Clare Champion, Friday, February 7, 2003
The Riches of Clare exhibition at the local authority-run Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In this article, museum curator John Rattigan, writes about a visit made by Dr Patrick Hillery as President of Ireland to the Matt Talbot Community
One of the roles of the President of Ireland is to undertake a wide range of engagements with particular emphasis on the contribution of local community and self-help groups. It was in this capacity that on November 11, 1979, President Hillery visited the Matt Talbot Community in Dublin, and a commemorative presentation was made to him that day, which is part of a collection of objects recently donated to Clare Museum.
The Community was named after Matt Talbot, an alcoholic born in Dublin's inner city on May 2, 1856. Coming from an extremely poor family he began drinking at the age of twelve, and quickly became a chronic alcoholic. After 16 years, and with the help of a priest, he decided to stop drinking, and he began to model his life on Irish Early Christian monks, who believed that prayer, fasting and almsgiving would bring them closer to God.
Although extremely religious, Matt Talbot was not a somber man. In fact, to work mates and friends he was a cheerful, happy person. He gave most of his wages to the poor each week and was very much involved in Trade Union activities. Following a horrendous struggle, he had found sobriety through prayer and self-sacrifice and remained sober until his death, on 7 June 1925, on a busy Dublin street while on his way to his third mass that day. Finally, after years of hard work and self-denial, his aging heart had given out.
Matt Talbot's funeral was attended by only a handful of people. Having died in obscurity and buried in a pauper's grave, the story should have ended there. However, it was only the beginning. When Matt died on the street, nobody knew who he was. He was initially reported missing by his sisters and it was they who identified his body later in a hospital morgue.
It was at that point that they became aware of what the examiners had found while looking for identification of the body. A heavy chain had been found fastened tight around Matt Talbot's waist with other lighter chains around an arm and another below one knee in a place where it would have caused considerable pain when kneeling. Without the news of the chains becoming public and prompting further enquiries, Matt Talbot's story might never have been revealed.
Through the network of emigrant Irish Catholics, the story of Matt Talbot's life was taken abroad. Today, there is a Matt Talbot center in Seattle, Washington, with others in Nebraska and New Jersey in the United States. There is a huge Matt Talbot hostel, serving 1,000 people a day and founded in 1937, in Sydney, Australia, while a centre to serve alcoholics has been recently opened in Warsaw, Poland. In Dublin, he even has a bridge named after him.
Matt Talbot was declared Venerable by the Catholic Church in 1973. This means that the Church believes Matt lived a life of heroic virtue and, from a human point of view, he has the qualifications necessary to become a saint. Pope John Paul II, while a young priest, wrote a paper on Matt Talbot, and is believed to be keen to canonise him, believing that the addicted community needs a saint. Matt Talbot quickly became an icon for those struggling against addiction.
By visiting the Matt Talbot Community in Dublin, Dr Patrick Hillery as President of Ireland was acknowledging and endorsing the community as it serves to promote the memory of this holy man and by providing help and inspiration to addicts.