Pioneer pins faith on traditional badge as new-look one sells out for Lent

The traditional pioneer pin with its Sacred Heart image
The traditional pioneer pin with its Sacred Heart image

A MODERN makeover of the traditional Pioneer lapel pin, which has removed all religious symbols, has been criticised as ‘tacky’ by a veteran pioneer.

SDLP Councillor Anthony McGonnell said he was sticking to the traditional Sacred Heart badge rather than the new pin which depicts a crossed-out wine glass, similar to a no-smoking sign.

It had been hoped that the new badge, which has been launched by former Parish Priest of Coalisland, Fr Seamus Rice, would make the movement more attractive to people of other faiths and encourage more younger people to sign up.

The pin is available to those not ready to make the lifelong pledge, but are committing to the Lenten period, which begins this year on February 22.

When the Tyrone Times contacted the Oratory religious shop in Dungannon, which sells the pin along with the Pioneer Shop in Armagh, we were informed that it had sold out.

However, Mr McGonnell, who has been a pioneer for five decades, said the new pin detracted from the strong religious basis of the pledge.

“The pledge is primarily a religious commitment and is linked to the Heroic Offering, a daily prayer said to the Sacred Heart”, he said.

“The religious symbol is therefore intrinsic to the pledge and should be depicted on the pin. It is the reason why I always wear it with pride.

“I have no intention of swapping the traditional pin for this new one, which I find a little tacky. Perhaps the pin will appeal to younger people who want to make a temporary pledge.”

A spokesperson for the Pioneer Association said the organisation had no intention of replacing the original badge, and that the new pin is available only in the Armagh Diocese.

Fr Rice, spiritual director of the Armagh Diocese, said the pin was targeted at temporary abstinence over the Lenten period.

“People can try it for six weeks and hopefully they will see the changes that it makes in their daily lives”, he said.

“Alcohol can damage not only yourself but those around you and can have a terrible effect on your whole family.

“By the end of it, they will be able to see the improvement in their relationships with their family circle and their general health and perhaps will want to sign up for a further period or take the pioneer pledge.”

While sales of young pioneer pins amount to 20,000 a year, the association’s membership is predominantly older, and has struggled to maintain its numbers in recent years.

The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart was founded by Jesuit priest Fr James Cullen in 1898.

Concerned by the effects on families of workers’ heavy drinking – with alcohol the greatest drain on earnings – Fr Cullen set up the movement with four female co-founders in Dublin’s Gardiner Street.

His early vision was of an all-female organisation which, “through its prayers and sacrifice in pledging to abstain from alcohol for life, would provide spiritual support for people to abstain from alcohol”. Soon, however, with pressure from men to join, Fr Cullen extended the membership to all.

Members pledged to abstain from alcohol for life, to say the Pioneer prayer twice a day and to wear the Pioneer pin at all times.

The association says its members choose to “go without alcohol, as a gesture of love in return for God’s love and out of concern for those struggling with alcohol”.

By 1905 there were 43,000 members, rising to 100,000 by 1910. By the 1950s as many as one in three Irish adults had joined, with pioneers filling Croke Park to celebrate the body’s diamond jubilee in 1958. Membership is a fraction of what it was at its peak, but still numbers 100,000.

In addition to wearing the distinctive pioneer pin, worn prominently by Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte, each member also makes a daily prayer, the “Heroic Offering”.

With falling membership, traditional revenues from pin sales and subscriptions to its Pioneer magazine have dwindled.

Pioneer Association chief executive Padraig Brady says the organisation has been at a financial loss for the past four years. In his letter to members, he writes: “As Pioneers we are known the length and breadth of Ireland for our tradition of giving to others. The time is well overdue for us now to give to ourselves.”