Friday, 25 April 2014

Heritage Spotlight - Irish Queer Archive

My great-grandmother was from Dublin, and in the past five years or so I’ve been taking a keener interest in my Irish heritage. So it is gratifying to know that the Irish have just as much interest in their lgbt heritage.
Perhaps the only Irish connection to the lgbt community which most people can think of is Oscar Wide, or perhaps the comedian Graham Norton, or even the patriot Roger Casement, depending on how much importance you put on literature, entertainment or politics. Recent Irish history has often concentrated on what is referred to as the “Troubles”, and other contemporary elements in the community have received less notice, so any archive which deals with the Irish lgbt community on both sides of the border is a welcome addition.
The Irish Queer Archive was transferred to the National Library of Ireland in Dublin in 2008, giving the Irish state custody of a wealth of material gathered over many years by the volunteer organisation the National Lesbian and Gay Federation (NGLF).
The NLGF was formed in 1979. From its beginnings its members collected newspaper cuttings and reports, mainly of homophobic attacks which were invariably the only time the lgbt community was mentioned in the press. Like other organisation, including my own Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage, these cuttings formed the basis of a larger collection. Research undertaken by NLGF members uncovered many stories of lgbt life in Ireland, and if you’re curious but can’t get to the National Library in Dublin in person you can see reproductions of many newspaper cuttings and various other items on the Irish Queer Archive Facebook page.
One of the leading members of the National Lesbian and Gay Federation who was instrumental is establishing the Irish Queer Archive has a link to my year-long music theme (mentioned below). Tonie Walsh was one of Dublin’s early gay rights activists. In 1979 he was a leading force behind the establishment of Dublin’s first lgbt community centre called the Hirschfeld Centre, named after the German scientist and sexologist who set up a research institute in Germany in the 1890s.
In an unfortunate parallel in history, both the Hirschfeld Centre in Dublin and Hirschfeld’s institute in Germany were both burnt to the ground in attacks – the Dublin centre in 1987 in uncertain circumstances (probably homophobic) and the German centre by the Nazis in the 1930s.
Tonie Walsh went on to become President of the NLGF between 1984 and 1988, and co-founded Gay Community News, Ireland’s longest continuous running lgbt periodical.

During the 1990s Tonie stepped back from activism to concentrate on becoming a DJ and club promoter. He DJed at many of Dublin’s top clubs, and at the Alternative Miss Ireland contests. In 2006 he retired from DJing to concentrate on research and writing.

In 1997 Tonie began reorganising the NLGF archives and collection, which had grown from its beginnings into one of the largest archive collections in Dublin. The NLGF opened up an office where researchers could use the archives and Tonie and his colleagues created the bedrock of the Irish Queer Archive.

If I get chance to visit Dublin to dig deeper into my Dublin ancestry I’ll certainly take time to check out the Irish Queer Archive as well.

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