After his memory was stirred by Confirmations and pledges, Donegal Daily columnist Brian McDaid looks at his journey in finding understanding in family and friends’ alcohol struggles.
This week I spent a few evenings in St. Eunan’s Cathedral covering a very different celebration of this year’s confirmation. The year 2020 will be remembered in years and even in centuries to come as the year of the coronavirus.
With masks donned and the main aisle spaced four rows apart groups of between 20 and 30 children were confirmed each evening. As my camera flash lit up the blessing with chrism oil and in the ceremony after in a near empty chapel, echoes and memories of my own confirmation started to slowly and uncomfortably come into my mind.
If it wasn’t for an old photo long since lost, (thank God) from the day I don’t think I would remember much from the day of my confirmation. We had the photo for years – me standing in the backyard of my aunt’s with a blue cardigan with wooden buttons on it to get my photo taken in the Convent Rd.
But this week at the point in the ceremony when the priest explains what is involved in taking the pledge. A part of my childhood memory showed up as I stared at statues and stained glass windows in the Cathedral on a summer evening.
On the 12th of June 1976 I was in the new shoes of a child going forward for conformation in this same place. The encouragement to take the pledge that day had very little to do with faith for me anyway. In my mind at that time at 12 years of age I was set on not just taking the pledge until I was 18 but for the rest of my life such was the impact that drink had in our family growing up. Our lives revolved around drink. Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, to name just a few, were days that you wished were never on the calendar growing up as a child.
If it wasn’t for a chance meeting last week with someone getting a special old CD framed, I probably would have let this sit for another while in my mind and say nothing.
George’s Life Story.
Businessman George Boal had found the original recording of his story, he knew he put it away somewhere safe but didn’t know where. It was all in his mind and always has been for many, many years.
“Have you one of them play things I’m not too well up on these computer yolks,” George said, as he unzipped a small case containing a few treasured CDs.
One of them had a picture of himself and his wife Betty on the cover of it sitting on the step of their first home at the Mountain Top, which he has great pride in.
The second CD is just a plain audio track CD with no pictures on it.
The track contained a man’s life story, it was an interview with radio presenter Shaun ‘The Doc’ Doherty on Highland Radio from 15 years ago
It is a recording from the year that George Boal received the Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the year. From humble beginnings in a freezing caravan for a home on a swampy site, George came a very long and sometimes very difficult journey – from the first concrete lintels and kerb stones they turned out by hand to one of the biggest privately owned industrial estates now called Pine Hill Business Park.
The interview was inspirational for anyone in any type of self employment and George didn’t forget family and workers that helped him in the early years in the development of an empire that the family business is today.
George also talked about the difficulty he suffered in his early days with drink, a subject he always felt was important to talk openly about.
He talked about hitting rock bottom and he talked in his own words about the way that drink gets a grip on you.
George described it as an ‘alcoholic brain cell’ and how when it gets a hold on you it plans paths in advance, how it gets people on side with you by your actions. Making people believe that you are focused on anything but drink. Starting a job around the house in a very positive way which makes it very unpopular to even bring up the uncomfortable subject of drink.
Then he gives another example of what a very straightforward and simple request to go out to shop for a loaf of bread for the children’s lunches. Suddenly, it can turn into ending up sitting in a pub and where the alcoholic brain cell takes over again. The loaf of bread becomes more than a loaf, it becomes a judgement on someone else’s housekeeping, with the end result that the alcoholic brain cell can justify it to just sit on in the pub and to hell with the bread for the children’s school lunch in the morning.
George also talked about the 52 weeks in the year and how an alcoholic zones out of family life at the times that a family should be together.
I can totally connect with George Boal’s description of what he calls an alcoholic brain cell and how everything will be planned, hidden and defended around drink. These all come to a head on big days like Christmas when everyone is supposed to be happy and sharing in the celebration of Christmas but for some the reality of these events is far from happy.
It’s funny that me and my family member went off sugar in our tea at the start of Lent so many years ago in Duncan’s old café in Ballybofey on a trip to Sligo. That year he promised to also do Lent on drink but he wasn’t long finding a plan (just as George described) that cleared him of blame for going back on the bottle.
Looking in from the outside it would be very easy to say that it was an overreaction to say there was really an issue with drink here when you look at someone who on the outside never ever missed a day’s work in his life because of drink.
But if you are unfortunate enough to be behind the front door of a family home where drink is a problem, that’s where the memories are hidden right through from the shame, the rows, the anger both verbally and physically were played out.
There one thing I have learned about drinking is that a pledge should be done firstly for yourself and not to make someone else happy.
There is a difference in the enjoyment and social interaction that happens when people go out to enjoy a drink and the word enjoy for me is the key, I can enjoy a drink as much as the next but I have a respect more out of fear that the ‘alcoholic brain cell’ could take over in me as well, something that has a lasting memory to witness in any life.