After the Start

Right from the start it became clear that the task would be no easy one. He gave an interview to the “Evening Mail, with a Box Number at the newspaper for anyone interested to contact him. He received a few answers – some ribald, some unprintable. He got one letter from a man asking that his brother should be contacted. He visited anyone who seemed in earnest but met with no success.

He got busy visiting doctors, priests and others. He was assured that no Alcoholics existed south of the Border and was advised not to waste his time in Dublin but to look for them in the North of Ireland. He was told that if alcoholics wanted to stop drinking all they had to do was to join the Pioneer Association – Ireland’s great temperance society. He was most often told that they had no wish to waste time on the usual crazy and short-lived ideas thought up by Americans. In short, he got nowhere very fast, and his time was running out.

Conor was near the point of conceding defeat when one morning he met at breakfast in his hotel a lady, Eva Jennings, to whom he confided his difficulties in putting A.A. across in Dublin. She was sympathetic and advised him to arrange to meet a Dr. Norman Moore, head of St. Patrick’s Hospital (originally founded by Dean Swift) who, she thought would not only be interested but practically helpful.

This proved to be the case. Dr. Moore, who had some information about A.A. obtained from a “Readers Digest” article, told Conor that he had a patient in his hospital with whom he feared he might be saddled for life, and offered to introduce them to each other. He added: “If you can help this man, I’ll believe in A.A. 100%. The patient, Richard P. from Co. Down, was sent under escort to Conor’s hotel, the two men ‘clicked’ and Richard was released from hospital. They collected four or five men, started meeting in the home of one of them and eventually held the first Irish A.A. public meeting. About 45 people attended and at the end of it, some 12 ‘joined’ up.

By the end of two or three weeks, numbers were once more down to four or five. None of the four or five had any money and there arose the difficulty in paying the rent for a meeting room in the Country Shop, a restaurant run by the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, who displayed courage of a high standard in accepting the booking of a quite unknown and dangerously named Fellowship. So meetings were held in a cinema restaurant “for free” for a couple of weeks, by which time some money had been raised, and the Group resumed their tenancy of the Country Shop where their meetings continued to be held until 1978 when the Country Shop closed down.

Matters became very static as none of the original members had much idea how to go about trying to reach out to other alcoholics. Apart from, perhaps, two letters published by the kindly “Evening Mail”, no effort was made in the next eight months to bring A.A. to the notice of Dublin, consequently there was no growth. The first Group Secretary to be appointed was given five shillings (then about a dollar) for postage and minor expenses. About four months later he came in very much the worse for wear and broke up the meeting.

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The main anxiety of the Group was not to try and help him but to find out if he had anything left of the postage money. Two other members, Jimmy R., an original from the first meeting, and Sackville – managed to salvage the book containing members’ names and addresses and together they started not only to put the little group back on its feet but to put some life into it.

Two things were evident from the start:

(a) either the Catholic Church in Ireland was made an ally or A.A. in Ireland was sunk, and
(b) either A.A. published itself in Dublin or it would perish of dry rot.

The latter was the easier job. Sackville began to send letters every ten days or so to the “Evening Mail” with a point of interest to start with and the punch-line at the end saying that an Open Meeting was held every Monday and that it was hoped people would come along to observe and listen to what was going on.

Gradually the attendance at the Public Meetings increased and news of A.A. started to percolate through Dublin. Soon the other two evening papers asked for letters too, on the understanding that they were differently phrased. The Gardai (police) soon were able to direct people to the meetings. Membership began to grow, though painfully slowly.

A lady member or two joined, the first one came a year or so before the second, and left as soon as the second had arrived. Doctors and Magistrates came along, some to listen, others to talk to the members. A.A. was becoming respectable, but not in the important place in Ireland – the Church. The vast majority of the Irish population belongs to the Catholic Faith so it became very necessary to acquire the goodwill of the Catholic Clergy.

Sackville fortunately got to know one of the Professors of Theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth – heart of the Catholic Church in Ireland. This man was Editor of the influential Maynooth College paper “The Furrow and was to become a very great and valued helper to A.A. in Ireland. He arranged for the publication in “The Furrow” of a most favourable article about Alcoholics Anonymous called “Drink and Compulsion”. Bill W. later referred to the publication of this article as “a most impressive step forward in A.A.’S relations with the churches”. Most important was the decisive influence the article had on priests throughout Ireland. For now, when a parish priest was dubious about supporting the formation of an A.A. Group in his parish he could be referred to Maynooth College and its approval of A.A..

Bill’s visit in 1950 was a landmark for A.A. in Ireland. He visited Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick, and everywhere the Press was eager to meet him.

By the end of 1950 A.A. was firmly established even if Group and membership numbers were still comparatively small, and Sackville decided he should make it safe from himself by retiring from the Secretaryship he had held since August 1947.

This narrative of events leading up to the establishment and growth of A.A. in Ireland is concluded with a statement from Sackville who provided most of the material on which his historical account is based;

“I regret that this whole account is so flavoured with my own doings, but that was just the way things happened and not an effort to aggrandise myself. No Group has ever grown up as a result of one man’s work. But equally, few groups ever mature without some directing hand. It was my own good fortune to be cast for this role. I can truthfully say that the big winner on this whole transaction was without any doubt whatever – Myself’.

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