Matt Talbot Story
But today, with an understanding of the illness of alcoholism, there is little doubt that he was a chronic alcoholic. The pattern of his
drinking habit speaks for itself. He began his drinking at the age of twelve, taking the dregs of porter and stout from the bottom of
bottles in the bottling store where he got his first job. Within two years he graduated to whiskey and by the time he was sixteen, he
came home drunk regularly.

His father was a heavy drinker for as long as Matt could remember and, as a result, the family grew up in poverty. But even his
consumption of alcohol was small compared with Matt's once he began the nightly trek to O'Meara's. Drink became his only interest.
When wages were spent, Matt borrowed and scrounged for money. He pawned his clothes and boots more than once. And he
supplemented his wages by doing extra work after hours.

Rose Plunkett was a washer women who washed clothes for the soldiers in the nearby barracks. Matt turned the mangle for her, got
a pig's check for his labor and then sold it quickly to get money to drink. He also had a second method of earning extra money---
minding horses outside the tavern while the owners enjoyed themselves inside. The tips he received bought him more drinks.

On one occasion he was driven to  steal a fiddle from a blind man, which he pawned in order to buy drink. On Saturdays he would
come home with just a shilling from his wages for his mother. Life for Matt had become unmanageable. His companions had
hobbies-- swimming, playing  cards, girl friends. Matt had only one-- alcoholic drink.

On a Saturday morning in 1884, he waited outside O'Meara's without a penny in his pocket. He had been unable to work that entire
week and had no money coming to him. His problem, he told himself, would be quickly solved. When he had money, he shared it
generously with his friends so he was sure they would not reject him in his misfortune.

But they did. One by one, they passed him by. Some bade him a greeting, others ignored him. Perhaps he had scrounged money
from them too often, but they left him standing on the corner. Matt Talbot was stunned and shocked. Years later, he said that he was
"cut to the heart". But it was his "Moment of Grace". After some time thinking about his problem, he realized that he was totally
enslaved to drink. He made his way slowly home to his mother determined to take the pledge to abstain from alcohol for three
months.

His mother was preparing the mid-day meal when he arrived. A country girl, she married Charles Talbot in 1853. Three years later
Matt, her second child was born. Her husband had steady employment with the Port and Dock Board, and  the family should have
been spared the grinding poverty that existed in the Dublin slums of that time. His excessive drinking meant that they were always
poor and Mrs. Talbot found it necessary to work as a charwoman to ensure that there was enough food on the table for the children.
Before she was married twenty-five years, she had changed residences eleven times from one tenement to another, as they failed to
pay the rent.

Eleven children, nine boys and two girls, were born to them. Matt spent just two years at school from the age of ten. There was no
compulsory education in those days and he was a poor attendee. Between playing truant and staying home to mind the younger
children when his mother went to work, he learned little, and when he left school he could neither reed or write. He then got a job,
which was a disaster for him, bottling porter and stout in the firm of E. & J. Burke.

When Matt came home sober on that fateful Saturday morning, Mrs. Talbot could not believe her eyes. Even more shocking were
Matt's words-- "Ma, I'm going to take the pledge". He wasted no time and took the pledge for three months that very afternoon in a
nearby seminary, Holy Cross College.

Those three months were sheer hell. We understand today the withdrawal symptoms of addiction but, in 1884 Matt Talbot had no one
to share his suffering; the hallucinations, the depression, and the nausea. But he had an iron will, a rock- like stubbornness which
stood him well down the years. "I know that I will drink again when the three months are up", he would remark to his mother.

To fill in the time that he used to spend in O'Meara's, Matt went for a walk every evening after work. During one of these walks his
resolution almost broke. He passed Bushe's Public House, about a mile from his home, just as the door opened. He caught the
strong smell of stale beer and saw the crowded bar. He went in. The barman was busy serving the local men so he left this stranger
waiting at the counter. Matt felt himself humiliated for a second time within a few weeks. Deeply hurt he stormed out of the bar and
went to Christ Church, just down the street. That evening he made another resolution -- never to carry money with him. He kept it for
the rest of his life.

