Tuesday, 17 March 2015

City Pride : Dublin

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have Irish blood on my mother’s side. I’m proud of my Celtic heritage and my Irish great-grandmother, Sarah Maria Bagley. Being one-eighth Irish I often joke that I always celebrate the fact on the eighth day of the week! That’s true Irishness!

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day I’ve turned today’s article into emerald green. Let’s look at the city in which my great-grandmother was born, Dublin, and discover its lgbt heritage. I’ve selected ten subjects and tried to make them as varied as possible while still within walking distance of each other (without being clumped together). The simplified map below shows present-day Dublin and the subjects I’ll describe below.

1) Upper Mount Street. This was the home of my great-grandmother’s father Noel. He was a game-keeper to one of Dublin’s prominent families. My mother always said that Noel and/or Sarah Maria worked for a Lady Leonette La Touche. I think there must have been some confusion over the name as I’ve only been able to find a Lady Annette La Touche in Dublin at the time. It must be the same person. The La Touches were influential Dubliners and no doubt knew of Oscar Wilde’s family, if not knew them personally. Speaking of whom, just a short walk away we find…

2) Oscar Wilde’s birthplace, 21 Westland Row. The building is now home to the Oscar Wilde Centre, a research and educational organisation run by Trinity College. I don’t want to say more about this today because it seems like a very good subject for a Heritage Spotlight article in the future.

3) Merrion Square. One of several public parks in Dublin opened in the 1800s. Oscar Wilde and his family lived in one of the posh houses around the perimeter until 1879 when his mother sold the house and moved to London. The park contains a statue of Oscar Wilde, an unusual example of a reclining figure, which is facing the old family home. The annual Dublin Pride festival has been held in Merrion Square since 2012, the parade through the city centre ending here.

4) The George, South Great George’s Street. This is one of Ireland’s oldest existing gay bars and clubs and celebrates its 40th anniversary this Easter. Before then it was a traditional Irish pub with a reputation for having and ageing clientele. In 1985 it was bought by Cyril O’Brien, an openly gay businessman, who turned it into a brighter, more vibrant, gay-friendly bar and club. Homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland when The George opened, but it quickly became the main venue for the lgbt community.

5) Rice’s, South King Street. Before The George there were other gay bars, including Rice’s, owned by Bobby Rice and opened in 1960. Again, it was previously a traditional pub but whereas The George’s straight and gay clientele mingled freely, the gay clientele at Rice’s had a separate bar area where they could socialise more comfortably. Rice’s closed in 1986 shortly after The George opened, and was demolished to make way for a shopping centre.

6) The Gate Theatre, North Frederick Street. This small theatre is housed in a former public function room of an old hospital. In 1928 it became the home of a new theatre company formed by what has been called Ireland’s most famous gay couple (despite the fact that both were English-born), Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammoir. The Gate Theatre introduced Irish audiences to many American and European plays for the first time. Edwards and Mac Liammoir were regulars at Rice’s pub.

7) Alternative Miss Ireland, Olympia Theatre. For 17 consecutive years, and for one earlier contest, Dublin celebrated diversity and fun together with the Alternative Miss Ireland contest. For the last half of its long run the contest finals were held at the Olympia Theatre. The first contest was held in 1987 with Miss Isle as the winner. The contest returned in 1996 and was held every year on the Sunday nearest St. Patrick’s Day. The last contest in 2012 was filmed by the Irish broadcaster RTE, and was won by Miss Minnie Melange (real name Sinead Burke)

8) Dublin Pride (several locations on the map). The first Dublin Pride took place in June 1983. The parade went from St. Stephen’s Green, a notorious gay cruising site, to the front of the General Post Office on O’Connell Street. For several years the post-parade festival was held at the city council’s offices on Wood Quay before relocating to Merrion Square in 2012.

9) “Bunny” Murphy, Queen Street and Grafton Street. These were the home and business addresses respectively of Bernard “Bunny” Murphy, a society and celebrity hairdresser. During the 1940s his clientele included stars such as Maureen O’Hara and Paulette Goddard. In the 1950s he moved to London. After his partner’s death he moved to Brighton where he met Dominic Dalton. A relationship developed, despite the age gap – Bunny was 65, Dominic was 29. Bunny developed Alzheimer’s in the 1990s and Dominic became his carer. The pressure led to depression and in 2001, in a depressive rage, Dominic strangled Bunny. He admitted to the killing, and the court found that due to his mental state at the time the crime was declared manslaughter. Dominic was sentenced to 6 years.

10) Outhouse, 105 Capel Street. Outhouse is Dublin’s main lgbt community and resource centre. It was founded in 1996 and moved to its present location on Capel Street in 2001. It was officially opened by the Irish President Mary McAlysse.

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