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THE PAST IS PROLOGUE
‘We were the people who organised the Fairview Park march after the killing, which is the thing that people say was “The Irish Stonewall”. And perhaps it was.’ — Izzy Kamikaze
It was 1982 and the acronym for ‘grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented’ was coined by journalist Conor Cruise O ‘Brien, and paraphrased by the Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. ‘GUBU’ was the reaction to the astounding events surrounding the double killing by Malcolm MacArthur, which culminated in him being arrested at the Attorney General Patrick Connolly’s house, where he had been staying as a guest. The government was dissolved twice, and there were two general elections. One saw elected Haughey as Taoiseach. Another government was led by Garret FitzGerald. On RTE radio, an uninterrupted thirty-hour dramatised performance o/Ulysses was broadcast to mark Bloomsday. Hilton Edwards, an icon of the Dublin gay scene who founded the Gate Theatre along with his partner Micheál Mac Liammóir, died in November.
In 1982, three separate killings had a profound impact on the gay community. On 21 January 1982, Charles Self, an RTE set designer, left a pub on Duke Street and returned to his home in south Dublin. There, he was stabbed to death. He was 33. His killer was never identified. On 8 September, John Roche, 29, was stabbed to death in room twenty-six at the Munster Hotel in Cork. The hotel porter who killed him, Michael O ‘Connor, 26, said, ‘Your gay days are over, as he stabbed him. ‘I had to kill him,’ he told Gardai. He would have ruined my life. He wanted me to become a gay. I said no way, and I killed him.’ The jury found O ‘Connor not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. On 9 September that year, Declan Flynn, 31, left a pub in Donnycarney for Fairview Park, a popular cruising spot. The events that unfolded on that night changed Irish history.
On 22 April 1983, a Supreme Court judgement was about to be delivered in a case taken by David Norris against the Attorney General of Ireland. Norris sought to challenge the constitutionality of sections 61 and 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, and section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885. His initial claim to the High Court was rejected. Section 61 dealt with the act of buggery, which was punishable under Irish law by a maximum penalty of life in prison. Section 62 dealt with attempts and assaults for the purpose of committing buggery on a man. That crime held a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. Section 11 related to the public or private commission of or attempts to procure the commission of any man for an act of gross indecency with another man. ‘The maximum penalty was imprisonment for two years. In 1983, David Norris was 38. If he won the case, male homosexuality would be virtually decriminalised in Irish law by removing the criminal charges and penalties for the sexual acts of gay men.
DAVID NORRIS: My objective from the very beginning in the early ’70s was to get equality. I realised that step number one, if we were to make any progress, was to remove the criminal law. So that was the first objective … My view was that you did it in stages. First of all, you couldn’t build civil rights without removing the criminal law.
Chief Justice O Higgins delivered his judgement, rejecting Norris’ appeal. The second Supreme Court judge, F’inlay, agreed with O’Higgins’ judgement. Then the third, Henchy, threw a spanner in the works, and sided with Norris. A fourth judge, Griffin, agreed with the judgement of the Chief Justice. A fifth judge, McCarthy, sided in parts with Henchy. David Norris lost the appeal three judges to two.
Justice Henchy referenced Dudgeon v. United Kingdom, the first European Court of Human Rights case to decide in favour of gay rights, taken by Jeffrey Dudgeon. Dudgeon filed a complaint with the European Commission of Human Rights in 1975. A hearing in 1979 declared his complaint should be heard by the European Court of Human Rights. The court sat in April 1981 before nineteen judges. In October, the court ruled, fifteen votes to four, that the criminalisation of homosexual acts in Northern Ireland was a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, with regard to the right to respect for one’s private life without interference by a public authority. Male homosexual sex in Northern Ireland was decriminalised a year later, October 1982.
JEFFREY DUDGEON: Our group, the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, was a direct take on the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. We capitalised on the mood at the time, particularly coming from America: the civil rights organisations; the black organisations; by ’71, ’72, Stonewall, the beginnings of gay liberation and the emancipation notions that were developed. One thing always led from the other. And obviously in Northern Ireland then, unexpectedly the whole thing descended into war very rapidly from ’69 onwards. That destroyed the early gay scene in a sense. It was put on hold for a number of years. But it gave us the opportunity to think new thoughts.
