Declan Lynch: On the incredible true story of Carlow postman Tony O'Reilly

Declan Lynch talks about the incredible true story of Carlow postman Tony O’Reilly, whose gambling addiction resulted in him stealing €1.75m from An Post while he was a branch manager in Gorey.

Although one of the non-fiction books of the year, Tony 10 has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood drama. It tells the extraordinary story of Carlow postman Tony O’Reilly, whose gambling addiction resulted in losses so massive he ended up stealing €1.75m from his branch in Gorey. There are details from the story so bizarre they could only have come from real life: having fled from the post office upon the arrival of a team of auditors, O’Reilly drove to Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland – where his first act was to have another bet, the only activity that would calm him.

The gripping story serves as a cautionary tale about an age where, thanks to internet betting and the pervasiveness of betting advertising, gambling addiction is a clear and present danger to many people – and particularly young men. O’Reilly co-wrote the book with Sunday Independent journalist Declan Lynch, who in the early chapters writes about small psychological indicators in O’Reilly’s youth that might point to his eventual fate.

Alternatively, it could be that O’Reilly – who at the time his gambling addiction took hold had all the outward appearances of a normal, enjoyable life – was simply a regular guy, which makes the story even more unnerving.

“It’s a mixture of a lot of things,” says Lynch. “Tony is a very bright guy. Oddly enough, a lot of gamblers are of above average intelligence, which is a great danger, because a lot of them think, ‘A smart guy like me will not get caught out by this.’ Tony was very successful in his life; he was the youngest postmaster in the country, or certainly one of them. As he was growing up, he couldn’t find out what he was good at. “He started little businesses and things like that; he would get really into something for a while and then lose interest in it. He was like a lot of people who can’t quite find what it is that they’re looking for. I think that’s probably a dangerous thing if you get into an addiction – that kind of all or nothing thing kicks in a bit.

“Of course, the reason he got so into it was that he did quite well for a while. He was up about 11-and-a-half grand, at which point he thought he’d get out, but unfortunately the Galway Races started the next day. The thing is, online gambling itself is a hugely powerful force. There’s almost a cliché now that you have to trace everything back to some childhood trauma, but I don’t think you need much of a trauma in your childhood to get swept along by online gambling. It is an unbelievably addictive activity.”

Despite stories like O’Reilly’s, betting culture is more ubiquitous than ever. As anyone who has spent any time watching a sports channel recently knows, the ad breaks are filled with wall-to-wall commercials for betting firms.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Declan. “They have bought up the world. To me, it’s just one of the most staggering stories of our time. There are whole sports that would not exist anymore if not for betting companies sponsoring or owning them. It used to be that horse racing existed purely for people to bet on; it was a symbiotic relationship. With other sports, not so much.

“That has changed fundamentally – there is hardly a sport now that does not have that symbiotic relationship with gambling. There’s a sense as well that it’s an unregulated industry, which again is an absolutely astonishing miracle of our time. We know what people in financial services generally get up to when they’re unregulated.

“It’s like there’s a gold rush on, and they’re buying everything they can until the day some form of regulation arrives – even something like reducing advertising. They’ve reached the point where they’re so ubiquitous, you can’t see them at all.”

Incredibly, there has been little debate about the extent of betting advertising around sport – even though the concept of drink sponsorship has been fiercely fought over.

“The GAA, to their huge credit, are maybe the only sporting organisation who have called a halt,” notes Declan. “They have recognised that you can’t be banging on about sponsorship from alcohol and cigarettes and then replacing it with gambling, which is probably a much more contemporary danger. It’s got the addiction of gambling, and people are addicted to sport, and the internet itself is kind of addictive. So you’ve got this extraordinary synergy and confluence of all this technology and addiction.

“The GAA don’t actually rely on gambling sponsorship, but let’s just say that they have drawn a line there, and that’s really laudable. I think they’re the only sporting organisation to have done that, and amazingly, they’re about the only one that’s even in a position to do that anymore. So many other sporting organisations have become so dependent on gambling money that if it was withdrawn, they wouldn’t exist anymore.”

Now thankfully far from his days and nights hunkered away gambling massive sums on sundry sporting events, Tony O’Reilly is these days an addiction counsellor.

“He’s doing great,” says Declan. “The thing about Tony’s story is that it has a happy ending, in the sense that he’s working with Cuan Muire as a counsellor. He is also of course one of the world’s great experts on the subject, as the true experts are the people who’ve been through it. “But the happy ending is that someone has come through that and survived – it’s an amazing thing. He is a vital person in our society, because he has come back from that hellish place he was in, which most people don’t come back from.

“There’s a big issue with suicide among gamblers, much more so than any other addiction. Most people in Tony’s situation would have killed themselves, frankly, and most people do. But Tony somehow came back and is able to tell his story. He has invaluable wisdom on this subject – I don’t know anyone else so powerful on it and whose story tells you so much.”

Tony 10 is out now, published by Gill Books.

 

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