Why we’re proud to be Pioneers...

Traditionally, November marks the month where people take the pledge to stay away from alcohol. Here, IRENE HALPIN LONG talks to three Cork pioneers, in their 30s, 70s and 80s, who have chosen a life free of alcohol
Why we’re proud to be Pioneers...

Margaret Murphy, aged 31 from Carrigaline, in County Cork, who is a pioneer.

DESPITE dwindling numbers, The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association claims that 100,000 Irish people have taken the pledge to abstain from alcohol and that its role in Irish society is as valid today as it was when it was founded in 1898 by Fr James Cullen.

Fr Cullen was motivated to set up The Pioneers in order to address the damage that excessive drinking was doing to Irish workers and their families. Fr Cullen had “the ambition of being another Father Mathew”.

Father Mathew, whose monument stands at the top of St Patrick’s Street, established the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1838. His work inspired Fr Cullen to create the Pioneer movement, which invites people to become Pioneers, to commit themselves to daily prayer and abstain from consuming alcohol for life.

A Pioneer recites The Heroic Offering twice a day; “For Thy Greater glory and consolation, O Sacred Heart of Jesus. For Thy sake, to give good example, to practise self-denial, to make reparations to Thee for the sins of intemperance and for the conversion of excessive drinkers, I will abstain for life from intoxicating drink.”

Barry Cogan.
Barry Cogan.

Barry Cogan joined the Carrigaline Pioneer Centre in 1960 when he was 14 years old and has remained a Pioneer ever since. When he was a young teenager, many of his peers joined the pioneers.

“We had a lot in common at that age. It was popular to be a pioneer. I was a probation pioneer when I was 14 for two years. I became a full pioneer when I was 16, taking the pledge for life.

“Later on, we went to pioneer socials. They were simple gatherings with music, dancing and a cup of tea, sandwiches and cakes. They were very popular all over the country,” he said.

Barry is President of the Carrigaline Pioneer Centre. He and his colleagues say the Pioneer prayer twice daily. He said, ““We have no objection to people who take a drink. We pray for people who are affected by alcoholism.”

Members of the Carrigaline Pioneers visit schools regularly to inform children in sixth class who are due to take their confirmation about the pledge.

“We visit the schools and ask the children to abstain from alcohol until they are 18. They can then become full pioneers at 18 years of age.

“Now that drugs have become such a problem, pioneers are asked to take a pledge to abstain from taking illicit drugs for life.”

A variety of people are still taking the pledge and becoming Pioneers.

Pat Byrne is 74 and lives in Carrigaline. He took a break from alcohol a few years ago following an incident when he was on holidays in Spain.

He said, “I had a bad experience with the drink. I was at a wedding in Spain and I went overboard with the amount of drink I had. My partner doesn’t drink. We had a taxi booked for midnight. Coming down a slope I toppled over a wall on top of a lot of briars. I was very lucky. If the drop had been deeper, I don’t think I would be here talking to you today.”

When he returned home, Pat took a break from alcohol until Christmas time.

“On New Year’s day, I took a walk from Carrigaline to Crosshaven and went into the Oar Pub and had three pints. I decided to give the drink a break again until Easter time. I did the same walk at Easter and I had a bottle of sparkling water and a bowl of soup in the pub afterwards.”

He hasn’t drunk alcohol since. Barry encouraged Pat to join the pioneers. Pat proudly wears the Pioneer pin. This takes the form of an image of the Sacred Heart on the lapel of their jackets, as an indication to others that they do not drink alcohol.

 Pat Byrne.
Pat Byrne.

Pat wasn’t sure about joining “at that hour of my life,” but decided he would give it a try. He is now a fully-fledged pioneer.

He said: “I feel a lot better about my life. I go into pubs and quite happily have a bottle of sparkling water. I go to weddings. We were on a cruise last year and there was no problem whatsoever. I feel a lot better without the drink.”

Interestingly, Pat worked in the pub trade for many years and now lives a life of abstinence from alcohol.

He said: “I was never a big heavy drinker. I worked in the pub trade… I have a different life now. I’m up early every morning and out the door dog walking by 9am, five days a week.”

As Ireland becomes more secularised, the majority of Irish Pioneers are older people. However there are some younger people who have taken the pledge, including 31-year-old Margaret Murphy, from Carrigaline, who first took the pledge on her Confirmation Day and renewed it e at ages 18 and 21.

Margaret became a life-long Pioneer because she “knew Pioneers who I admired and I think I always identified with the association”.

She continued: “By the time it came to renewing my pledge and taking the lifelong pledge at 18 and 21, I knew I didn’t feel I needed alcohol and hadn’t ever felt I was missing out by abstaining from alcohol and drugs.”

Margaret believes the Pioneer Association still plays a relevant role in Irish society. She said: “The work of the Pioneer Association in promoting abstinence from alcohol and drugs is key so people are aware of their options.

“Maria Walsh, former Rose of Tralee, did great work in promoting the association and when there are people who are open about their choice not to partake in alcohol and drugs, it counters the ‘everyone does it’ attitude that might otherwise prevail.”

Margaret said that being a Pioneer “has made me more self-sufficient and confident along with developing my social skills.

“Also, there are financial benefits to nights out as I always have my car to get home and never spend as much money as my friends who drink.

“I have never had a hangover and never had regrets due to something I might have done when under the influence of alcohol/drugs.

“I think being a Pioneer has allowed me to be Margaret in all my Margaret-ness! By which I mean it has added an authenticity in that the Margaret you meet at 2pm on a Tuesday is the same as the Margaret you meet at 2am on a Saturday.”

Barry, Pat and Margaret said they have never been ridiculed or isolated from social situations because they abstain from alcohol. The over-riding response from people is one of surprise, admiration and interest in why they made the decision to become Pioneers for life.

Margaret said: “Because I have been a Pioneer since the age of 11 it is as much a part of my identity as being a Corkonian or a music fan, and because I am a proud Pioneer, I don’t think there has been an opportunity for people to make me feel uncomfortable around my choice.

“From my peers, usually there is an element of surprise and an interest into what inspired my decision. From older people, they are often surprised that I am proud to identify as a Pioneer in social situations, and across the board the most common response is the ‘You’re so lucky, I wish I hadn’t started drinking’.”


The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has Christmas cards and a religious calendar for sale at your local Pioneer Centre: 5 cards for €3 and the calendar €2.50. They are appealing to Pioneer Centres throughout the country to support their fundraising National Raffle which had to be postponed in June and will take place in early December, raffle cards are €10 per card €2 per line. The first prize is €2,000, second prize €500 and third prize €250 can be supported by contacting your local centre or Aislinn 087 9699 488 or call Head Quarters 01 80 54 226.

The Pioneer Centres also wish to remind people at home who wish to abstain from drink for the Holy Souls during the month of November that they can take the pledge privately.


The Pioneers Association back in 1905 and had 43,000 members;

1906, 70,000;

1910, 100,000;

1917, 250,000;

By the 1950s, one in three Irish adults were Pioneers

Current day — the association has more than 100,000 members.

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