Identity Statement for Pioneer Total Abstinence Association

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P145
  • Title: Archives of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (1898–1996)
  • Dates: 1839–1996
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 23 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use

Institutional history

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association (PTAA) was founded in Dublin in the Presbytery of St Francis Xavier Church, Gardiner Street in December 1898 by Fr James Cullen, SJ. Present at that first meeting were four well known Dublin women, Mrs Anne Egan, Miss Lizzie Power, Mrs Mary Bury and Mrs A.M. Sullivan. Although little is known of these four women they formed the first group of an Association that would grow to become one of the most prominent Catholic movements in the first half of the twentieth century in Ireland. An essential component of the Association was devotion to the Sacred Heart with a focus on the spiritual element in the work of the PTAA.

From the beginning Fr Cullen envisaged the Association operating under a tightly controlled structure emanating from a central administration. He based the movement on the parish unit with a spiritual director overseeing the activities of each centre. Overall control was administered by a central council based in Dublin. Each centre was affiliated to the central council and also included a president, secretary, treasurer and four or more councillors. A rigid structure for meetings was laid down by Fr Cullen which included the reading of minutes and correspondence, treasurer’s report, applications for membership, temperance business on a local and national level and prayers, the most important of which was the concluding prayer or Heroic Offering. Membership of the Association was based on a probationary period of two years after which full membership was granted. By the end of 1914 membership of the Association had reached an estimated 280,000 and by the 1950s this figure had risen to almost 500,000 members. By 1918 there were Pioneer centres in existence in England, Scotland, the USA, Australia, South Africa and Switzerland.

The Association was initially funded through the sale of Pioneer pins, just one of the administrative duties delegated to the Sisters of Charity, North William Street, by Fr Cullen in 1899. In return for their administrative support the Sisters received a contribution towards the upkeep of their orphanage. However, the acquisition of new offices by the Association in Upper Sherrard Street in 1944, combined with difficulties regarding the distribution of Pioneer pins saw an end to this arrangement.

As the Association began to grow and expand, efforts were made to increase its profile and promote its message. To this end a weekly feature entitled ‘Pioneer Column’ appeared for the first time in 1912 in the Irish Catholic. The column was written by Fr Cullen until shortly before his death in December 1921. It became one of the longest running regular columns in Irish newspaper history and included items such as temperance issues, reports from centres, Pioneer activities including meetings, rallies and pilgrimages and was generally used to publicise the Association.

In 1948 under the directorship of Fr Seán McCarron the association began to publish a magazine to act as the official organ of the PTAA.The Pioneer continues to be published today. The popularity of the PTAA remained steady throughout the 1940s and 1950s during which the Association celebrated two major milestones, the Golden and Diamond Jubilees. Croke Park hosted the celebrations on both occasions. Official figures estimated that approximately 100,000 people attended the Golden Jubilee in 1949. The association also organised the celebrations for the centenary of Fr Theobald Matthew held in Cork in 1954.

The popularity of the Association began to wane in the 1960s and it struggled during the cultural changes that took place in the 1960s and 70s, attracting fewer members and in general appealing less and less to adolescents and young adults. The PTAA needed a new direction and began to turn its attention to other challenges and possibilities, in particular focusing on Africa and the potential for attracting members in emerging African countries. Today the membership of the PTAA continues to grow in Africa and Latin America. Through its publications, events and website, the Association maintains a presence in Irish society.

Archival History

This collection was transferred to UCD Archives in 1997 from the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association offices at 27 Upper Sherrard Street, Dublin 1.


Scope and Content

Correspondence and publications concerning the foundation of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and its founder Fr James Cullen SJ, 1885–1922.

Minute books of the Central Council, 1914–87. Addresses at and programmes of annual general meetings, 1922–78. Files of correspondence concerning the establishment of PTAA centres in garrisons, military camps and barracks, 1942–4; and wearing of the Pioneer pin by members of the Defence Forces, 1940–3.

Newspaper cuttings, notes, and correspondence relating to the PTAA’s opposition to Sunday opening, 1948 and changes to the licensing laws, 1960.

Correspondence from Pioneer Centres, and application procedures for the establishment of new Centres, 1924–85.

Minute book of the St Francis Xavier’s Ladies Centre, 1956–82. Minute book of the North Dublin Regional Committee, 1969–81. Reports and minutes of regional committees and councils, 1983–4.

Correspondence, minutes, newsletters concerning international centres, 1947–85. Minutes of the New York Regional Committee, 1959–68.

Correspondence, lists, circulars, newspaper cuttings, memorabilia, photographs, and posters concerning the organisation and celebration of the Golden Jubilee, 1949 and Diamond Jubilee, 1959. Correspondence relating to the Diamond Jubilee flight from the USA to Ireland, 1959–60.

Pioneer Page published in the Irish Messenger, 1889–1945, extensive run of the Pioneer Column published in the Irish Catholic, 1912–14; 1933–85, Pioneer Page, Province News, 1926–61, copies of The Pioneer, 1948–96.

Annual reports Father Matthew Union, 1902–38; 1977–8. Correspondence, posters, circulars, newspaper cuttings concerning the Fr Matthew Centenary celebrations, 1953-–6.

Membership cards, leaflets, pledge cards, handbooks, catechism, memorabilia relating to early temperance movements in Ireland, Europe, North America and India, 1876–88.


  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in microform.
  • Language: English
  • Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue
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