Heritage traditions? Irish historian in Cambridge uncovers drinking habits of 16th century Ireland masons: 14 pints a day

Irish Times website 031117Tipperary woman Dr Susan Flavin on her discovery that Irish ‘burly stone masons’ and others in the 16th century drank 14 pints a day

The Irish Times writes:

You spend years ‘burrowing away on dusty documents’, then a line in your research – admittedly attention-grabbing – about workers in Ireland in the 16th century quaffing rations of 14 pints of beer a day, gets noticed, and suddenly historian Dr Susan Flavin is getting calls from all over the place. Images of burly stone masons lurching around drunkenly wielding medieval hammers and chisels come to mind.

Flavin, a lecturer in early modern history at Anglia Ruskin University, has been researching 16th century social and economic history for years, and says today that people have ‘jumped on’ the beer angle. She’s had an offer from someone who wants to recreate a 16th century oat brew and send her bottles, and a well-known craft brewery has also offered help in recreating the methods, for which she’s hoping for research funding.

So, if people routinely quaffed large quantities of beer daily, were most people going about their daily business three sheets to the wind? Flavin’s research shows beer was a vital source of calories and nutrition for workers. For example records from January 1565 show stone masons working at a quarry in Clontarf, Dublin, were provided with an allowance of 14 pints of ale per day by the proctor of Christ Church Cathedral. Gives a whole new meaning to plastered.

‘People drank beer because it was a source of calories, as well as for thirst and social reasons,’ says Flavin. ‘It was seen as good for energy and health, and was thought to have restorative properties.’ She calculates that 16th century beer may had a high calorific value, providing between 400-500 calories per pint, compared to 180-200 calories in a pint today.

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