AA History in Ireland

Ireland — the first European nation to accept the Message of Alcoholics Anonymous

Sackville O’C. Millens and Conor Flynn., the founder of Irish AA

In 1943, after immigrating to the U.S., Conor F., from Roscommon in the west of Ireland, and a tavern owner, joined A.A. in Philadelphia. This same year saw AA spread to Australia and an A.A. with an group was formed in Sydney. 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 and in 1946 when he came back to Ireland on holiday and, while in Dublin, was asked by the Dublin “EVENING MAIL” to give an interview on his Boys 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.

Conor F. returned to Ireland on vacation the same year, three years sober and determined to set up an AA group in Dublin before his return to America in January 1947. It was known as the First Dublin Group or The Country Shop Group, the name of the restaurant where they met. This first closed meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and, one week later, on 25 November, the first Open Public Meeting was held, also in Dublin.

From the outset Conor F. discovered that his task would be a difficult one. He ran into stone walls everywhere. He was even told at one stage that there were no alcoholics in southern Ireland — but he would probably find 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 overcome 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 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 arranging the first closed meeting in Dublin, which took place two weeks later on Monday, November 18th, 1946. The following Saturday they placed a notice in The Evening Mail for the first public “open” meeting the next Monday. Neither man was ever to drink again. Richard died sober December 19th, 1982, and Conor F. died in Philadelphia on July 8th, 1993, 50 years sober.

Sackville attended his first A.A. meeting there on a Monday night, April 28, 1947, and never took another drink. He was a “retired” major from the British Army, having served for twenty-six years. A British officer – that is, until brandy “retired” him. This proved only a temporary setback. He survived to become a mainstay of A.A. in Ireland.

Sackville M’s story appeared in the 2nd and 3rd editions of Alcoholics Anonymous as “The Career Officer.”

Getting off to a shaky start, the group secretary and a dozen others got drunk in the summer of 1947. Three remained sober, Sackville among them, who had joined in April. They re-formed the group in August with Sackville as secretary.

Sackville was a good organizer who had clear and definite ideas of what they should do. He suggested they switch the open public information meeting from Friday to Monday, the better to catch men coming off a weekend drunk. He also worked hard to get information about A.A. to the newspapers.

Since the vast majority of the Irish population was Roman Catholic, Sackville knew it was important to win the goodwill of the Catholic clergy. He convinced a professor of theology at St. Patrick’s College, Mayhooth, to publish an article favorable to A.A. in the college paper The Furrow. Bill W. later referred to the publication of this article as an impressive step forward in A.A.’s relations with the churches.

In 1948 Sackville began a small group paper, The Road Back, which did much to give the group a sense of identity. A bi-monthly group newsletter celebrating birthdays and group news, it also carried recovery sharing in a simple unpretentious five-page format. He edited it for more than twenty-eight years. The Road Back magazine is still being printed, similar to the Grapevine magazine in the U.S. Sackville died in 1979, 32 years sober

In April 1948 the second Irish Group was formed in Bundoran, and in May a Group was formed in Belfast. July saw the start of the first Limerick Group and a year later, in October 1949, a Group was started in Cork.

In 1950 a Group started in Galway and today (2011) there are over sixty AA Groups between City and County with over a 100 meetings

Dublin Evening Mail
Saturday, November 23, 1946


The Alcoholics Anonymous Association, formed to help sufferers from the dreaded disease of alcoholism, has recently established a small group in Dublin. Several private meetings have already been held as a result of which those who attended have derived considerable benefit and have become convinced that they have not been able to find any other way. The first public meeting of the Association will be held on Monday at 7:45 p.m., in the Country Shop, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Three of the speakers will be alcoholics and members of the Dublin group.


In addition, a doctor who is one of Dublin’s leading psychiatrists and who has made a deep study of alcoholism, will give the meeting the benefit of his professional knowledge on this important subject. True to the name of the Society all will remain anonymous. It is hoped that all who have a sincere desire to stop drinking and to lead a normal, useful life will take this opportunity of learning what the Association offers as a constructive policy of recovery. It is also hoped that any who are interested directly attend with the object of hearing what the Association has done and is daily doing for alcoholics.

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