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Beer festival in historic St Anthony's

Real ale beano this week refreshes body parts others have never reached, writes Mike Chapple

Published on October 15th 2010.

Beer festival in historic St Anthony's

A SOBERING thought having a pint among the dead - if you don't come from around here, of course.

We are veterans of the practice.

But drink and the departed have always gone hand in hand - as many a merry wake has given testimony to.

The annual Liverpool Beer Festival, down in the bowels of Paddy's Wigwam, aka, the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, has already stepped outside the city's boundaries and tantalised tastebuds from far and wide with immediate sell-outs.

The Wigwam is a people-friendly experience, at least compared to what has been going on every October since 2007 at the church of St Anthony of Egypt on Scottie Road.

Named after the recognised father of all monastic desert hermits, St Anthony's has become the flagship for beer festivals with a difference.

For three days a year its catacombs have become a place to reflect on life and death in one of the most intriguingly sombre places in Liverpool's often mordant history. This is while still quietly enjoying a stiff glass of ale in hand while the consecrated corpses of thousands lie beside you in this eerie twilight underworld of passages and cloisters buried below this Liverpool monolith's central aisle.

But far from it being an irreverence from the church's affable priest and good beer lover Father Graeme Dunne, Ant's annual ale festival was devised as a way of bringing to attention one of the greatest blights in Liverpool's heritage.

In the mid 19th century, the city became a refuge for those fleeing the horrors of the Irish potato famine.

Ironically, it subsequently became their collective tomb, numbers decimated by waves of poverty, starvation and typhus. The disaster reached its hiatus in 1847 when hundreds, perhaps thousands, were buried in unmarked graves around the burgeoning parish of St Anthony's.

These unidentified remains were finally give a more blessed home in a large, double roomed chamber at the back of the current crypt.

Marking its presence is a poignant plaque depicting an immigrant mother and father holding a dying, starving child in their arms. Rather than come from some collection box at Mass, this is a work paid for by previous beer festival income. It is a frankly unnerving experience - if you dare - to take a reflective moment there alone with a half of six percent-er.

Or to stand before the memorials in other caverns, for the likes of the young woman whose husband died at 28, followed by her two young babies before she finally succumbed herself.

Rather than being a depressing experience it proves to be strangely refreshing, reflecting on the ultimate resilience of the city and the human experience.

Try it for yourself.

*Tickets priced £5 - all profits from which will go to church repairs and the upkeep of the St Anthony of Egypt Visitors' Centre - are still availalble for the 7pm to 11 pm sessions on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday October 14, 15, 16, (7pm-11pm) plus afternoon session (1pm-5pm) Saturday. Tickets are available from the Lion Tithebarn Street and John O'Dowd at The Belvedere off Hope Street.

There will be 35 real ales on this year including the debut of Liverpool Organic brewery's Merseycider (geddit?).

Entry is via the alleyway to the back of the church which runs alongside The Throstle's Nest (one of the few pubs still remaining on Scottie that hasn't been knocked down and worth a visit in itself).

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caroline16093October 12th 2010.


Stephen Mcgrath shared this on Facebook on March 31st 2012.
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