Trailblazing Cork Quay Co-op celebrates 40th birthday

Activist and archivist Orla Egan looks back on the history of a place that has meant so much to the community.

A photo from the 1980s showing a group of smiling young people standing outside a building
Image: Photos by Kierana Rose, courtesy of Cork LGBT Archive

The Quay Co-op opened on Sullivan’s Quay on 1st May 1982 and, particularly in the 1980’s, was a hive of radical political activism. It provided an important base for the development of Cork’s LGBTQ+ community and a base for social change activism.

The Cork Gay Collective (CGC) was one of the key organisations involved in setting up the Co-op. It was established as a workers’ co-operative that brought together gay men and lesbians, women’s groups, left-wing organisations, environmental and anti-nuclear groups. The building housed a vegetarian café, radical bookshop, food co-op, women’s place, and meeting rooms that were used by various ‘alternative’ groups in the city.

A 1980s leaflet for the Quay Co-op read: “The Co-op was formed on the recognition that there are many oppressed groups of people who are excluded from full participation in society because they are denied access to information, skills, resources and decision-making. A central aim, therefore, is to ensure that space is provided for minority groupings working for change, who would otherwise have difficulty in organising in the city because of isolation and lack of the necessary support structures. The Co-op provides a focal point where people actively involved at different levels of social change can meet and share ideas and support each other.”

The Women’s Place in the Co-op provided an important base for the Cork lesbian community. A weekly Lesbian Discussion Group began meeting there in November 1983. Following the Thursday night meetings the women would head over to the newly opened Loafers Bar, beginning the long-standing tradition that Thursday night was the venue’s lesbian night.

The Cork Lesbian Line and Gay Information telephone helplines operated from the Co-op. The first Cork Women’s Fun Weekend was organised there in April 1984 and daytime workshops and social events were held there.

It also provided the base for important social campaigns during the 1980’s, including the Anti-Amendment Campaign (Eighth Amendment), campaigns for divorce and contraception and opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill. Organisations like the Cork Rape Crisis Centre began there while activists from the Quay Co-op were involved in establishing Gay Health Action in response to the HIV/ADIS crisis.

In the 1990’s the Quay Co-op supported the development of The Other Place LGBT Community Centre, with Cork LGBT groups and activities moving there.

The Quay Co-op was my teenage haunt. Arthur Leahy roped me in to help with painting the building prior to opening. Our Youth CND meetings were held in there and we would hang out in the café afterwards, eating slices of healthy vegetarian pizza and soaking up the radical vibes. From the Quay Co-op, I headed off to Greenham Common and Comiso, staying at Women’s Peace Camps set up at cruise missile sites. It was so wonderful to cut my political teeth in such a radical and interesting environment.

I am eternally grateful to Arthur Leahy and all those involved in establishing the Quay Co-op and ensuring that Cork took a lead role in radical social activism in Ireland in the 1980’s.

Frameworks Films produced a fabulous film – The Quay Co-op – last year, with interviews with people involved in the Quay Co-op over the years.

Orla Egan is the founder of the Cork LGBT Archive.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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