Thirst for Freedom: Alcohol and the Battle for Irish Independence

Thirst for Freedom:
Alcohol and the Battle for Irish Independence
Eddie Bohen
Kilmainham Tales Publications €15

David Prendeville

This is an exhaustively researched and engagingly written chronicle of the role public houses had on Ireland’s fight for independence. It is divided into Fifteen chapters:

  1. The Early Revolutions
  2. The Easter Rising
  3. The Pubs of 1916
  4. The Employees as rebels
  5. The Barmen of 1916
  6. The Pubs Destroyed in 1916
  7. The Distilleries were used as military bases
  8. The Breweries helped break the spirit of the rebellion
  9. The Revolutionary Years 1917-21
  10. Safe Houses and Economic Targets 1917-21
  11. Economics of Lawlessness
  12. Belfast and the North – a Sectarian Divide
  13. Trouble(d) Brewing
  14. The Revolutionary Years Killings
  15. Closing Time.

Throughout the book, author Eddie Bohan does a wonderful job of illustrating the myriad ways in which pubs played a part in the struggle for independence. Which tribe you were part of could be ascertained by which pub you drank in: “The particular pub you drank in told much about your background. You could be identified as being pro-Nationalist or Unionist, Pro-Irish or Pro-British, poor or rich, Protestant or Catholic, armed or unarmed and friend or foe depending on the pub you drank in.”

Bohan tells us that the pub was both the launching pad for attacks and ambushes and the location of attacks, as well as a place where weapons could be stored, He also points out the practical benefits a public houses’ stock could have in such a fight: “Of course, one of the most important commodities of the pub was the beer and spirits and while it was often looted during attacks, it also provided ‘Dutch’ courage for young men who, with very little training, were facing life and death dilemmas. Occasionally the whiskey was used as a medicine to treat a wounded man, to cauterise wounds or act as an anaesthetic.”

Eddie Bohan and his family have a long and proud connection to the licensed trade in Ireland. Like many in his profession when he first joined it, Eddie qualified through an apprenticeship, before rising to become the General Manager of one of Dublin’s most successful public houses and then a publican in his own right.

Eddie has a keen interest in all aspects of Irish history. To this end, he has written extensively on the early 20th century Irish struggle for Independence period, including contributing to the popular Centenary specials of Ireland’s Own magazine. He has also authored the books ‘Rebel Radio’, ‘The Easter Rising and the American Press Pack’ and the successful, widely respected ‘A Century of Irish Radio’ published in 2019 which is now recognised as the authoritative history and sourcebook on the subject. In recent years he has turned his attention to the history of his trade, which included a remarkable sixty-two years behind the counter for his late father, and this work is the first in a planned series of books on the subject.

This is a hugely informative book, written in an accessible and entertaining style. It would make a great Christmas present for Irish history fans, publicans, or maybe even those missing the trip to their local in the current times.
Image: Eddie Bohan/Kilmainham TaleHeadline