A look back at lesser known Irish LGBTQ+ history: 1974 to 1984

History’s never ‘straight’ forward, it’s all about context! In the second of our series celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month, we explore less well known but equally as important moments in Irish queer history.

Lesser known events in Irish LGBTQ History. The image shows 4 panels. Top left, is a flyer from the first National Gay Rights Conference. Top right is a photograph fo two men hanging a pink triangle outside the Hirschfeld Centre. Bottom left is a membership card from the Friends of Eon – the design shows two black and white cherubs sitting back-to-back with a star in front of them. Bottom right is a black and white photograph from the first SLM poster with three women holding up a placard which reads, 'Lesbian
Image: @CorkLGBThistory / @Khayden2412 / @ITransArchive / @QueerCultureIre

The course of history is rarely a ‘straight’ forward timeline and this is especially true of the fight for Irish LGBTQ+ rights. Inherently, the struggles of individual minorities within the LGBTQ+ community have become intrinsically enmeshed within the push for gay rights overall. Whilst fighting for the rights of individual minorities, in so many ways these campaigns have often bolstered the trajectory of gay emancipation. 

To mark LGBTQ+ History Month, we’re taking a look at some of the lesser-remembered/acknowledged events within Irish history and how they impacted the liberation and visibility experienced by the LGBTQ+ community in Ireland today.

In the first article of the series, we looked at some of the key milestones in what is an otherwise complex history. In part two we explore some of the events and interventions between 1974 and 1984, looking more closely at the forgotten narratives within Irish LGBTQ+ history.

1974: SLM British Embassy demonstration
Following the establishment of the Sexual Liberation Movement (SLM) in October 1973, the ten founding men and women held their first demonstration. On June 27, 1974, the group gathered outside the British Embassy when it was still on Merrion Square. They then proceeded to move to the Department of Justice on Stephen’s Green carrying placards with slogans such as “Lesbian Love” and “Homosexuals are Revolting”. Although it is not often recognised as such, the event marked the first Pride demonstration in Ireland.

1974: Founding of the IGRM and Tel-a-Friend
Due to the constitutional legislation criminalising homosexual acts between men, some of the members of the SLM felt the need to establish the Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM) in order to primarily focus their efforts on changing the law. 

The IGRM would go on to become one of the most influential organisations in the early days of Irish LGBTQ+ history by establishing the first gay community centres in both Dublin, on Parnell Square, and Cork, on MacCurtain Street. These centres provided crucial spaces for meetings as well as safe social spaces such as nightclubs and cafes. They also published a regular newsletter informing the community of their actions as well as events and current affairs.

The IGRM was also responsible for establishing the Tel-A-Friend phone service (now known as Gay Switchboard), the first confidential information and counselling service for homosexual men and women in the Republic of Ireland. The helpline couldn’t advertise or use the terms ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’, instead, they printed stickers with the phone number for “befriending service for homosexual men and women”. A similar service was established in Belfast as Cara-Friend.

1977: The Friends of Eon
The Friends of Eon was the first Trans group formed in the Republic of Ireland. It was founded in Dublin by two Trans women, Claire Farrell and Lola, who were inspired to establish the group after attending similar events in London organised by the Beaumont Society.

The group met regularly in the upstairs room of the Parliament Inn on Parliament Street (now the Turk’s Head). An early advert in the magazine In Dublin read “Come dressed if you like,” which was a way to signal to the community what the event was about.

1978: LIL and Lesbian Line
Following two conferences; a women’s conference on lesbianism and a conference on family violence, it was decided that a dedicated women’s centre should be established. Conveners of the lesbian conference met in September that year and established Liberate Irish Lesbians (LIL), the first organisation in the country to focus specifically on the needs and visibility of lesbians.

The group actively worked with other women’s groups to establish a women’s centre but within a few months factions formed between them and a number of the groups with restrictive feminist agendas. Within a few months, LIL moved to the newly established Hirschfeld Centre where they ran women’s club nights, a library, a consciousness-raising group and established Ireland’s first-ever lesbian line. 

The Dublin Lesbian Line would play a vital role in supporting lesbians and creating visibility. One of the founders, Joni Crone, becoming the first publicly out lesbian in Ireland when she appeared on the Late Late Show in 1980 with the intention of promoting the service. It would also go on to spawn similar services across the country including Cork, Limerick, Derry and Belfast. A national Lesbian Line still serves the Irish female-identifying and non-binary community, solidifying LIL’s place in LGBTQ+ history. 

1979: Hirschfeld Centre
Following in the footsteps of the IGRM’s club on Parnell Square, which had closed by that time, the Hirschfeld Centre opened on Dublin’s Fownes Street on March 17, 1979. Named for the pioneering gay activist, Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, it was the headquarters of the National Gay Federation (NGF). The centre housed a café, a small library, a 55-seater cinema, a youth group, LIL and offices for Tel-A-Friend, NGF and the International Gay Association’s information secretariat.

The dance club Flikkers provided a vital safe space for LGBTQ+ people to socialise but it also played a key role in funding the social, cultural and political enterprises within the centre. The Hirschfeld played an integral role in Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community until it was destroyed by fire in the early hours of the morning of November 4, 1987.

