“He didn’t suffer fools gladly, he could bitch with the best of them, but he was universally liked, and he took the new young people in the GCN office, particularly the ones with broken wings, under his wing.”
It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Junior Larkin at the weekend. Although Junior will not be known to many, to some he will be remembered as Kylie O’ Reilly, Dublin’s most prominent drag queen of the early 90s, a potty-mouthed Dubliner who entertained us all before Alternative Miss Ireland ushered in a drag renaissance and the likes of Veda, Shirley Temple Bar, and of course, Panti became the queens of the day.
By day, Kylie was Junior, the queen of the GCN office. At the time everyone who worked at the place, bar the editor, was on a Fás unemployment scheme, and because unemployment was rife, some 28 people were working the publication for a £20 top-up on our dole. I arrived in Dublin for the first time in 1993 and immediately applied for the GCN unemployment scheme. My acceptance on to it changed my life, and in no small way Junior Larkin was a key element of that change.
It’s hard to describe that office in a way that people might understand now. It was on the top floor of the burnt-out Hirschfeld Centre on Fownes Street, the rest of the building little more than a shell. To get in you had to ring a bell and someone would throw the front door key out the top window for you to catch. The office was a teeming hive of activity, fun, gossip and endless cups of tea in a tiny room with a constantly-on-the-hop burco boiler that made it more of a sauna than a canteen.
Junior was a powerhouse of production, the guy who oversaw the design of the newspaper on our tiny Apple Mac screens, who was at the centre of every bit of gossip and jokery in the office, who had new ideas and more ideas than anyone else to make GCN brighter, funnier, more cool. He was in his early 20s and ambitious to the core. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, he could bitch with the best of them, but he was universally liked, and he took the new people in the office, and particularly the ones with broken wings, under his wing.
Junior made a beeline for me. It wasn’t that I had broken wings, but I think he recognised in me some of his own ambition to create a career out of this strange hand we’d been dealt. Working with 28 queers on a monthly gay publication and literally being given free reign to do exactly as we pleased – it was a creative and grounding experience few LGBT young people ever get to have.
Junior taught me the ropes, and he infused in me a love for GCN that has lasted to this day. By night I went with him on an odyssey of Dublin’s underground gay scene, seeing it from a delirious drag queen’s perspective. In The George one night, he hosted Blind Date, persuaded me to be a contestant and mortified me in front of the assembled crowd. I couldn’t help loving him more for it.
He was heavily involved with the Youth Group at the time, as a kind of mentor and peer support to under 24s, staging an annual talent show with his friend, Anthony McGrath, called Search For A Star, and putting the winners on the cover of GCN. He was involved too with IGLYO, the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation. Along with GCN’s News Editor, Suzie Byrne, he wrote a guide for young people coming out of the closet, Coming Out: A Book For Lesbians and Gay Men of All Ages, which was published by Marino Books in 2004.
And he loved Kylie Minogue. Oh, how he loved her. In a world before the internet, he sought out every little piece of news about her, collected every version of every song and album, and could talk about her to anyone for hours. And, of course, his drag alter ego was named after her. Kylie O’Reilly was a cross between a glamourpuss and a Dublin demi-monde, Divine squeezed into Patsy Stone, with a wig that looked a bit like backcombed roadkill. Kylie loved nothing better than getting ‘gee eyed’ with her girlfriends, and when she did, no one was safe.
Junior wrote and entered a song into the National Song Contest, called ‘Delicious Boyz (Lick Me I’m Delicious)’, which he performed as Kylie at a major fashion event with her great girlfriends, Phylis Fellatio and Attracta Cox. Along with promoters John Pickering and Eddie McGuinness, Junior also set up the first all-gay boyband 4Guys, who he wanted to be bigger than Boyzone. Alas the timing for an all-gay band was wrong.
After our time at GCN – we could only have a year on a Fás Scheme at a time – we went our separate ways. I went to work for a book publisher, Junior set up his own free gay magazine, Guyz, with which he wanted to fulfill the all the ambitions he had for a glossy that were hampered by GCN’s black and white community ethos at the time. In a pretty homophobic climate it was hard to get advertisers to go in the pages of Guyz, and it didn’t last. In our post marriage equality world, fuelled by Junior’s powerful ambition – nowadays it could have thrived.
Junior retired from being the centre of attention on Dublin’s gay scene in the late ’90s and thereafter lived a relatively quiet life surrounded by his friends and family. I lost touch and don’t know much about what happened to him in those years, although we did speak a little after finding each other on Facebook in more recent times.
Behind the wig and the jokes and the boundless energy, Junior was an intensely private person. He passed away after an illness, which few in his life knew about. He was for a time at the centre of Dublin’s 1990s gay scene; known to everyone who frequented its hidden-away clubs and dive bars.
I have a memory of Kylie O’Reilly waving from the steps of the Central Bank on Dame Street at Pride in 1993, just after homosexuality had been decriminalised. She was dressed in a full bridal outfit, and heavily ‘pregnant’. In a strangely accurate, and hilarious portent of the fight for marriage equality that would come, Kylie turned her back on the jubilant crowd and tossed her bouquet.
May she, and Junior, rest in peace.
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