Before Ireland had a Queen, there was the High King: The story of The Diceman

We track the story of a living statue who helped bring the LGBT+ movement into the daylight and inspired a generation - The Diceman.

The Diceman holding a sing in protest

Grafton Street became an emptier place with the passing of Thom McGinty, also known as The Diceman. But while he may have faded from the memories of some, his presence can still be felt throughout Ireland.

“Some people wouldn’t have the balls to do what he did,” said Christina Dempsey, a flower stall holder on Grafton Street. She remembers him as a “big fella”, around six feet tall, and even taller with heels on. The mention of his name brings a smile to her face.

After his death in 1995, the stallholders and various shops on Grafton Street pitched in to help pay for his funeral costs. “Everyone gave a helping hand,” Christina said. They carried him one last time up and down the length of Grafton Street before he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

“He is sorely missed off the street,” said Beatrice, another of Grafton Street’s flower stall holders. “There should have been someone to take his place.”

Thom was born in Scotland (he would never lose his accent) in 1952. He moved to Dublin in 1976 and worked as a living billboard for shops to raise money after a scheduling mishap lost him a nude modelling job in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD).

Thom would glide (dubbed the ‘Zen walk’) along Grafton Street in numerous costumes, ranging from Dracula to the Mona Lisa in sports shorts. “People were just shocked at him because you could do anything to him and he just wouldn’t move,” said Beatrice. His stillness evoked numerous responses from the crowd, which could present in the mild form of people tickling him to more aggressive attacks of having glass broken at his feet.

Onlookers would bond with Thom through his signature wink. He spoke through his body in a way that was unmatched, bringing together his experience in theatre and the stillness of nude modelling. “The two halves were intimately linked,” said Aidan Murphy, owner of The Diceman Living Visuals which offers services such as custom-made costumes and props, promotional activities, and themed media launches. Their website promotes the slogan, “everything is possible”.

“I felt it was appropriate to carry on his name,” said Aidan, who met Thom in 1976 when they shared a flat together. ‘Living visuals’ was a term Thom developed as a means of representing his artistic vision. At first, Aidan did not grasp the meaning of the term but “now I know what he meant,” he said.

During an RTE broadcast, Thom McGinty said, “My costume, my artistic taste has been called indecent. The shape of my body has been called indecent… To a certain extent that is insulting to me as a creative artist and as a physical man”. Thom was speaking outside the District Court after his trial for public indecency in 1991. The Gardai arrested him for wearing a black corset, fishnet tights, a g-string, and a feather piece down Grafton Street.

When Thom advertised for The Diceman Game Shop, an enormous crowd would gather around him and block off the street. The Gardai wanted him to move and disperse the crowds. His response was to create the ‘Zen walk’, taking slow steps while his top half remained perfectly still.

“He helped make Grafton street ‘Grafton street’,” said Jay Fik, painter of The Diceman memorial. Jay applied to the Dublin Canvas Project to paint a box as a memorial for the Diceman in 2015. The box is located on Eustace Street as it was the closest one to Grafton Street he could find.

“Many today, unfortunately, don’t even know who he was or how important he was to Dublin Street culture,” said Jay. He wanted to create the memorial because there were no artistic tributes to The Diceman in Dublin.

An illustration of The Diceman by artist Neave Alouf

In 1991, Thom wore a condom-wrapped penis costume on Ha’penny Bridge in protest against the 1979 Family Planning Act, which made it a legal requirement to have a doctor’s prescription for the purchasing of condoms. “He was a man ahead of his time both for AIDs awareness and gay rights and was fearless in campaigning for both,” said Jay.

Thom appeared on the Late Late Show twice. His first appearance was in 1988 when street performers and buskers were forming a union. The second appearance was in 1994 when he discussed living with HIV, having been diagnosed as HIV positive in the early 1990’s.

Since his appearance on the Late Late Show, there were 24 years of silence around HIV on the show until Robbie Lawlor spoke about living with his status in 2019. “I didn’t have a clue who the Diceman was. I was three years Positive before hearing about him,” said Robbie, co-founder of Access to Medicines Ireland and a member of ACT UP Dublin. “I think as an activist – look upon his legacy and do the same.”

Thom also played a vital part in the origins of Dublin Pride. After the brutal homophobic attack on Declan Flynn in Fairview Park in 1982, Thom donned his ‘bloody visuals’ costume. He stood outside the Dail in protest against the Irish State’s lack of action towards the protection of the LGBT+ community.

Izzy Kamikaze fondly remembers when, along with friends, they organised open meetings to expand Dublin Pride. Thom was in attendance and brimming with ideas. With word spreading that the Bill to decriminalise homosexuality would pass before the Pride parade, Thom organised a striptease performance on Grafton Street. He requested Izzy’s presence at the performance. On the day, he wore a convict’s jumpsuit and handcuffed himself, giving the key to Izzy and putting her in a grey wig.

The performance was unlike any other because on this day, Thom broke his silence and cried out: “Mother Ireland, Mother Ireland, come set your children free”. When Izzy, as Mother Ireland, released him, he stripped out of his convict suit but did not remove his trousers. He performed the routine at Pride in Central Bank Plaza and this time the trousers came off to crowds of cheering people.

“And that, kiddies, is how Mother Ireland came face-to-face with an ecstatic, dancing, proud, naked, queer rebel on the steps of the Central Bank, no less, one Saturday in June,” Izzy said in a tweet.

Thom’s health took a rapid decline in March 1994 and due to atrophy of the brain affecting his balance, he had to stop performing.

When Thom began street performing, he was named the Dandelion Clown after his spot outside the Dandelion Market in Pembroke Lane. Constantly in a state of transformation, the City gave him many a name.He received his final name in the Olympia Theatre as part of a fundraising campaign for his medication and funeral in 1994. Surrounded by family and friends, he was crowned The High King of Ireland. The crown was made by Emma Stewart Liberty, Thom’s favourite jeweller.

This Dublin legend must never be forgotten. His legacy will resound throughout the city for years to come.

The Dandelion Clown.

The Diceman.

The High King.

This story originally appeared in GCN’s August 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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