Sackville O’C. M., Dublin, Ireland.
(p. 523 in 2nd, p. 517 in 3rd editions.)
They Lost Nearly All
“A British officer, this Irishman – that is, until brandy ‘retired’ him. But this proved only a temporary setback. He survived to become a mainstay of A.A. in Eire.”
Sackville attended his first A.A. meeting on April 28, 1947, and never took another drink. He was a “retired” major from the British Army, in which he served for twenty-six years. He had been discharged on medical grounds. This meant, of course, alcoholism. In a talk he gave in Bristol, England, in 1971, he said he received a letter from the Army saying they had accepted his resignation. But he didn’t remember having sent it in.
He was living with his parents in Dublin, existing on his retirement pay. His long-suffering mother finally ordered him to pack his bags. He then remembered seeing something about A.A. in the Evening Mail, and told her he would try A.A. His parents agreed that if A.A. could help him he could live at home. But he would be on probation. He arrived at his first meeting that night, drunk on gin and doped up on Benzedrine and paraldehyde.
His first meeting was at the Dublin group. It was the first A.A. group in Europe, founded by Conor F. in November of 1946. Conor had got sober in Philadelphia three years earlier, and was on vacation in Ireland.
It was known as the First Dublin Group or The Country Shop Group, the name of the restaurant where they met. Sackville found what looked like a large group when he went to his first meeting. But it was the big Monday night open meeting, to explain A.A. to newcomers and their families as well as doctors and social workers.
Getting off to a shaky start, the secretary and a dozen others got drunk in the summer of 1947. Three remained sober, among them Sackville, 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 suggest 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.
Bill W. visited them in 1950, and held a press conference in the Mansion House (Lord Mayor’s house). Many years later Jimmy R. took great pride in showing the kitchen sink in his basement apartment into which Bill had knocked his cigarette ash as they sat around and talked for hours following the press conference. Sackville, in his 1971 talk, spoke of what a great man Bill W. was.
In 1948 Sackville began a small 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.
Sackville updated his story for the March 1968 Grapevine. It was titled: “Living the Program In All Our Affairs.”
He hoped that what he wrote would not be taken as the view of an Angry Old Man. But he complained of those who give only lip service to the slogans and the steps.
He urged realism, with its frequent reminders of humility; faith, anchored to some unchanging norm of goodness (God, as I understand him); atonement; patience; and thinking with spiritual discipline.
He complained of those who tell a newcomer that he only has to stay dry for today and to come to meetings. He said the meetings were necessary, but would not practice the Steps for anyone. Even the most meeting-minded member has to pass many hours of the day when he is alone and must depend on his own inner strength. These are the hours when practice of these principles in all his affairs must cease to be a conventional, superficial acceptance of them and become a master of the heart and the will.
Sackville also wasn’t fond of celebrity speakers. He urged that we take every speaker, silver-tongued or tongue-tied, at his real value of being another alcoholic who is doing his best to stay recovered himself and trying to help us to do the same.
And he thought that the increasing numbers of conventions and the like were diverting time and effort from our primary purpose.
He added, however, that these dislikes of his were “very slight ripples in a sea of contentment.”
Sackville died in 1979.
(Special thanks to Louise H. of Belfast, and Ann P. of Spokane, Washington, for information on Sackville and A.A. in Ireland.)
Email from Malcolm K., Saturday, November 8, 2008
“I love the archival material on your site. I’m sending you a photo my sponsor gave me, it is the original and I thought you may like to put it up on your site. My sponsor, Colraine G., is 37 years sober, and a founder of most AA in Northern Ireland. He counted both men among his friends. He now lives in the Republic, and I spend most mornings with him, playing him recordings off the net. He’s a big admirer of Chris R. and Bob D. among many others.”
There is a photo that contains both Conor and Sackville O’C. Sackville O’C‘s story appeared in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous as “The Career Officer” in the Second Edition Big Book until it was removed for the 4th edition. If you would like a copy of this photo, simply send an email with your request for the photo.
The photo originally came from the Irish AA site: (http://www.alcoholicsanonymous.ie/opencontent/default.asp?itemId=12)
“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.”