Venerable Matt Talbot
By Diarmuid G. Hiney
The area around Gardiner Street, Sean McDermott
Street, Buckingham Street, and Rutland Street has been in
the news for many varied reasons over the years. Down
through the years, the area has produced stacks of
colourful and famous people. One, however, who stands out
head and shoulders above the rest was a quiet, unassuming
labourer from Rutland Street.
The Venerable Matt Talbot, that great inner-city man departed this life on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925. Matt Talbot, one of thirteen children born to Elizabeth Talbot at 13 Aldorough Court (off Portland Row), on the 2nd of May 1856, was destined to become the greatest example of triumph over adversity this city has ever been blessed with. A reformed drunkard, Matt lived Rutland Street, now Sean O'Casey Avenue, most of his saintly life. It was at this retreat of Matt's, that he grew and grew in holiness and wore the battle armour of Our Lord with fortitude and faith and belief in God and his Blessed Mother always, in his titanic and at times unbearable torments and temptations. To-day, Matt's name is synonymous with fighting addiction of all kinds, but principally for his heroic fortitude against the demon drink. When he finally turned his back on alcohol outside O'Meara's (now Cusack's) on the North Strand, Matt lived, worked and prayed within the confines of his beloved North inner-city. Gardiner Street, Dominick Street, and the ProCathedral, Marlborough Street were the sources of spiritual strength in Matt's never-ending struggles with his enemy: drink.
A labourer in T&C Martin's timber yard and Pemberton's builders, Matt for twenty years bad blown every penny bar his mother's rent on booze. It was a regular feature of Matt's drinking that he would be broke on the Monday after pay day, so that he we constantly on the slate for his alcohol supply. That was until one fateful day in Matt's life. On that day in the year 1884, Matt and took the Pledge. From that day, on Matt stepped out into the sunshine and the devout, determined way of the saint. Modelling his "Cross" on the ancient Irish monks, he vowed to follow their regime of poverty, prayer and good works. And, let's face it, in Matt Talbot's day there were very few alcohol treatment centres, life was hard, drink was cheap and not very much home comforts or social outlets to soothe the daily drudgery of the time. Certainly not for the poor anyway. Those afflicted by the venom of their self-administered anaesthetic against poverty, hardship and deprivation were classed as wasters, low class and outcasts to be despised and avoided by the more 'enlightened of the day'.
Alcoholism then was a stigma rather than an illness generally attributed to the wayward lifestyle of the poor. That is another reason that we should be thankful that such a great man as Matt Talbot once walked, drank, prayed and suffered among us, then 'folded his tent and slowly walked away'. In this age of counselling, clinics, mediation and corporate and social understanding towards alcoholism, what gratitude and devotion is due to this small, fervent and humble servant of God? We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Matt Talbot and the mustard seed he sowed for all suffering addicts to draw hope, solace and willpower from. According to his fellow workers, Matt often gave his lunch away to other workers if he thought they were in need. A lot has been said and written as to the self mutilation Matt was supposed to have committed on his body by wearing a big chain around his waist during his life of prayer, and self denial. Well, let me state that I held that chain in my hand and can attest that it was a very light long chain, and as Father Morgan Costello pointed out, was worn by Matt as a self-reminder of his pledge to the Sacred Heart to keep on fighting the 'demon'.
To-day the Venerable Matt Talbot is revered and turned to by millions of people world-wide who believe in his assistance in their fight against all kinds of addiction and despair. There are vibrant Matt Talbot societies in London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Poland, Germany and all over South America, Australia and Europe. In fact, a tremendous tribute was paid to Matt and the Pioneer movement when Dallas Chief Eagle, of the Lakota people of South Dakota, gave a glowing account of the tremendous strides forward his people have taken since embracing the movement. A once-proud and vibrant people, they had taken to alcohol to blot out centuries of mistreatment and abuse. Treated as second-class citizens in their own land, Chief Dallas introduced them to the way of the Pioneer movement, and as a mark of their great devotion and respect for Matt Talbot, were present at the 75th anniversary of the death of the Venerable Matt Talbot, in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Sean McDermott Street, in June last year.
Matt gradually versed himself in the ways of the Lord. It was through Matt's never-say-die struggle against drink that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in America in 1935. A.A. is a non-sectarian fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. To-day A.A. has thousands of conferences all over the globe. In Dublin's North inner city, Matt Talbot Court is to be seen, just a stone's throw away from where the great little labourer was born. Let us hope and pray that this area will someday be rightfully renamed Saint Matt Talbot Court, and the cause he so manfully espoused is crowned in his name. To this end there are Matt Talbot societies all over Ireland and the rest of the world promoting the cause of his beatification. Locally, there is a very active committee of men and women from the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes who maintain Matt Talbot's shrine in that church. Pope John Paul II, has acknowledged and stated publicly his support for the beatification of this Dublin working-class labourer. It beholds us all to support and actively promote this worthy cause.
What better tribute to Matt Talbot's brilliant triumph over drink by his unswerving adherence to faith in God, and persevering no matter how many times he had fallen before, than penned by the late Cardinal O'Connell of Boston:
"Tire not of new beginnings.