Lurgan Courthouse, Co Armagh: Soldiers' Wives Accused of Drunkenness

The ornate brick building that was once Lurgan Courthouse is now a bar and bistro in the town's busy centre.

During the war there was widespread public concern - fuelled by an indignant press - over the drunken behaviour of a minority of soldiers' wives.

Women whose husbands joined the army were entitled to 'separation allowance', a regular payment that was designed to help sustain the wife and her children. In today's terms it would have been around £37 per week for a woman and one child. The rate rose with the number of children, and officers' wives were paid more than the spouses of the lower ranks.

Unfortunately, a small number of women used their separation allowance to buy alcohol - thus triggering a legitimate, though at times disproportionate, outcry in the newspapers. Such reporting was seen by some at the time as an unfair slur on all soldiers' wives.

The Portadown News for example, denounced the 'drink evil' in October 1915. The paper reported that magistrates were calling on licensed vintners to 'discourage women from remaining hours on their premises'. The same article cited an Athlone woman whose children had been taken to the workhouse, her 'separation allowance of one pound and five shillings a week was discontinued on conviction by the magistrates'. Also noted was a soldier's wife from Derry 'who was put under the care of a probation officer on a charge of neglecting her eight children'. The vast majority of sober wives were not mentioned.

Lurgan too had its small share of separation allowance abuse, and Lurgan Courthouse witnessed the travails of a handful of soldiers' wives.

Local historian Dr Colin Cousins pulls a chair up to the bar to explain.

Location: The Courthouse Bar and Bistro, formerly Lurgan Courthouse, William Street, Lurgan, BT66 6JA
Image of Dr Colin Cousins outside The Courthouse Bar and Bistro

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