Observing The Sabbath Day

Nuala Carroll

It has not been possible to discover the result, if any, of the following open letter, which was sent to the Taghmon Bench of Magistrates as far back as May 1833 and was published in the Wexford Independent of May 23rd 1833. I thought that Sunday trading was introduced during the last decades but it was obviously common practice in Taghmon as far back as the early part of the nineteenth century. The writer of the letter was shocked by the fact that public houses were open until 12 o'clock. One can imagine him standing in the Square with a look of disapproval on his face, watching the "perfectly innocent comings and goings".
Obliviously the patrons of the then public houses were not as well behaved as those who today frequent our public houses.

An open letter to Sir William Cox, Bart; J.G. Hatton; and T.R. Hawkshaw, Esqrs. (From Wexford Independent, 25th May, 1833.)

Gentlemen- The commission under which you act, and the powers with which you are entrusted by various acts of Parliament, seem no less to point out to you, and require from you, the prevention of the rise and progress of vice, then the detection and punishment of the most daring and complicated impieties; to act with vigorous in the punishment, and with languor and indolence in the prevention of vice, is, in effect to make the laws a mere system of penal jurisprudence, instead of a rule of action.
Vice, profaneness and immorality very rarely take their rise, but from small and almost imperceptible beginnings. Nemo repente fuit turpissimus (nobody suddenly becomes most evil ) is an adage founded on, and confirmed by the experience of ages. The wretch who hasn't been brought up in the school of vice and idleness, slides almost imperceptible into the grossest guilt; the means for his maintenance becoming far short of his dissipation, he is seldom brought to reflect, until want and misery stare him in the face, and then horror and despair too frequently seize upon, and drive him to the commission of such crimes, and bring him to a shameful and untimely end. How is the Sabbath at present observed in Taghmon? a day which in special manner has been selected for our particular homage and to return thanks to the Great Being, for all the inestimable benefits conferred upon us. But instead of dedicating this day as the people ought to do, to the service of God, particularly after being mercifully spared from the devastating malady that recently visited our town, the shopkeepers, to their eternal shame continue the flagitious practice of transacting business on Sunday, and convert that day into a day of active labour, instead of a day of rest. From this pernicious practice spring the frequent riots and disturbances in the streets of Taghmon, so disgraceful to society; and the very often consequent fatal effects of them. All these fiendish contentions originate chiefly in public houses or receptacles of vice, the masters of which are generally speaking, too often forward to increase their profits by intoxicating. The curse for this evil is cheap and practicable:- do you gentlemen, but prohibit the sale of whiskey both in town and county on Sunday, and you will shortly be relieved from the arduous duty of holding a session once a fortnight, to adjust the differences between parties, which have their origins, as I said before, in those schools of vice. The proprietors of some of these houses, to my knowledge, would not deem it improper or illicit, to keep their doors open until 10 O' Clock at night; and I could say till after that hour without exaggeration, and, practice almost magic subtlety in extracting money from the pockets of their infatuated guests. Such offences you may punish, but with the greatest deference to you, gentlemen, allow me to say, it is your duty to prevent them. When I mention public houses I would wish to be understood chiefly those nests of drunkards, idlers, and gamesters, where spirituous liquors are only retailed; where the weary traveller seldom enters, and where indeed he could not be supplied with any kind of refreshment, either for himself or for his horse. The legislature, I would think, wisely foreseeing the abuses that would result from the multiplying of licenses, hath left it to your discretion to restrain them, and, without presuming to dictate, I trust I may be allowed to say that it is your duty to do so. Public houses are no doubt necessary for the accommodation of travellers, but beyond that they are not only useless, but highly detrimental, and it is particular incumbent upon you to suppress all others. To do this impartially, you should narrowly examine into the character of such as apply for your certificates, and be well informed that they have proper accommodations for travellers; beds for the guests, with sufficient stables and proper provender for their horses. Without