Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Venerable Matt Talbot

By Fr. Gabriel Burke
Saturday, January 15, 2011
The Venerable Matt Talbot was born on May 2nd 1856. His parents were Charles and Elizabeth Talbot. His family at that time lived in the North Strand. He was the second eldest of 12 ,of which 6 survived into adulthood. They were a poor family. He father was a heavy drinker, so it is no surprise that Matt like his brothers became an alcoholic. Matt's formal education was about one year. Beside his name in the school role book is the word, Mitcher.

Matt started work at the age of 12. His first employment was for E & J Burke Wine Merchants.They bottled beer and stout. His first taste of alcohol was here; he used to drink the dregs from returned bottles.He then worked for the Port and Docks board and this involved barrels of whiskey. By the age of 16 he often returned home drunk.

Cusack's Bar North Strand. In Matt's Day it was O Meara's.

By the time he reached 20 Matt was a chronic alcoholic. His second home became O' Meara's Bar on North Strand. Drink became the be all and end all of his life. When he spent all his wages he would beg, borrow and steal in order to get money .He pawned his clothes and boots. He would look after horses outside pubs and the tips he got he would spend on drink. He himself recalls how he stole from a blind fiddler and pawned the violin. Then one Saturday morning in 1884 his life changed.

As usual Matt was waiting outside O' Meara's for his friends. He wanted to drink but had no money. As different men came to the Pub Matt started to scrounge from them, hoping one of them would lend him the price of a pint. Not one of them gave him money or asked him to tag along with them. Matt was devastated. He had helped many of these men in the past lending them money for drink or buying drink for them. Now it was his turn to get a helping hand and nothing.He decided to go home. His mother was preparing Dinner (Mid-day meal). Matt had resolved to take the pledge. He told his mother " Ma, I am going to take the pledge." His mother told him to take it only if he meant it. Matt was 28 and he went to Clonliffe made his confession to Rev. Dr Hickey. As is the custom he took the pledge for 3 months. Dr Hickey became his spiritual director and remained so for 25 years.

Nowadays, we have all sorts of services for those that want to give up any addiction. Matt did not have that benefit.There was no nice clinic to go to, no fraternity like the AA where one could get support. No tablets to help one through the DT's. Matt went cold turkey He had been drinking for 16 years and now nothing. What sheer hell he must of gone through.. But not a drop passed his lips. In order to fill up the time he used to spend in O'Meara's, he took to walking. One day while out walking he could smell beer and walked into Bush's Public House. However the barman was busy and did not serve the stranger. Matt felt humiliated and left. He went to Gardiner St Church and prayed. He made the resolution never to carry money with him.

During his daily walks he got into the habit of visiting a church. He did so more out of a need to rest than to pray but gradually he started to pray. In order to remain sober he went to Gardiner St Church for 5.30am mass and unusually for those times he received Holy Communion every day.Then having made his thanksgiving he went to work. When the three months of his pledge was finished, he renewed it for six more and then for life.

Matt was a member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This organisation was founded by Fr Cullen S.J. in Gardiner St. Members pledge to abstain from all alcoholic beverages in reparation for those who drink excessively.

Matt got full time employment in T&C Martins Lumberyard. With the aid of his Spiritual Director Matt took as a rule the life the lives of the Irish saints. Work, penance, pray and study everyday. He lived an ascetical life in tune with those early Saints. He slept on a plank of wood and had a wooden block for his pillow. He slept for no more than five hours. He rose at 5am, went to mass at 5.30am, returned home for breakfast and then to work. He put in a full days work as a labourer in the lumberyard. His food consisted of potatoes and not much more. Instead of tea he drank a mixture of cold tea and cocoa.

He became a member of various confraternities and went to all their meeting. After the various confraternity meetings he returned home where he had a plan for study and spiritual reading. He learned to read by using the Bible.

Matt lived an ascetical life but he also lived in the world. Matt was a member of the newly formed
Irish Transport and General Workers Union founded by Jim Larkin. When the Lock Out occurred in 1913, other workers came out in sympathy. Matt was no different to the others. He too down tools. At first he did not take his strike pay, he then decided to take it and divided it among families that needed it. He never took part in picket duty. He was a trade unionist all his working life and never crossed a picket. Having learned to read and write he was familiar with the Church's social teaching and often spoke to his co-workers about their rights and obligations

Matt lived all his life in a small area of Dublin; the furthest he ever went was to Adam and Eve
Church on Merchants Quay. He was charitable and gave money to many organisations including the missions. He was a hard worker, both his employers and his co workers testify to this. He lived an obscure life and would have died unknown except for the fact he dropped dead in the street. He was either on his way to or from the Dominican Church and collapsed in Granby Lane. When they tried to revive him and open his clothes, they discovered chains on his body.That one act threw him from a life of obscurity into to a worldwide figure.

Matt was originally buried in Glasnevin, but his body was interned in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Seán Mc Dermot St. Archbishop Byrnes opened the Diocesan Enquiry in 1931. The process went to the Holy See in 1947. Pope Paul VI declared him Venerable in 1975.

Note: We appreciate Fr. Burke publishing this article on Matt Talbot, which we have slightly edited, including photographs. Click the link above for the complete posting.