The Start of A.A. in Ireland

It can be taken as a truthful generalisation that, with few exceptions, the sole treatment of Alcoholism up to the start of the Nineteen Forties was based on ‘Keeping the Bottle away from the Alcoholic’. It was only through Alcoholics Anonymous and its revolutionary Programme of Recovery that the way was opened to any real hope for the Alcoholic. A.A. killed the illusion that Alcoholism could be treated and eradicated for good and all and dispelled the idea that the Alcoholic could be kept away from a relapse by a long period of confinement in hospital or home. A.A. showed that the right approach to the disease was to keep the Alcoholic away from the bottle by his own consent, that Alcoholism was a Total Disease, not just a medical one.

Outside the United States and Canada A.A. took longer to be accepted. In Ireland it was not accepted by the medical profession until well into the Fifties. Previously, patients had been kept in hospitals and homes for periods of six months or longer in the vague hope that, after that, the patient would have lost all urge to drink. In spite of well-nigh complete failure down the years, this was the accepted treatment. This was equivalent to declaring that if a patient was kept from drink for a long time his constitution would, in some mysterious way, be changed so that he could exercise control should he start drinking again.

Only a few doctors in Ireland had heard of A.A.. In fact, few doctors took a serious interest in their alcoholic patients. To be fair this was because at Medical School they were given very little more than a few hours’ instruction on Alcoholism. They were taught how to get a patient out of the D.T.’s and they were given the idea that people became alcoholics because they were weak-minded and that they were never a credit to the doctor, had a poor reputation for paying, and should never be considered for a bed in a general hospital unless they also had some more respectable illness apart from their drinking problem.

A.A. was started in Akron, Ohio, U.S.A. in 1935. In 1943, it spread to Australia and an A.A. group was formed in Sydney. In the same year, an Irishman, Conor F., from the West of Ireland, joined A.A. in Philadelphia. Those two happenings led to the start of A.A. in Ireland and the formation of the first A.A. group of native Europeans, run by themselves, in Dublin.

Fr. Tom Dunlea, an Irish priest running a Boy’s Town Home in Sydney, had noticed and been impressed with the gradual growth and success of the Sydney group. In 1946 he came back to Ireland on holiday and, while in Dublin, was asked by the Dublin “EVENING MAIL” to give an inter view on his Boy’s Home. Not alone did Fr. Tom give an account of his project, but he also spoke at some length on the success of the Sydney group of A.A... His ideas of how A.A. groups worked were, perhaps, not strictly accurate but it was the first introduction of A.A. to the general public in Ireland.

At about the same time Conor F., three years sober himself, at once determined to leave a group of A.A. behind him in Dublin before his return in January 1947 to Philadelphia. With his wife’s encouragement he decided to devote the remainder of his holiday to this end.