Dropping into a church to rest during his walks became a habit. Matt was neither fit nor religious minded. He grew tired quickly and
since he could not rest in a tavern or sit down on the public street, a church provided the haven he sought. Gradually he began to
pray, to ask God to help him. He had been educated in the teachings of the Catholic Church and his faith, convinced him that he
could share his suffering with Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. To find strength to remain sober, he decided to attend Mass every
morning before he went to work and to receive Holy Communion as well. This was very unusual in the 1880's when the average good
layman went to Mass just on Sunday and received Holy Communion only at Easter and Christmas. At the end of three months, Matt
took the pledge to abstain from alcohol for six months and finally took it for life.

Matt Talbot now turned all his efforts to increasing his union with God and developing his life of prayer. He joined the third Order of St.
Francis and the workingman's Sodality in the Jesuit Church in Gardner Street. The strict ascetical life of the early Irish monks
attracted him. Their love of prayer, with emphasis on penance and humility, and the manual labor dedicated to God, appealed to him.
The way to close union with God has many pitfalls for those who travel this road alone. The monks of long ago held that a monk
without a spiritual director was like a body without a soul.

The second part of this pamphlet will show that Matt Talbot discovered the Twelve Steps Program of Alcoholics Anonymous and
carried it out in his struggle to find sobriety. This is not really surprising when one remembers that another Jesuit Father, Father
Edward Dowling helped A.A. to formulate this program in 1935. The steps have basis in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the
founder of the Jesuits. Obviously, Father Walshe, Matt Talbot's spiritual director, would have been very familiar with it.

Matt Talbot never married. Soon after taking the pledge for life, he left home and lived alone in a number of tenement flats until he
finally settled in one at 18 Upper Rutland Street. When his father died in 1899, he brought his mother to spend the rest of her life
there. He looked after her to the end, although his small room was a virtually a cell from an Irish monastery of the sixth century.

His austere daily program may shock us today in an affluent society that demands comfort, but it was an ordinary life style to those
monks, hardy men who sailed their boats to the continent of Europe and then tramped thousands of miles, even across the Alps, to
preach the Gospel.

He allowed himself just four or five hours sleep at night and arose about 5: a.m. to prepare for first Mass in the Gardner Street
Church. Then he would return home for breakfast, a few slices of bread dipped in a mixture of tea and cocoa. After this meal he would
set off to work in the lumber yard of T & C Martin, where he was employed as a laborer and later as a checker for the last twenty years
of his life. He had a habit of paying a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of St. Laurence O'Toole, Seville Place, "to see the
Lord on the way down", as he said.

The lunch break came around 1:00 p.m., and Matt would take another meal similar to his breakfast, some bread dunked in a mixture
of tea and cocoa, which he often allowed to grow cold. Back at work, he was the most conscientious worker. Many years later, one of
this former foremen described him as "{the best worker in Dublin" , who was often chosen to set the pace for others. But at a time
when Dublin workers were often exploited, he was not a "bosses" man. He had learned to reed and write and was quite ready to
discuss the rights of workers with senior executives in the firm.

Matt would take his principal meal in the evening after work. On his way home, he would call into the church of St. Laurence O'Toole
for a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament and then back to Rutland Street to a meal of boiled fish and bread, dipped in his usual
mixture of tea and cocoa.

Since he was a member of many religious associations, from the Third order of St. Francis to the Workingman's Sodality, he
attended a meeting of one of them almost every evening. When he came home about  9:00 or 10:00 p.m., it was time for his spiritual
reading. His library, which still exists, gives us some idea of its depth and diversity. Matt prayed to the Holy Spirit and read very slowly.
He had many copies of the Bible and was particularly fond of reading the Psalms and the Gospel according to St. Matthew. His
favorite passages were those describing the Passions of Jesus. There were other books also dealing with doctrine and devotions,
lives of the Saints and Catholic Social principals.  

He had great devotion to Mary, mother of Jesus, and he described the women Saints as "Great Girls". St. Therese of Lisieux, who
taught that the way to holiness was by doing ordinary things of life extraordinarily well for the love of God, was awarded special
mention. According to Matt, she was "a little brick". His spiritual reading ended about 1:00 a.m., and then he retired for about four
hours of rest before beginning his daily routine again.

He did not go to work on Sundays, but went to one of the city churches and would kneel in an obscure corner from the first Mass at
6:00 a.m. until mid-day.