Outside the Supreme Court where Norris lost his appeal, exactly 3 kilometres away, and eight months previously, Declan Flynn, was on his way to Fairview Park around midnight. That evening, 9 September 1982, bed been in Belton’s Pub in Donnycarney. Waiting in the park were 17-year-old Colm Donovan from Lower Buckingham Street, 18-year-old Pat Kavanagh from the North Strand, 18-year-old Robert Armstrong from Finglas, and 19-year-old Tony Maher from the Poplar Row flats. They were joined by a 14-year-old boy on his bicycle. For six weeks, they had attacked around twenty men they perceived to be gay in the park. Queer-bashing, they called it. That night, they would do the same. They chased Flynn and beat him to death with sticks. As he lay choking on his own blood, they stole his watch and £4 from his pocket.
Nineteen-eighty-three, it turned out, would be another GUBU year in Irish history. In January, the government confirmed the Gardai had bugged the phones of journalists and politicians. The racehorse, Shergar, was kidnapped. A referendum on a constitutional amendment on abortion was carried. Over three dozen Provisional IRA prisoners escaped Maze Prison in Antrim. U2 promoted the album War with a huge concert in the Phoenix Park, a place where the previous year, MacArthur killed his first victim, a young nurse.
In the aftermath of the Stonewall riots in New York, gay people and their allies were meeting in Ireland in small numbers. In October 1973, a group of ten men and women — Ruth Ridderick, Mary Dorcey, Margaret McWilliam, Irene Brady, Michael Kerrigan, Gerry McNamara, Hugo McManus, Peter Bradley, David Norris, and Edmund Lynch — met in a room in Trinity College to form the Sexual liberation Movement.
EDMUND LYNCH: I think the moment for me was the first seminar that was held in Trinity College on a Saturday. It was organised and we were expecting [only] so many, but it was packed out. I had succeeded in getting the Liam Nolan show [The Liam Nolan Hour] to interview the late Margaret McWilliams and Hugo McManus on the Friday, so that was the first time on Radio Eireann. And then convinced Gay Byrne to pay for Rose Robinson, the founder of Parents Enquiry in England, to help parents understand children being gay, to bring her over for The Late Late Show. So he paid for her over and everything else. And she was successful on the show, just an ordinary kind of grandmotherly person, who was interested in her kids being looked after.
In 1975, the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform began, with Mary McAleese on board as a legal advisor, and succeeded by Mary Robinson. Both women became Irish presidents. The judgement in Norris’ case in April came in between two seminal moments of gathering. In March of 1983, the young men charged with Flynn’s death escaped with suspended sentences, returning to family celebrations at their non-incarceration. The gay and lesbian community and their allies reacted with an unprecedented march on Fairview Park where people showed up in their hundreds. And in June, the first Gay Pride march was held.
IZZY KAMIKAZE: We were the people who organised the Fairview Park march after the killing, which is the thing that people say was ‘the Irish Stonewall’. And perhaps it was.
In 1979, the Hirschfield Centre opened in a rundown area of Dublin. Named after the German physician, sexologist, writer, feminist, and gay and transgender rights advocate who died in 1935, it became the heart of the Irish gay scene. The centre on Found Street was the home of the National Gay Federation, which would later become the National Lesbian and Gay Federation (NLGF), and later still, NXF. The NGF was a membership organisation, funded by the gay community. The Hirschfield became a hub for gay activism, solidarity and socialising. Dublin was a grim place then. Between 1979 and 1986, the unemployment rate would balloon from 7 per cent to 17 per cent. By the end of the ’80s, nearly half a million people had emigrated, a huge number for a country with a then population of around 3.5 million. Amongst the endless stream of emigrants was a large percentage of gays and lesbians, moving to London, New York and San Francisco, where they could live more openly gay lives. Elsewhere in Dublin, some gay bars emerged, covert and small. Bartley Dunne’s, Rice’s, and the ‘gay-friendly’ The Bailey on Duke Street on Saturdays.
Later, Hooray Henry’s on South William Street, and The George on South Great Georges Street would emerge. As dance music hit Ireland, Sides nightclub became a focal point. And later still, the club nights HAM, GAG, and Powder Bubble. For lesbians, the nights out were in dingy premises such as upstairs in the Trinity Inn or Smyth’s, before The Salon created a more sophisticated vibe at the Chameleon restaurant near Found Street.