Public Drunkenness in Waterford, 1877-1912, Part I

I’ve started compiling some data on public drunkenness in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Ireland. The data is taken from annual reports presented to the House of Commons detailing arrests made by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police around Ireland. Those being arrested were accused of appearing drunk in public on  a Sunday.

These reports offer a fascinating insight into how drunkenness was policed at the weekends in Ireland’s major cities and towns. The reports mostly focus on drunkenness in Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford. These cities have the most detailed statistics while the rest of the country is covered just with summary information of arrests made for Public drunkenness on a Sunday.

The reports cover the period from May 1st of one year until April 30th of the next. As well as detailing the numbers of arrests, the time at which the arrests were made is also given. So it is possible for us to know for example what time on a Sunday the majority of people in a given a year, in a given city were arrested for being drunk in public. Generally, the time frames are broken down as follows: 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon: 2 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Sunday afternoon; 7 p.m.- midnight Sunday night. Over time the time frames get more specific. So for example after 1903 the 7 p.m. – midnight category is replaced by two more detailed ones: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. and 9 p.m. – midnight.

And from 1905 onward, we are given the figures for arrests made for drunkenness from 9 p.m. – midnight on Saturday night along with the arrests made going from midnight Saturday until 8 a.m. Sunday morning.

It will take me some time to unpack all of this data – especially for each city, and to be able to give the data some context. But first I wanted to give you a flavour of what’s to come. So from the raw figures for Waterford I learned the following:

  • For the entire period I have data for, 1877-1912, some 4, 649 people in Waterford were arrested for public drunkenness on a Saturday or a Sunday.
  • The vast majority of these arrests (1,791) happened between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight on Sunday.
  • The single worst year for people being drunk in public on a Sunday in Waterford during this period was 1892-1893. Some 186 people were arrested in that period. Of these, 121 were arrested between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight.
  • For the years that include Saturday night arrests (1905-1912) the worst year was 1905-06, when some 369 people were arrested for being drunk in public. Of those 369 people, some 233 were arrested between 9 p.m. on Saturday night and 8 a.m. on Sunday morning over the course of the period.
  • The period with the lowest number of arrests for being drunk in public on a Sunday was 1878-1879, when just 36 such arrests were made.
  • For the three decades in which we have complete data, there is also an interesting trend. In the 1880s, the total arrest were 1,013. In the 1890s, the figure was 1,457. And, in the 1900s, the figure (including Saturday night arrests) was 1,701. Without the Saturday arrests, the figure for the 1900s was much lower, just 734.
The report giving details on arrests made for drunkenness in Ireland, 1892-1893. This year was the worst for Waterford statistically.

So just how bad was Waterford city for public drunkenness? Taking the worst period, 1892-93, when 186 were arrested, we can do a quick comparison with Ireland’s other major cities. In the same period, there were 307 such arrests in Cork; 249 in Limerick; 188 in Belfast, and a staggering 873 in Dublin.Although these were bigger cities generally, the Waterford figure was not disproportionately large. Even with the addition of the figure for Waterford county, 94, bringing the city and county total to 280, it was not excessively high.

What does all of this tell us, then? Will we be able to distinguish any major patterns about the nature of drinking and being drunk in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland? Will there be a discernible divide between drunkenness in urban and rural areas? Why was public drunkenness on a Sunday of more importance than drunkenness on a Saturday night? Why did they police decide to break their data down from 7 p.m. – midnight into two smaller divisions? What caused so much public drunkenness on Sundays in Ireland? Was it sport, or something else? As with all such rich data, unpacking its meaning will require much more work, which I hope to post about in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned!


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