BLACK & IRISH
So, what about the Irish context, eh?
What was happening in Irish Queer life in the 80’s that parallels and/or differs from what was happening in the States?
What is the recent past that has led to Irish Queer life being what it is today?
And last but by no means least, What role is Ballroom already playing in Black Irish Queer life? What aspects of the culture are already here, and is a Ballroom or a specifically Irish Black Queer Club space needed and wanted here?
One pillar of Irish Queer life in the 80’s was the Hirschfeld Centre.In 1979 the National Gay Federation (NGF) was established and leased a building in Temple Bar, the same building where GCN HQ now is. They called it the Hirschfeld Centre after the German sexologist Magnus Herschfeld. It was the first full-time LGBT community centre in Ireland and ran a café, cinema, meeting space, and Queer club nights on the weekends such as the infamous Flikkers, named after the Dutch word for “faggot”.
Public dances in Ireland have a somewhat contentious history.
In the 1930’s prominent figures in the Catholic church made a lot of objections to the popularity of dance halls, basically saying that they were breeding grounds for sin.
“Dance halls should be closed at 11pm at latest - otherwise, they (are) a menace to morality.” Bishop Patrick McKenna
The Public Dance Halls Act 1935 put a load of red tape around licensing, building regulations, inspections, time limits, sanitary facilities and opening hours. It also gave local priests and “invested parties” power to make formal complaints in opposition to the dances, and subsequently derail them.
“There was absolutely no need for all-night dances in country places, and there was only one way to deal with them, as the soupers were dealt with in the olden times - by excommunication. Dance halls were the curse and ruin of the country, and when the people were being demoralised the end is near, and so is the anger of God.”
- Fr Browne
Of course the conservatism of the church was a lot more far reaching than the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935. Whenever we talk about the Queer history in Ireland we must hammer home the harrowing effect that the omnipotence of the Catholic Church had on LGBT rights, health, equality and existence. Contraception was only made available without prescription in 1985 (four years into the AIDS epidemic!!), and homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993. Queer people have been condemned in this country, but Michelle Nicolaou writes positively about the history of drag performance here saying:
“Drag has had a slow but rather smooth development into existence here, in comparison to America, for example. Even when Ireland was wallowing in extreme Catholicism, Micheál MacLiammóir, co-founder of the Gate Theatre and remarkable playwright, was appearing on Irish television in full drag as early as the 1950s.”
- Michelle Nicolaou Trinity News
We came a long way from the moral outrage and Public Dance Hall Act of 1935 -in response to the lively dances with jazz music playing in dance halls throughout the country- to the rave scene of the 1980’s with gay club nights like Flikkers and Sides staying open for partying until 8am (much later than is legal in Ireland even now), creating night-long safe havens for LGBT community.
The new and burgeoning punk scene made for a really significant shift in Irish nightlife and music culture. This was the moment when electronic music came to Ireland and took over from rock. DJs like Tony Krisp (Tony Christie) & Izzy Kamikaze were playing more alternative mixes, including artists like James Brown and introducing genres such as Hip Hop, disco and early House music to the Irish crowd. Flikkers and Sides paved the way for our current queer night life and parties such as Cake, Crush, K.I.S.S., Mother, PrHomo, and Spinster.
Luckily we have lots of paraphernalia preserved from that time because a small sub- group in the NGF started keeping news paper clippings and posters to do with Queer Irish life. This small group’s instinct to keep materials later evolved into the Irish Queer Archive. The NGF also published a Magazine called Identity Magazine in 1981, the first gay periodical in Ireland. They then started Out Magazine in 1984, Ireland’s first commercial gay and lesbian publication.
In 1987 the Hirschfeld centre was burnt down in a mysterious fire. In 1988, with the ashes of Hirschfeld barely cooled a tabloid newspaper Gay Community News was published by Tonie Walsh and the general secretary of NGF. Money from the sale of Hirschfeld building was put toward establishing Outhouse (a decade later).
So, the Hirschfeld centre and its activities pretty much spanned the whole of the 1980’s in Ireland, acting as a centre point for Queer life during that period and the birthplace of so much of what our queer scene is today.
This was the same moment that the Ballroom scene was establishing itself in New York, coinciding with the AIDS Crises which struck Queer communities everywhere, including Ireland. The same stigma, misinformation and confusion that happened in the States was happening here (check out the section we wrote about AIDS in America for more info).
The Irish queer scene, and our queer history is overwhelmingly white. However, there are Black Queer organisers in Ireland putting in the work to establish a scene here. We’d like to close this section by acknowledging their efforts. The following have been instrumental in the growth of Black Irish Queer community organising:
Osaro Azams and Fried Plantains Collective
Black Pride Ireland
Black Queer Bookclub
Karen 'Renn' Miano
Black & Irish Queer Scene Readings & Sources:
Black Pride Ireland manifesto - link - https://www.instagram.com/p/B0tcATTFWGL/
Trinity News, Drag Culture in Ireland: http://trinitynews.ie/2017/10/drag-culture-in-ireland/
National LGBT Federation: https://www.nxf.ie/our-history/
Irish Sex Education Video 1980’s
Notes on a Rave: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=_jYBVXYo1H4&t=1626s