What if you were a hardened Irish drinker caught up in the new sobriety craze? Fortunately, a miracle drug had just been popularized: ether. If you had taken the pledge, a kindly Irish physician would prescribe ether for you to wean you off the sauce. Not to inhale, but to drink -- at least, before a mutant potato fungus turned your country into a Kelly green post-apocalyptic wasteland. This is where the story gets a little fuzzy. The mass starvation and emigration of millions will do that.
James Mahony/Illustrated London News
They don't look like that because they're coming off a serious bender.
When the medical historical record picks up again, a generation after the Famine, there were still ether-drinking communities in Ulster left over from the temperance movement. People there preferred ether over the local poteen and the heavily taxed "parliament whiskey." Fifty thousand people drank 17 thousand gallons of ether a year. This was a vast improvement over the other alcohol substitutes found in Ulster, which included brass polish, boot polish, hair oil, medical specimen preservation fluid, coal gas bubbled through milk, water steeped in imported old whisky casks (whisky without an 'e', imported from Glasgow), and even boiled radio batteries, which you know has to be true because who the hell could make that up.