An alternative to drink culture

Yoga teacher and concerned single mum Fiona Tierney tells ELLIE O’BYRNE why she has created a series of alcohol-free events for adults and teens
An alternative to drink culture
Fiona Tierney and right, her Acoustic Yoga partner, guitarist Matthew Harte.

ONE in four deaths of young men aged 15-39 in Ireland is due to alcohol poisoning. This shocking figure alone should be enough to wake the country up to our growing binge-drinking problem, and yet we merrily tipple away.

And it’s a growing problem. For those of us who may think “What of it? We’ve always been a nation of drinkers,” bear in mind that alcohol consumption in Ireland almost trebled between 1960 and 2001, according to figures from Alcohol Action Ireland.

Cork Yoga teacher and singer Fiona Tierney lived in the U.S. for many years, and was shocked, on her return to Ireland, to be reminded of what a drinking nation we are: “I remember going out on a Saturday night after I got back, and seeing people puking on the street and urinating in doorways and being pretty shocked. It’s crazy, absolute madness,” she said. “When I lived in the States, I didn’t drink. When I first got over there I was in my mid-20s and I was fresh from Ireland so I did, but I never was a big drinker anyway. And then from about 24 to 31, I didn’t drink: I just didn’t feel the need to.”

Fiona spent 15 years in the States, where she trained as a yoga instructor and had her first child; she returned to Cork in 2006 and now teaches in The Yoga Loft on the Monaghan Road. As well as her yoga practice, she sings with jazz outfit Lady and the Harte, as well as several other musical projects including “Acoustic Yoga,” where she guides a group through a series of yoga movements accompanied by guitarist Matthew Harte.

Now, she’s turning impresario, with a series of alcohol-free evenings featuring a line-up including Galway reggae star Cian Finn and popular DJ Gwada Mike. In future, she’s planning on extending the bi-monthly evenings, called, “Alternative Weekend,” to include spoken word evenings, Yoga Grooves with Live DJs, Hip hop artists, and comedy nights.

Part of Fiona’s inspiration came from her concern as a mother: she’s a single mum to two boys, Orion, aged 13, and Zion, aged eight, and is keenly aware that her boys are growing up in a culture where binge drinking seems not only tolerated, but almost expected of them.

“We need to show teens that we can gather as adults and be in an environment that’s creative and fulfilling, and that we don’t have to be surrounded by alcohol to do that,” she says.

“I already know of many teenagers that are 13 and 14, in my son’s peer group, who are getting caught with drink. It’s scary to me really, that it’s so accepted. I was at a party recently and someone asked me if my son was alright to have a beer shandy. I was like, ‘no, he’s 13!’

“We live in a culture where people sit down at the weekend and get through a couple of bottles of wine or have a feed of drink in the back garden because the sun is out. It’s very normalised, that that’s what you do when you become an adult, that’s how you enjoy yourself: you drink.”

In a bid to show teens a healthier approach to socialising that isn’t based around drinking, Fiona has opened up her Alternative Weekends to teenagers as well as adults. Lots of teenaged music fans can’t get in to see acts they would enjoy in pubs due to the 9 o’clock curfew, she says.

“I want to facilitate a space for people to enjoy gigs, who want to enjoy being around other people without having to indulge in substances,” Fiona says. “I also want to give a space where teenagers and adults can be together, because we’re kind of miles away from teenagers at this stage. There are lots of teenagers who are involved in music that would love to come out and do this stuff. There will probably be plenty who will feel it’s very uncool, but I have teens who come to yoga classes who will really enjoy it.”

Fiona isn’t a teetotaller and is keen to stress that she’s not trying to shame people who do enjoy the occasional social drink.

“I’m not trying to stop anyone from having fun and I’m not holier than thou. I’m not someone who never drinks, I just rarely drink; it’s not about a teetotal path. I don’t want to make out that we’re hardcore anti-drink, I just want there to be ways for people to have fun without it.”

August’s Alternative Weekend takes place at The Yoga Loft, Monaghan Rd: Yoga DJ with Gwada Mike on August 11 and Cian Finn live Acoustic Reggae on August 12, as well as treats from raw food chef Lion-L’s Raw Kitchen. More info and tickets:

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