This programme about gay Ireland, which was first broadcast in 1981, makes for riveting viewing.
Filmed for a programme called Ireland’s Eye at Dublin’s first full-time community centre for gay and lesbian people, The Hirschfeld Centre on Temple Bar’s Fownes Street, and broadcast on November 24, 1981, it’s an unusually hopeful story, given the bleak circumstances for people who identified as lesbian or gay at the time. Homosexual activity between to men, even in the privacy of their own homes, was a criminal offence, while lesbian sex was not recognised under law.
The Hirschfeld Centre was established in 1979 by the National Gay Federation (currently known as the National LGBT Federation). It provided a space for gay and lesbian people to meet, a café, a small cinema and a disco which was called ‘Flikkers’. It also operated as a central hub for the Irish gay liberation movement.
The Hirschfeld Centre (or ‘The Hirsch’ as it was known) also provided a service called ‘Tel-A-Friend’ which offered information and support to those coming to terms with their sexuality.
Footage of the dancefloor at Flikkers intersperses the broadcast, but because so few were comfortable with being seen on national television, there’s a sparse number of people dancing to the disco tunes. Usually a weekend night at Flikkers was packed to the rafters, attracting a huge crowd of LGBT people from Dublin and across the country. The cinema showed arthouse gay movies, and on summer nights the roof of the building often became a party zone, with queers dancing beneath the stars.
A number of brave people are interviewed and featuring prominently among them is a 37 year-old David Norris. Although the interviewer, Brian Black asks of him demeaning questions such as: “Can you say something to the public… that would let people think that this is a natural and normal aspect of society?”, the atmosphere that surrounds the report is one of self-empowerment, activism and pride.
In 1987, The Hirsch was badly damaged in a fire – presumed to be accidental – that closed the community centre in the building which had acted as the beating heart of Dublin’s lesbian and gay community for over eight years. GCN was first published by the National LGBT Federation from the top floor of the building in 1988, which was the only operational area. The dance floor was burnt out and strewn with debris, including old glitterballs, and GCN staff members had to cross it in order to walk up to the offices.
GCN vacated the building in 1994, after which it was sold to a developer who turned it into an apartment block.
You can watch the video here.