A Nip and a Prayer

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Seven Hail Marys for the librarian pouring beer down his shirt front. Fourteen acts of contrition for Mr. Red Nose, the human keg spigot. And for Debbie Down-the-Hatch: Today's novena is tomorrow's bowl of aspirin.

You'll pardon the members of the Cleveland Pioneers Total Abstinence Association if they don't throw lollipops as they march by in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. They've got a lot of praying to do.

A perennial but inconspicuous part of the yearly revelry, the pioneers wear lapel pins in honor of their lifelong pledge to never hit the bottle, or even tap it lightly (all in deference to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the blue-veined icon that they pray to twice daily). They're among the two hundred teetotalers in the local chapter of the century-old Irish organization, started in Dublin by a Jesuit priest who noticed his parishioners were overzealously toasting the end of the potato famine.

Immigrants to the United States brought their pledges with them. Born in her family's watering hole--McCarthy's Pub in County Kerry--Lakewood resident Annel Buckley swore off the sauce at age sixteen, when she was confirmed in the Catholic church. Years later, when her husband bought the Idleway Bar on Puritas Avenue, she swore off marching in Cleveland's parade. She didn't want to disrespect him.

Peer pressure sent Al O'Leary of Strongsville pedaling down the straight and narrow at seventeen. In 1943, a buddy named John Coughlin persuaded him and eight others to make the four-mile bike trip to Rathcabbin, an Irish village, to take the pledge. Of the ten who made the trek that day, only Coughlin and O'Leary kept their promise.

"You never miss something you never have," says O'Leary, who tasted stout once and hated it. Not that alcohol wasn't forced on him: After he was drafted into the American army during World War II, a couple of jokers tried to spike his Coke. "But I was too smart," he recalls. "I knew something was up."

O'Leary's wife, Mary Celine, took the vow when she was twelve. At the all-girl's school she attended on the Irish isle of Achill, the notion of getting liquored up and telling the nuns where to stick their sacred heart pins was never entertained. Later, after she emigrated to America, a good friend tried to play the old vodka-in-the-fruit-juice prank on her.

"I knew right away it was alcohol," she says. "I might have been a greenhorn, but I was no fool."


The Cleveland Pioneers Total Abstinence Association marches in the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Wednesday, beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Euclid Avenue at East 18th Street.

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