AT times it can be difficult to choose whether George Stacey’s honesty is more impressive than the determination he displayed to defeat alcohol. In essence, the two are interlinked. Everybody has a cross to bear in life, some weigh heavier than others. There should be no shame attached to any addiction – humans are complex creatures. By bravely speaking truthfully about his battle with the bottle, he helps to show that such troubles can touch anybody but more importantly, can be overcome by anybody too.
Born in 33 Keane’s Road, George was one of seven children born to the family, with his only sister, a twin, tragically passing after birth. The Stacey’s hopped across the city to Doyle Street, Costello’s Lane, Mount Sion Avenue, Morrison’s Road and Ignatius Street throughout his childhood and no matter where they moved, he would happily play in the streets outside for hours on end. His father Perry worked for Clancy’s builders on Waterside and while he was earning the family’s coin, George jokes that he and his five brothers would be arguing at home.
“I remember one time it was snowing and we made a big snowball from the top of the road right until the end of it. The cars couldn’t get up or down the road with it. We were standing on it, it took about ten of us to make it. You’d go across Widger’s Field and that would bring you out to Skibbereen. There was a fella living on the street who made a big box kite with a big long string on it – it broke one day and he never got it back.”
With no cars on the road, the youngsters would walk out to Tramore and if they were feeling mischievous chimeys couldn’t compare to robbing apples from Ferrybank, with one friend, Teddy Smith, tearing the trousers off himself while fleeing one day.
“We used to have the carnivals on Barrack Street. Father Farrell ran them. They had horses, a fella singing all the birdcalls. Fellas playing the drums and they had slot machines and things like spin-the-wheel. It was great for all the children – you’d pay a tuppence to get in which was a bit of money back then.”
A huge fan of acts like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, George was no different to other young adults in the city and would regularly venture down to the Olympia to relax, unaware that he was already on a slippery slope.
“I was down in the Olympia one night and I was dancing with the Rose of Tralee. I hadn’t known I was there. It was like I had a split personality. I went into work when one of the lads said to me ‘you done well last night’.”
“’Who,’ I asked.”
“’G’way, I wasn’t down at the Olympia,’ it was only a week afterwards that I remembered. People said the floor cleared. I just remembered being down there. I can’t remember her, she could’ve been blue or green.”
He was blinded from the realisation that he was an alcoholic by his almost constant consumption of various drinks. He would blackout. He would drink before work as well as after it. He would wait for pubs to open at seven in the morning. He would have been locked up or worse if he continued.
“In 1965 when I was serving my time we were in the Vic Hotel in Tramore and all the drink was free. I poured myself a pint glass of brandy. I said ‘this is lovely’ but it was horrible – straight off I was drinking it. I thought I was outside having a pee – I was in the cloak room. I came out and fell on the carpet. I fell into a lough of water. Eddie Savage from Rathfadden Villas put me up against a wall and said ‘wait there and I’ll get you a lift’. I walked down as far as the Strand in Tramore up this (places his hand to his neck) high in the water. I wanted to kill myself. He swam out and I told him that.”
It took two years to “master drink”, in his words, and while he naturally found it difficult, he is thrilled he finally overcame it.
“I was asked to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and joined the pioneers. I lasted a day. I went back and lasted three days. This went on and on – I lasted three months, six months. Then I gave it up. I’m off it 48 years now. I still get a longing for one. If I kept drinking I’d be dead. I am grateful I gave it up. I stopped going around making a show of myself. I had been a different person. I’m a happier person.”
Today, the 76-year-old enjoys watching horror films and the Discovery Channel at home, but that obviously can’t compete with the joy he feels when meeting friends from the glass factory where he worked as a master blower. The craic, he remembers, was “marvellous” and given the number of people who were alongside him in the plant, he never goes too long without reminiscing about that era with someone, as I saw sitting alongside him in Lisduggan.
“Mossie Kelly was a blower down there, retired for years, but he’d sing ‘The Bog Down in Kilbarry-o’ and you’d hear him down by John’s Church. Lads would be sent off for a bucket of steam, glass hammer or the key to the lair. Now, I knew there was no key to the lair so I used to just go off and get a rest for an hour. It was hard work though. The heat – there was people on salt tablets, fainting in the heat. I worked with Cyril Pow… SEAN! This is another man who worked there, a brilliant man.”
Having shaken hands, he returns the compliment: “The same as yourself.”
“George is just telling me about what it was like working in the glass factory,” I say.
“Ah it was great, a big family place.”
“And were you ever sent down for the glass hammer or bucket of steam?”
“No, I invented that. Another one was the key for the lair.”
As he had told me, George retorted: “I knew there was none but said I’d go and get a rest.”
“Who taught ya that,” Sean asked his friend knowingly.
Having overcome his addiction, George deserved to live a delightfully happy life with his wife Alice but he was dealt another cruel hand when she died in 2008 at the age of just 57. While he still has plenty of happy and humorous memories, for example he once nearly throttled Dickie Rock because he thought he was trying to pull her from under his nose, nothing can ever compare to having her by his side.
“We tried to adopt but because she was epileptic they wouldn’t leave us.
“Jaysus, you never, I always thought I’d go first you know? Still today, it can be up and down. Sometimes I get up in the mornings and say ‘Jesus, she’s still not out of bed yet’. Some afternoons I’ll say ‘is she not home from hospital yet’. You just can’t leave it go. People say life goes on, but it’s in a different way.”
In conversation with Ronan Morrissey