunate position that there are still many more inebriate lives that could not be included, due to lack of space. In this section of this website I will be sharing some of those cases that did not make it into the book and hopefully offering even deeper insights into the chaos, the conflict and the agony of the lived experience of the alcohol-addicted poor in early twentieth-century Ireland.