the best assurances on these heads, how can you, as Justices of the Peace, reconcile yourselves to sign a certificate that the candidate is properly qualified? Your next enquiry should be whether the place of his residence is such as not only to render a public house in some degree useful there, but almost absolutely necessary, by reason of its great distance from any other public house, or a town; so as that a traveller or his horse may not be in danger of sinking under their labour for want of necessary refreshment. Surely, gentlemen, if you suppose any meaning in the word certificate, "that the place is fit and proper for the retail of spirits," and if you reflect for a moment on the great proximity of our villages to each other, and that it is scarcely possible for a traveller to stand in any real need of refreshment, in his journeying from one to the other, (I only speak of this part of the County Wexford) you must feel some impropriety in certifying for the numerous ale-houses recently got up in Taghmon, and also for the great number of hedge ale houses, that one can almost see at every mile. Not one of the many I have observed could accommodate a traveller with anything beyond a dram of wretched, nauseous, adulterated, and ill made whiskey. I may be told, perhaps, that if a publican keeps an improper or disorderly house, your remedy is easy. It is not altogether so; from certain experience I know the very great difficulties in the way of putting down one those houses; towards conviction by evidence; or from your own view, will be thought necessary; and as you seldom or never enter those houses yourselves; so you would find it a hard task to induce anyone to give you such information as would intend to the conviction. But were it otherwise, I think, gentlemen, you would feel some pain in depriving a family of resources from a line of life to which they have been long habituated, that in withholding your consent, that the father of a family, or the master of a house should give up his agricultural pursuits, for the sottish idleness of a pretty retailer of whiskey. Some imbecile people there are, who in the stile of a paltry financier, will urge the necessity of keeping up the Kings revenue, on the stall of pretence that private vices are public benefits: but was it for this purpose, gentlemen, that you were appointed the guardians and conservators of the public peace and welfare? Surely not, and surely you have a better opinion of your magnanimous King than to suppose that he would wish to increase his revenue by debasing his subjects. As to the legislature, who have enacted so many salutary laws for the punishment of vice, you cannot think that they have made your certificate a condition "sine qua non" for retailing of spirits, but with a view of restraining the number of these (too often) schools and receptacles of vice and iniquity. And as to yourselves, I cannot suppose that you have so far forgotten your duty to God, to your King, and to your country, as to imagine that you would deliberately frustrate the whole scheme and use of your office and employment. As a plan to extirpate this spreading evil, and prevent the recurrence of those horrible scenes, so frequent on the Lords day in Taghmon, I will most respectfully intimate to you, the propriety of prohibiting the sale of all kinds of goods on the Sabbath, save what is absolutely necessary, as medicine, etc., and the first person that would commit any infraction of that rule, to bring him to condign castigation, and by evincing inflexibility in punishing the first offence, it would deter others from committing a similar one. And let me here tell you, Gentlemen, that the most respectable trades in Taghmon, deprecate the present system of doing business on Sunday, and are anxious to see the change, as they are certain it would meliorate trade. As a proof of the salutary effects of this law, when acted upon, I will direct your attention to the happy state, Bannow, in the country:- there, scarcely any of those disgraceful contentions take place, so frequently seen in Taghmon; and all this good conduct of the people does not result, in my opinion, from any innate abstemiousness peculiar to the people of Bannow, but may in a great measure be attributed to the judicious and impartial administration of the law, by Mr. Boyce, and to the exemplary vigilance evinced by gentlemen at all times; in suppressing that pernicious custom, that stigma to religion, of selling whiskey on Sunday. Pardon me for disagreeing, while I ask the Taghmon shopkeepers two questions.
