Ireland notes 20 years of legalisation

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The 1993 Pride parade on O’Connell Street, Dublin | Matt Kavanagh/Irish Times | 14230

Two decades ago, Irish President Mary Robinson signed a law decriminalising homosexuality. Life for gay people in Ireland has changed since.

When University College Cork refused to recognise its students’ first Gay Soc, in the late 1970s, the group’s members responded by building a raft with a triangular pink sail and taking part in the annual boat race through the city as part of the university’s rag week.

In May 1981 over 200 gay men and women attended Ireland’s first national gay conference at Connolly Hall, organised by the Gay Collective, “Gays in the ’80s: Which Way Forward?” The conference was ignored by the Irish media.

In the autumn of 1983 Paul, a gay man who had Aids and was in the last weeks of his life, asked the chaplain of the Catholic-run Dublin hospital in which he was a patient, to hear his confession. The priest explained that, because homosexuality was against the laws of church and state, he could not absolve the man unless he promised never again to contemplate having sex with another man. Paul died shortly afterwards. His death wasn’t recorded as related to Aids, records Ger Philpott in the Irish Times.

Ger recalls the Dubin gay scene of the pre-legalisation era.

“In 1980s Dublin the Bailey, on Duke Street, was a trendy pub to go to on a Saturday lunchtime. The Oak, on Dame Street, was also a happening place. The best-known gay bar was Rice’s, on St Stephen’s Green. Nearby, “the Triangle”, between Peter’s Pub, Bartley Dunnes and the South William, was an oasis of tolerance. Many would head to the Hirschfeld Centre, on Fownes Street, afterwards to dance and, if they were lucky, to score. Disco reigned, and a mirrored alcove was the unofficial territory of a cohort of handsome young men who had been to the US and brought back with them music and a lifestyle that were previously alien. They imbued Dublin with a joie de vivre and gave us a taste of what was possible. Most of those fine young men have died since then.

…I can’t help thinking of how my departed friends, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and are no longer with us, would make sense of the Dublin and the Ireland of 2013. I imagine there’d be some dancing involved.”

Ger Philpott is a writer, director and journalist, and former director of Aidswise.


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