Located in Dublin’s Hirschfeld Centre from 1979 until the building was destroyed by a fire in 1987, Flikkers offered the queer community one of the only places to gather at a time when homosexuality was illegal under Irish law. Looking back on a news report from the time, Colin Daly shares some of his memories from nights under the disco ball. (Initials have been used instead of names to maintain the privacy of those mentioned.)
RTÉ did a report about the Hirschfeld Centre (The Centre) in Dublin in 1981 and a large part of it was about the disco, Flikkers. We are introduced to it with a scene of two patrons walking to the DJ booth with Phyllis Nelson singing “Don’t Stop the Train” booming over the BOSE speakers.
We can see the dance area, the coffee bar and some of the members. It is very sparsely attended undoubtedly because it is being televised, and people would not have wanted to have their attendance at a “queer” disco broadcast to the nation.
Upon discovering this video (found by a friend of mine who directed me to it), I have watched it loads of times.
This year’s Bealtaine Festival involves a look back at LGBTQ life in Ireland over the last 50 years. The arts festival includes a tribute to Flikkers disco which ran at the Hirshfield Centre in Dublin in the 1970s and 1980s. pic.twitter.com/hatStnY7ze
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 11, 2022
Researching gay Dublin on the internet, there seems to be a lot of interest in this period, and 1981 seems to be a focal point. Also, there does not appear to be anything else on video about Flikkers.
I have a particular interest in the video because I knew some of the people in it personally, and watching it has awoken many feelings in me about where these people are now, what they are up to, what they are doing…
This wasn’t just an advertisement for the Flikkers or for the Dublin centre. These were real people going about their lives at a time when their very existence was seen as a disgusting aberration by much of the population.
So what was Flikkers actually like? Who were these people? I will try to give a flavour of what it was like as someone who went there in 1981, and try to describe my relationships with the people I knew. People I really liked and would love to talk to now about how our lives panned out.
I’m filming an interview with old pal @francisfay to relive memories of Ireland’s first Electronic dance club, Flikkers, which landed in Dublin’s Hirschfeld centre in 1979. Fran is creating a project based around the sounds, images, memorabilia of a seminal moment in Irish life. pic.twitter.com/bVZgsJdZJq
— PAUL QUIN (@PAULQUINSINGS) February 16, 2022
As the nightclub scene opens, we see P and E walking over to the DJ booth. They were regulars, a couple, and people I knew and really liked.
P was very handsome and fairly quiet with a lovely personality and E was like a male model. He was intelligent and informed with a twinkle in his eye and you just knew that he had his finger on the pulse.
They then join the main “crowd” dancing in the centre of the room.
There we have PA. PA features in several parts of the documentary, the main one being a brilliantly articulate and succinct description of what it meant to be gay in Ireland at the time.
He was also a neighbour of mine, and one night, having bumped into one another at the local shops, he walked with me to my family home and asked me if I was not worried about being “outed” as gay simply by talking to him – guilty by association.
I’m not sure that I had ever even heard of the term at that time and certainly wasn’t worried about it, but it is telling that he should even have had to consider it. PA, if you are reading this, do you know who I am?
Remembering Flikkers (“Faggots”) Disco that opened on March 17th 1979. Remembering all who made it a special place for Irish queers. pic.twitter.com/k2BihrUepY
— Tonie Walsh (@tonie_walsh) March 17, 2017
Dancing away and twirling in circles is J. J became something of a legend one night as the disco ended.
The lights were actually already turned on but for some reason, the DJ was playing ‘Dancing Queen’, so J took to the floor by himself and pirouetted up and down like Nureyev, dancing his heart out to the amusement and entertainment of the crowd and received a thunderous applause and cheer at the end.
I compare him to Nureyev but there may be those who say he looked more like Nijinsky racing around. Make of it what you will.
There are two guys dancing with the main group, one with an open tie and his friend with red hair.
These were regulars at the club and we knew one another, although we never spoke. There is a story of why we never spoke, but too long to go into here. It was nothing nasty, just one of those stupid things.
I think the chap with the tie is D. I would really love to get to know you if you are reading this, and I’ll explain what happened.
Other people I knew at the centre were DO, DE, T (all Tel-A-Friend), plus others. Songs played in the club, if memory serves me correctly, included ‘Cruisin’ the Streets’ (Boystown Gang), ‘Ride Like the Wind’ (Christopher Cross), ‘Ai No Corrida’ (Quincy Jones), ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ (ABBA), ‘On the Radio’ (Donna Summer), ‘Dancing Queen’ (ABBA), ‘Fantasy’ (Earth Wind and Fire), ‘Don’t Stop the Train’ (Phyllis Nelson).
This is just a tiny flavour of some of the regulars who went to Flikkers and some of the music that was played at the Dublin club.
There is no comparison between Flikkers and any commercial venues that may exist now. Flikkers was the beating heart and soul of the Dublin queer scene and you simply cannot replicate that feeling in a commercial setting. I have been to LGBTQ+ venues in places as diverse as Hong Kong, Japan, Paris and London, and nothing has even come close to the music, atmosphere or feelings of camaraderie that existed in Flikkers.
If you are one of the people mentioned above, then I would love to chat with you and rekindle old friendships. Life goes by too fast to lose friends forever. It is always interesting to hear about lives lived gay.
Perhaps we can go for a coffee or tea in Dublin or London – maybe you could contact me through GCN. Maybe J can bust his moves again to ‘Dancing Queen’. Who knows?
You think that you will never see people again but one night, I was standing in a gay club in Hong Kong, and someone said hello to me. It was someone that knew me from London and neither of us had ever been to that club before! What were the chances of that happening?
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