Remembering Identity, one of Ireland’s first LGBTQ+ periodicals

Often overlooked in Irish queer history, Identity was the country's first LGBTQ+ commercial publication. Patrick O'Byrne tells us more.

The image shows part of the cover of the first issue of Identity, an LGBTQ+ periodical. On the left of the image is a grey scale negative image of a man's face with his eyes closed. on the right, written sideways from bottom to top are the letters T I T Y. They are written in bright red in a bubble handwritten font.
Image: Irish Queer Archive via Facebook

First published in 1981, Identity was a short-lived periodical which formed a crucial part of the burgeoning Irish lesbian and gay community. It paved the way for queer media in Ireland and gave much-needed voice and visibility pre-decriminalisation. One of its editors, Patrick O’Byrne, recalls the publication’s highs and lows.

The new quarterly review Identity for gay men and women came into existence in December 1981. The price was 40 old pence. 

In Touch, the National Gay Federation (NGF – later the National LGBT Federation, NXF) magazine, was the forerunner of Identity. Also published by the NGF, the Identity editorial board consisted of TC Breen, Cissy Caffrey, Tom McClean and Patrick OʼByrne. (Cissy Caffrey was the pseudonym of the filmmaker Kieran Hickey. He also wrote under the name Corry Connellan.) 

We usually held our editorial meetings on Wednesday evenings. The first issue of Identity had an editorial that stated that the review would look at what gay men and women are thinking and saying about our situation vis-à-vis the invisibility of gay men and women in society. 

It was aimed primarily at the gay community but also at a wider reading public. For issue 1, we had an interview with Michel Foucault, the French anthologist, courtesy of the International Gay Association, and articles and short stories by David OʼConnor and Lynn Geldof, sister of the Boom Town Rats singer Bob Geldof. 

There was a four-page article, ‘What It Means To Love Another Woman’ by J Lee Lehman, cartoons, satire, a quiz, theatre reviews and a very witty article by my friend from In Dublin magazine, Tom Mathews. 

The price of Identity went up to 50 old pence for issue 2. I also managed to secure four pages of paid advertisements. 

It featured articles on the Dublin Gay Scandals of 1884, how Hollywood portrayed gays in its films, a lesbianʼs attitude to lesbian identity by Joni Crone, the favourable verdict in the European Court in the case of Dudgeon v United Kingdom and a guided tour of Dublinʼs gay pubs by the inimitable Lynn Geldof. 

There was also a review of the Golden Hordeʼs live concert at Flikkers Disco. It was the first public performance of the twelve-piece band – Dublinʼs contribution to glam psychedelia. 


Issue 3, October – December 1982, had a six-page film guide, another historical article about an Irish bishop condemned to death for the crime of buggery, a celebration of the then 10-year-old Gay News and a review of Victor/Victoria starring Julie Andrews and directed by her husband Blake Edwards. 

Issue 4, January – March 1983, had Christmas fiction, Closets and Triangles – a Christmas-themed game – and a study of Irish masculinity. Also featured was the text of an address delivered by Dr Noel Browne on the occasion of his being presented with the first Magnus Hirschfeld Award for his constant public commitment to gay rights in the Irish political arena. 

In issue 5, April – June 1993, Identity published excerpts from a diary by artist and AIDS activist Derek Jarman

I had the honour of visiting him with a friend for afternoon tea at his flat on Charing Cross Road. He was an extremely charismatic man and was about to shoot his next film about the life of the painter Caravaggio in Italy. 

He didnʼt ask for a fee for his contribution to Identity (in fact, not one single contributor asked for a fee during the magazine’s short life). 

The rest of issue 5 contained short stories, cartoons, satire and a special feature on the verdict of the Declan Flynn case following his brutal murder in Fairview Park. The issue also had at least six pages of paid advertisements, a huge achievement considering the reluctance of many businesses to be featured in a gay magazine. 

Issue number 6, July – September 1983, covered Norris v Ireland – a Supreme Court divided case, and yet another gay historical article about Percy Jocelyn, the Bishop of Clogher who in 1822 was caught having sex with a soldier in the back room of a public house. 

We also printed a cartoon by Tom Mathews of two hippopotamuses in a pool. One is saying to the other, “Hi, sweetie! I am the love that dare not speak its name.” There was uproar from the powers that be on the NGF executive over it. 

This was the beginning of the end for us and for Identity. We were told by the executive that we were too elitist, too intellectual and we were costing too much money.

In the meanwhile, Kieran and I had gone to the managing director of Eason who agreed to distribute Identity. This was the first time they would carry an LGBTQ+ publication, despite what others have written in the past. However, due to the disputes with the NGF, we only published two more issues and then ceased producing Identity forever.

Copies of Identity can be viewed in the Irish Queer Archive collection in the National Library of Ireland.

© 2024 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

Support GCN

GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.

During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.

GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.