Exploring the legacy of Loafers, Ireland's oldest queer bar

We take a look back at Loafers, a gem of Cork's queer scene and Ireland's oldest LGBTQ+ bar.

An old photo of the greatly missed Loafers is featured as we talk about the history of Ireland's oldest gay bar.
Image: @alanhealy

Loafers, Ireland’s oldest gay bar, opened its doors to the LGBTQ+ population of Cork City back in 1983, a time when, strictly speaking, it was still illegal to be queer in Ireland. In fact, homosexuality would not be decriminalised in the Republic until the passing of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act of 1993—ten years after Loafers staked its claim as one of Cork’s premier LGBTQ+ bars. 

Seven years ago, in May of 2015, the much-loved Loafers closed its doors for the last time. It was under the ownership of Ted O’Connell, who took over the running of the bar from its original founder, Derrick Gerrity. O’Connell announced the bar’s closure in a Facebook post, writing: “Well friends. It is with a profound sense of sadness that I have to announce that today will be my last day opening the door of Loafers. To say the least I am devastated.”

The bar’s closure was a real loss for the LGBTQ+ community, a point that LGBTQ+ historian and Cork LGBT Archive founder Orla Egan discusses in her 2016 book Queer Republic of Cork, Cork’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities, 1970’s-1990’s. Egan wrote, “Loafers Bar on Douglas Street was opened in 1983 by Derrick Gerrity and operated until 2015, making it one of the longest running gay bars in Ireland. Loafers became an important social meeting space for the LGBT community as well as for people involved in ‘alternative’ groups and lifestyles in the city and for those involved in the Quay Co-op.”

In an in-depth interview, Egan recorded Gerrity’s personal testimony on his reasons for originally opening the bar back in 1983. Gerrity had this to say: “I just wanted to have a bar where I felt comfortable myself. Not necessarily a gay bar, that wasn’t the plan, but a bar that was new but kept old style elements. We played good music, sold bottled beers like Becks and Stella Artois, sold gallons of tequila and orange, and all for a reasonable price. So we got loads of art students, funky stylish kids and, of course, gays. It was about 50/50 gay/straight in the beginning. Quite an atmosphere for the early ‘80s in Cork.”

Derrick spearheaded the running of Loafers for 16 years before the bar changed hands in 1999, where it was subsequently managed by Rena Blake before Ted O’Connell saw the bar through to its final days.

According to its website, the space was dedicated to catering “to all members of the spectrum who respect the ethos of the bar which is, simply put, to provide a safe and friendly social environment for the LGBT community and their friends”.

This sentiment runs true with those who frequented the bar through its 32-year-long history. When asked about her experience at Loafers and her reaction to the closure of the gay bar, Lesbian Lives speaker Emma Hurley shared, “Loafers was the lifeblood for LGBTQ+ people in Cork. It is still sorely missed. Loafers was where people came to from other counties and other lives to find themselves. It certainly held me when I came out – I met people there who I consider family today.

“It was the hub of all things queer and some epic times were had on Thursday night (women’s night). It was also the epicentre of the Women’s Weekend- where people literally swung from the rafters!” Hurley added.

As Hurley describes, Loafers was reserved for women on Thursday evenings throughout its lifetime, making it an integral community gathering spot for Cork’s queer community. As such, the bar was instrumental in “facilitating social support and engagement as well as political discussions” for the lesbian community, says Orla Egan.

Egan continues in Queer Republic of Cork: “Having a public social venue was very important for the development of the Cork LGBT community. This public space, and the contact and social interaction it facilitated, was an important element in the building of contacts, connections and elements of community.”

She goes on to cite a 1992 issue of Munster GCN that describes Loafers as “an institution on the Irish lesbian and gay scene which has provided an invaluable, safe and welcoming meeting place for the community down through the years.”

When Ted O’Connell announced that Loafers would be closing its doors, he said in an interview with the Evening Echo: “It’s very, very sad, but today is the last day. We had hoped to be able to host a referendum celebration party later this month as we fight for a ‘Yes’ vote but it will have to be somewhere else.”

Explaining why Loafers was closing, O’Connell reported that the bank wanted to have a vacant possession, but also said that recent economic factors were to blame.

O’Connell later took to the Loafers’ Facebook page to announce that, on the bar’s last day of operation “we are going to go out with a blast” by making all drinks €3 “till it’s all gone”. The closure announcement was met with disappointment from Cork’s LGBTQ+ community, one of whom had this to say following O’Connell’s post: “How sad this makes me. Loafers kept me sane and safe when I was young and terrified back in the day. I visit it every time I come home and will miss it.

“It will leave more than one generation with wonderful memories.”

This story originally appeared in GCN’s October 2022 issue 374. Read the full issue here.

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

This article was published in the print edition Issue No. 374 (October 21, 2022). Click here to read it now.

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Change Maker

Issue 374 October 21, 2022

Change-maker Michael Barron on the cover of GCN Magazine Issue 374
October 21, 2022

This article was originally published in GCN Issue 374 (October 21, 2022).

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