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Binge drinking: A Victorian legacy

Binge drinking, violence, contentious parades – all modern day problems, but in Northern Ireland it seems their roots stretch back more than 100 years.

In Victorian Ireland alcohol abuse and binge drinking were rife, thanks to the introduction of “ether drinking”.

“Ether was the alcopop of the 1880s and its use became endemic in Londonderry and Tyrone,” explained Dr Neal Garnham, president of the Economic and Social History Society of Ireland.

The society are hosting a conference in Belfast on 13 and 14 November exploring 19th century Ireland.

Ether, an early anaesthetic, was introduced into Ireland for its supposed medical benefits, but its inexpensiveness quickly led to its widespread consumption.

“People would often mix the potent poison with small amounts of alcohol and drink it until they became completely intoxicated and pass out,” added Dr Garnham.

“The side effects of drinking such a lethal substance would have included depression, hysteria, blindness and violent excitement – which meant that ether-fuelled rows were commonplace.”

Keynote speaker Dr Paul O’Leary from Aberystwyth University will reveal how marches and street parades in the past led to greater integration, not division.

“Historians often focus on how a minority of processions provoked, antagonised and divided people – marches through the street are often seen as sites of conflict,” said Dr O’Leary.

“But in the past processions have commonly been occasions that allowed different groups of individuals to integrate and they provide a valuable insight into the ways diverse social, religious and ethnic groups can transcend their differences and forge a common culture.”

The conference is being held at the Belfast campus of the University of Ulster.

Dr O’Leary’s lecture will be open to the public.

source: BBC News

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