Is it a crime for a labourer to work at his ordinary occupation in the field on the Sabbath? I will answer myself:- by so doing the labourer violates one of God's mandates, and consequently commits a crime in the face of Heaven, and must be proclaimed a reprobate wretch for being so impious, as to make the Sabbath a day of labour. Again is it a crime, or is it consistent with religion, or even with decency, for a shopkeeper to labour, I may say from morning till night, on Sunday making sale of his goods? Whatever their answer may be, I will assert they are guilty of as much, if not more crime than the man who takes his spade and labours in the field, for I contend it is as great a violation of the Sabbath for the shopkeeper to transact business on Sunday as it is for a labourer to work on that day. Labour is the labourers calling. Shop keeping is the shopkeepers calling, then the crime must be the same.
Shopkeepers of Taghmon, you do not deserve the name of respectable traders, if you continue the present disgraceful practice of selling on Sunday, and I now call upon you in the name of religion to discontinue the present corrupt practice of doing business on Sunday and you will find it a salutary one; you will find the change to be a vast improvement to trade instead of an injury; you will find the change instead of paralysing trade, or embarrassing a shopkeeper in his pecuniary circumstances, would increase his business, and raise trade from its present degraded state to the position of which it ought to occupy, but which, by the present practice, is made worse than peddling, for the peddler refrains from calling on Sunday.
I now, most respectfully but earnestly call upon you, Gentlemen, to take steps at once to annul this horrible custom of selling on Sunday, and I am sure you will have the cheerful co-operation of the clergy, and of every man who is desirous of seeing abuses corrected, to abrogate a custom, well calculated to contaminate a society, and strip religion of the veneration due to it, and lead finally to the worse consequences. The law at present prevents a retailer of whiskey from selling before two o'clock, p.m. on Sunday, but which unfortunately is not at all adhered to, and if there was no restraint at all there would be so many wretches before that hour as are now seen rambling through the street, seeking for someone to dispute with. So that the real cure for the evil is to prevent any business whatever being done on the Sabbath. I must here remark that suppressing the sale of spirits and sanctioning other business to be done, would not effectually do away with the evil, for as long as there is liberty at all, the mercenary retailer would be induced to vend that disturber of social order, and set the law at defiance. Gentlemen, your commission you derive immediately from the King, for the noblest and best purposes, and by acting on the suggestions of a humble individual, who ardently wishes to see vice curbed, by putting a total stop to Sunday labour, you will do as meritorious an act as Gentlemen could do and you will receive additional honour from a uniform integrity, and readiness in the distribution of equal justice, and from a manly vigilance in the prevention of vice and immorality and I may add that your King and your country will be under considerable obligation to you, nor will the voice of the people be wanting to acknowledge the debt; but the consciousness of you doing your duty will not fail to recompense you abundantly for your time and trouble, and the revilings of bad and wicked men, who hate virtue and whose fair words injure essentially in the opinion and estimation of all good men. I cannot conclude this (perhaps too tedious) address without acknowledging that I have been much assisted in the foregoing reflections by a conversation which I had with a gentleman of the highest respectability on the subject; the thoughts are mostly his; the only merit that I claim is that of having instantly perceived their propriety, and treasured them pretty nearly in my mind in the hope of making them useful in this neighbourhood. I flatter myself therefore that I shall escape the odium, too often incurred, for presuming to impose ones own opinion on others, or attempting to give advice, for which, without affectation, I fairly acknowledge my incapacity.

"A Taghmon Man"
Taghmon May 23rd 1833.
N.B. The next court day would be a very convenient day to call the Taghmon shopkeepers together, and arrange measures to prevent Sunday business for the future.

The Editor of The Wexford Independent adds his own comment about the Taghmon missive:
A very sensible and judicious letter from 'A Taghmon Man' addressed to the Taghmon Bench of Magistrates appears in our present number. We sincerely hope these gentlemen will give the subject that consideration to which its vital importance to the interests of morality and the maintenance of social order entitles it. Dram drinking and tipping on the Sabbath, have tended more to the demoralization of the humbler classes in this country, than any other cause whatsoever.


1 My thanks are due to Very Rev. Dr. Cosgrave of Monageer for the translation.