Despite his austerities, Matt was a small tough man --  "as strong as a horse", according to a fellow worker. He had an iron will and a
constitution to match. Neither the other workers at T. & C. Martin's, nor the fellow dock workers on Dublin's water front had an idea
that he was leading a life modeled on the early Irish monks. He was a happy little man, although more silent than others. "Matt
smiled at everything except a dirty joke", a friend once remarked.

But many workers knew about his generosity. Matt "lent" them money to buy clothes or shoes for their children or to pay overdue rent.
He would ask just once if the money was not repaid. Usually he did not receive it and he would not mention the matter again. On one
occasion he even lent a fellow worker, who was going to a wedding, "the price of a drink". He would not hurt anyone's feelings by
giving them a "handout".

He saw some of the most stirring events in Ireland's history taking place around him -- the Easter Week Rising, the introduction of the
Black & Tan terror, the declaration of the Irish free state, and the subsequent civil war. He referred to these in his conversations with
other workers during work breaks, but by now had found deep inner peace. He was immersed in God, spending most of his waking
hours either in prayer or at work.

A neighbor observed --" If you spoke to Matt Talbot in the street, you got the impression that you had interrupted his conversation with
almighty God. Yet, as he walked the Dublin streets with his eyes downcast, he would stop to talk to a child or pat a passing dog.

In 1923, when he was sixty-seven years of age, he had his first serious illness. This was remarkable in view of the austere life he
had led for almost forty years; in those years most men died before they reached sixty years of age. Matt Talbot suffered a very
serious heart attack. On his discharge from the hospital he was unable to work and was almost destitute. For two years he was
under the care of professor Henry Moore, an eminent heart surgeon. His impression of his patient is very important and was given
under oath at the ecclesiastical inquiry later. "He was an extraordinarily religious man. It occurred to me at first that he might be a
religious crank. I was not long in changing my opinion of him. He was one of the gentlest men that I have ever encountered."

Matt Talbot died suddenly in Granby Lane on the way to Mass on Sunday June 7th, 1925. He was buried in what was virtually a
pauper's grave in Glasnevin Cemetery a few days later.

The story of his life came to light because when his body was undressed, three chains were discovered wrapped around it. Inquiries
disclosed that he had practiced the devotion to Our Lady, which was promulgated by St. Louis Marie de Montfort, known as the slavery
of Mary. The underlying idea was that a person who considered himself a spiritual slave of the Mother of God, would remain close to
her and to Jesus, her son. By this devotion, he or she would be greatly helped in a quest for Christian perfection. St. Louis suggested
that a person should wear a small chain as a symbol of his slavery. A bracelet would have sufficed. The chain was primarily symbolic
and not penitential. This form of devotion was quite popular in Europe during the 19th century.

It was not a form of masochism. When St. John Neumann, the Bishop of Philadelphia, died suddenly in 1860, a de Montfort chain
was found on his body. It was typical of Matt Talbot to wear three. He had time to conceal them before his first heart attack in 1923
and the doctors and nurses found no trace of them on his body. It seems he had not a forewarning of his final collapse.

The Workingman's Sodality attached to the Jesuit Church, Gardner Street, bought the grave in which Matt Talbot was buried and
placed a tombstone over it.

In 1931, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin opened the sworn inquiry into alleged claims to holiness of the former docker. The Apostolic
Process, the official sworn inquiry at the Vatican, began in 1947 and concluded successfully in 1982. Three years later, the Holy See
conferred the title "Venerable" on him. This means, from a purely human point of view, Matt Talbot has the qualifications of a saint. If
this opinion is confirmed by the miracles required by Canon Law, he will be canonized.

The remains of Matt Talbot were exhumed and placed in a Granite tomb in the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on Sean McDermott
Street ( just off Dublin's O'Connell Street ). He spent the last twenty years of his life in this parish. The Dublin Corporation honored
him in 1978 by naming it's new bridge across the River Liffey, The Matt Talbot Memorial Bridge.


by Father Morgan Costello
(former Vice Postulator of the Cause
of the Venerable Matt Talbot)

As far as the neighbors in the North Strand of Dublin were
concerned, Matt Talbot was a habitual drunk.
A young man in his twenties, he spent all his wages
and spare time in O'Meraa's tavern.
Matt Talbot Retreat Group 27 East