Booze, St. Patrick’s Day, Prohibition, & Dog Shows

St Patrick’s Day is coming up, and the Irish Kennel Club will be staging Ireland’s biggest dog show on the day. Delira and excira!!

There was a time, however, when any dog show in Ireland could only be held under licence from the British Kennel Club. In fact, it was this way for decades, and no, the Irish didn’t much care for it.

The time came when Irish fanciers had had enough (and leave it to terrier people to have been the ones to say, “enough!). In defiance of the regulation, the Dublin Blue Terrier Club (Kerry Blue Terriers) held a breed show on October 16, 1920, and the next year, they did it again, this time on St Patrick’s Day. To add insult to injury, the Irish show not only took place on the same day that the British Kennel Club had its dog show, but the Irish show walloped the British show in term of success.

The history of the show, the breed, and Michael Collins’ role in all of it (he, a big wig in the Irish Republican Army), is worth investigating. We did a short post on it a few years ago:

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In this post, however, we’re going to touch upon the one thing that British dog shows and Irish dog shows did have in common.


Most Irish were Catholic. Saint Paddy’s Day fell during Lent. Alarmed at how much alcohol was being drunk on the day marking Ireland’s national saint, James O’Mara, an Irish Nationalist Member of Parliament, introduced a bill to the House of Commons in 1927 that banned the sale of alcohol on March 17, and made it mandatory for Irish public houses (pubs) to close on that day.  This was the same James O’Mara who had introduced the Bank Holiday Act of 1903 that made Saint Patrick’s Day a national holiday.

O’Mara’s law was changed in 1961 to permit legal drinking, but only to members of the Kennel Club (UK) on the day of its dog show. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the law was fully repealed. It probably surprised no one that the kennel club saw a surge of new members every March, people who hadn’t realized before how very interested they were in dogs.

But consider. For most of the twentieth century, it was against the law to buy alcohol in Ireland on Patrick’s Day. UnAmerican, if you ask us (yes, that’s a joke).

As one urban legend goes, one clever chap, Brendan Behan, succumbed to the plight of homeless dogs and gathered every stray he could find to worm his way into the club’s member’s lounge on the day of the dog show. Another was said to have “rented” the dog of a young lady he knew on that one day of the year.

Lest we Americans get too comfy in our enlightened views on drink, remember that from 1920 to 1933, a nationwide constitutional law in the US prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. No doubt you heard about it. They called it Prohibition, and it was an abysmal failure.

Intended to reduce crime and corruption, improve health, solve social issues, and reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses, Prohibition misfired on all counts. Organized crime rose, as did deaths or blindness in people who drank alcohol they thought was safe when it was really denatured alcohol, “bathtub gin,” or rotgut moonshine, some of which contained industrial alcohol originally made for fuel and medical supplies.

If there was an upside result of Prohibition, it’s that it shook up a lot of things in the culture of American alcohol consumption, particularly gender segregation. Prior to Prohibition, many bars refused entry to unaccompanied women because it’s not what respectable ladies did. In an era of illegal distilling, however, customers and bootleggers were already breaking the law, so there wasn’t much point in agonizing over respectability. It’s actually a topic for another post, and in that future piece, we’ll share how actress (and Rat Terrier owner), Shirley MacLaine, reversed the antiquated policy at one famous Brooklyn watering hole. And to keep on point (purebred dogs), the two most popular breeds in the US during Prohibition were the German Shepherd Dog and the Boston Terrier.

We close by mentioning that Crufts 2023 is occurring as we write. We are reminded of our first time attending Crufts, and how gobsmacked we were that not ten yards away from the entrance to one of the rings was the entrance to a pub. One could enjoy a refreshing lemonade or an adult beverage while watching breed judging, and it struck us as a marvelous thing.

Image: French Bulldog with owner in a pub/Depositphotos

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