ONE of the reasons Con Hurley, born on the northside of Cork in 1961, wrote Shadows On My Shoulder was to give hope to all those who suffer addiction.
Another reason for penning his heart-warming memoir was to document the challenges of growing up in an exceptionally large family.
One of 21 siblings, Con, who had a lot going for him but who lost precious things throughout his life, has written a remarkably honest narrative about the pain of poverty and about the pain of addiction.
In this book, Con documents his courageous journey from the plight of a poor Cork childhood, to a career in the Irish army, to addiction, and finally to life of recovery.
“The atmosphere was impoverished,” Con says. “My mother never let anyone know just how bad things really were.
“The milk was diluted to make it last longer. Tupperware was utilised for pretty much everything on the kitchen table, and when it came to clothing we wore hand-me-downs, acquired from generous neighbours.
“The nuns and priests were very good to us.”
Con started working life at a tender age when he became an Echo boy age 10 selling newspapers in Cork city after school.
“My pitch was at the junction between North Main Street and South Main Street,” says Con.
“My favourite spot was on the South Mall where high-earners were generous with tips.
“Later I worked on the bread delivery round, my legs hanging out of the back of the van! My boss, Sean Hill, had a rule. His motto was knock, drop, and run!”
Con’s father had spent a total of 28 years in the army. In his spare time, he liked dismantling cars and in later life became the local barber.
Con followed his father into the army, where a varied career brought him mixed fortunes.
“I got my first taste of Smithwicks when I joined the army,” says Con. “That started my drinking habit.”
He met his first love at the Curragh, but the relationship didn’t last. Finding love with Irene, the couple moved back to Cork in the 80s, and had two daughters.
By then, Con had also acquired the gambling bug. The relationship broke down.
“I had learned a lot about cards while in the army, how to play poker and forty five, how to brag and much more,” he says. “When I was young I went to Bingo with my sisters and placing bets with the bookies, not knowing then what trouble this would cause me later.
“When I was getting paid jobs I believed that because I worked so hard and earned my wages; I was entitled to whatever I wanted, including playing the slot machines.”
In Shadows On My Shoulder, Con relates with searing honesty what his addiction to slot machines cost him.
He had to leave the family home where he stayed up all night playing poker on the computer he had purchased for his children.
The debts mounted, the fridge was bare.
Con was bereft, not knowing how to stem or cure his gambling addiction or his heavy drinking.
Con, who had been happy with life loving his wife Trish and their children couldn’t rid himself of the plague of addiction that infested his life day in day out.
He relates how he realised the damage he had done when sleeping on a friend’s floor in a spare room.
“It seeped into my brain that something had to be done if I were to rescue the situation and find a way back to my wife and family,” says Con.
“I took the giant leap and joined Gamblers Anonymous.”
He had a way back.
“In 2003 I joined Arbour House, a Cork city-based rehabilitation treatment centre and community counselling service dedicated to curing addiction.
“They were wonderful and taught me a lot about myself and day-to- day-living.”
Con is now 12 years free of his twin addictions of drinking and gambling. He has gained more than he has lost.
Now there are no more shadows on Con’s shoulder.
Con, who is dyslexic, obtained a diploma in drug and alcohol addiction from the University of Limerick.
Now he works helping other recovering addicts and also wants his memoir to help others.
“I know there is no looking back to those shadows on my shoulder. Life, clean and sober, is worth living after all.”
Shadows On My Shoulder by Con Hurley is available in book outlets in Blackpool, Mallow, and Kanturk, price €10.
€2 of each sale is being donated to Cork Penny Dinners.