The History of AA in Ireland


Conor F

Alcoholics Anonymous History in Ireland:

A brief history of the start of AA in Ireland—the first European country to receive Bill and Bob’s message.

Up to the 1940s the only treatment for Alcoholism in Ireland was to keep the bottle away from the alcoholic. The idea was to lock him/her away in an asylum/hospital for a few weeks/months, depending on how bad they were, hoping they would come to their senses when released and cease drinking for good and all.

The idea that alcoholism was a disease was never considered. That is until the message of Alcoholics Anonymous was brought to Ireland in 1946—the first European country to hold a meeting of this new fledgling society.

The AA message spread from America to Sydney, Australia, in 1943. In that same year an Irishman Conor F., from Roscommon in the west of Ireland, joined AA in Philadelphia—both of these events were to play a significant part in the formation of the first AA group in Dublin three years later.

The Australian influence came through an Irish priest Fr. Tom Dunlea, who was based in Sydney running a Boy’s Town Home and he came across an AA group and was quite impressed with their work and achievements.

On holiday back in Ireland in 1946, he gave an interview to a Dublin newspaper, the Evening Mail, mainly concentrating on his work with the Boy’s Town Home. However, during the interview he spoke at length about the “Society of Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Despite some of the details in the article being somewhat inaccurate regarding the principles of the fellowship (probably due to the reporter’s interpretation), all the same it was the first time that AA was brought to public attention.

Around the same time, November 1946, the aforementioned Conor F. was also on holidays in his homeland—now three years sober—he was determined to set up an AA group in Dublin before his return to America in January 1947. With the help and encouragement of his wife he devoted the rest of his holiday to this task.

From the outset he discovered that his assignment would be a difficult one. He ran into stone walls everywhere. He was even told at one stage that their were no alcoholics in southern Ireland—but he would probably get them in Northern Ireland.

It was pointed out to him in no uncertain terms that if people had problems with the “demon drink” all they had to do was join The Pioneer Association—Ireland’s highly respected temperance society, and not waste time with some new and unusual idea taught by Americans.

He also gave an interview to the Evening Mail newspaper outlining AA’s endeavours to help people suffering from alcoholism “to over come the obsession which compels them to drink against their will.” The article also included a Box Number for people to write for information.

He received a few replies—one from a man telling him that he should contact his brother. He made contact with a few people but nothing concrete came from any of them.

He was just about to give up and with time running out fate played its hand—as it did with Bill W in Akron eleven years earlier—when once again, and in more or less similar circumstances, an understanding non-alcoholic woman played a part in the birth of AA—this time in Ireland.

Her name was Eva Jennings and she was staying in the same hotel as Conor and over breakfast he confided in her his many problems in getting AA set up in Dublin.

She was very sympathetic towards his plight and arranged for him to meet a Dr. Norman Moore from St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin (founded by Dean Swift) whom she believed would be of some help.

Dr. Moore was quite enthusiastic and listened to what Conor had to say as he had already read about AA in a Readers Digest article. He informed Conor that he had a patient in the hospital “whom he feared he might be saddled with for life” and was willing to introduce them both stating: “If you can help this man, I’ll believe in AA 100 percent.”

The patient, Richard P. from County Down in Northern Ireland, was sent under escort to Conor’s hotel and immediately they “clicked” and Richard was released from hospital.

Both men then set about arrange the first closed meeting in Dublin which took place two weeks later on November 18th 1946. Neither man was ever to drink again.

Noted dates:

  • 8 November 1946- First Closed Meeting (held in Dublin).
  • 25 November 1946-First Public Meeting (held in Dublin)
  • January 1947-Departure of Conor F. for the U.S.A.
  • 1950-Bill W. and his wife Lois visit Ireland
  • April 1974-Return visit of Lois to Ireland
  • 1979-Sackville died 22nd August 1979
  • 1986-A.A. celebrated 40 years in Ireland
  • 1993-Conor F. died in Philadelphia July 8th
  • 1996- A.A celebrated 50 years in Ireland
  • 2016 First All-Ireland convention of Young People in AA held in Carrick on Shannon
  • 2016- A.A celebrated 70 years in Ireland.


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