1980: Galway Gay Collective
As early as 1980, a group known as the Galway Gay Collective was established by Marese Walsh and John Porter. For much of the early to mid-1980’s Marese and John worked to create a space for individuals in Galway to meet, often organising meetings in hotels where gay and lesbian individuals could come together without having to ‘out’ themselves.

The Galway Gay Collective promoted their existence through the local press and individuals were able to contact them. During a period and in a location where there were very few opportunities for gay and lesbian individuals to meet others, the existence of the Galway Gay Collective was a lifeline for many. 

1981: Identity Journal
In 1981, the NGF began publishing Ireland’s first gay literary journal. Edited by renowned film director Kieron Hickey, issue one was designed by Ray O’Brien and featured a translation of an interview with French intellectual and queer activist, Michel Foucault. The journal was published quarterly, providing a much-needed platform for emerging queer writing, photography and illustration. With no statutory funding and with shops refusing to stock the publication because it displayed the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’, the journal folded after two years.

1981: First National Gay Conference in Cork
1981 also saw Ireland’s First National Gay Conference take place in Cork from May 15 to 17 at Connolly Hall. The weekend began with a wine and cheese reception followed by a film screening of Word Is Out and Comedy in Six Unnatural Acts. Among the special guests were Nell McCafferty, David Norris and Sean Connolly representing the IGRM. Workshops covered topics from religion to education, disability to isolation and feminism.

In June that year, the IGRM also hosted Cork’s first Pride events which included the erection of a pink triangle at the top of the Comeragh Mountains.

1982: Cork Women’s Space
Although lesbian meetings had been documented in Cork since January 1978, it wasn’t until 1982 that they began to actively consolidate their movements. The Quay Co-op on Sullivan’s Quay provided a dedicated Women’s Place under the provision of the Cork Women’s Collective. The space facilitated a number of lesbian groups and organisations including the Cork Lesbian Collective, the Lesbian Line and the Cork Lesbian Discussion Group. The Women’s Place remained at the Quay Co-op until 1990 when it moved to a new location on MacCurtain Street.

1982: Homophobic murders
1982 saw a spate of horrific homophobic murders that shook Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community to its core and would align the Irish LGBTQ+ rights movement with that of other civil rights groups across the country. 

The first murder happened on the night of January 20, 1982, when Charles Self was attacked and killed brutally at his home in Monkstown, Co. Dublin. Whilst his case remains open, the investigation led to intimidation and distrust within the community but moreover of the Gardaí.

The second murder took place on September 8 at the Munster Hotel in Cork when night porter John Roche was murdered by Michael O’Connor. During the trial, O’Connor claimed he “had to kill Roche because Roche wanted him to become a gay”. Despite evidence that the murder was premeditated, O’Connor was only sentenced to five years for manslaughter.

The following night on September 9, 1982, Declan Flynn was murdered by four men and one youth in Fairview Park in Dublin. As explored in the previous article, the verdict of Declan’s case, along with the recent memories of Charles and John’s murders, prompted a mass demonstration from Liberty Hall to Fairview Park.

1983 – Dublin Pride
Although there were earlier demonstrations, such as the SLM demonstration at the British Embassy, and a leaflet drop in the city centre followed by a picnic in Merrion Square in 1980, Dublin’s first official Pride march was held on June 25, 1983, just three months after the Fairview protest. The march was attended by 150 people who walked from St. Stephen’s Green to the GPO on O’Connell Street. Pride marches continued in the city for the following four years but stopped in 1986 due to the dwindling numbers attending, mainly as a result of emigration and the AIDS epidemic.

Spurred on by the actions of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the first Belfast Pride in 1991 and the banning of lesbian and gay organisations from marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, activists Izzy Kamikaze, Barry Quirke and Eoin Freeney decided to reinstate the Dublin march in June 1992. The march was attended by nearly 300 people. The group chose to adopt a more carnival-style approach in order to move away from the protest atmosphere of the previous marches. Pride marches have continued every year since (until the 2020 COVID restrictions prohibited it).

1984: Cork Women’s Fun Weekend
As an antidote to the often serious nature of lesbian and feminist activism, the Cork Women’s Fun Weekend was established in 1984 as a way for women to come together socially without having the pressures of facing the issues of rights and visibility. Initially attended by women from all walks of life, the event gradually became more of a lesbian space with many attendees reporting having met their wives, partners and life-long friends at various events. Although events were cancelled for the past two years, the weekend will return this year between April 29 and May 1. 

1984: OUT Magazine
Although preceded by in-house newsletters and other periodicals of the IGRM, NGF, Cork Gay Collective and Northern Irish Gay Rights Association (NIGRA), Out magazine is considered to be Ireland’s first, wholly commercial, mainstream LGBT magazine. It ran for four years and was published by the NGF. Writers included David Norris, Nell McCafferty and Jeffrey Dudgeon of NIGRA (whose case in the European Court of Human Rights – preceding David Norris’s – had prompted decriminalisation in Northern Ireland in 1981), it also included interviews with Mary McAleese, Tom Robinson and Quentin Crisp amongst others.

So when we say, the course of Irish LGBTQ+ history isn’t ‘straight’ forward, now you can see why. These highlights give just a sample of some of the events and interventions that occurred within the first decade of modern Irish LGBTQ+ activism. They show how the community has formed and how our solidarity has achieved the liberation and visibility that we enjoy today. By understanding these histories, we can be inspired and driven to fight for the rights and needs that are still lacking within our community.

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