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Commemorative plaque unveiled at the site of Ireland's first dedicated LGBT community centre

The Hirschfeld Centre was burnt down 31 years ago.

Updated Jun 20th 2019, 7:00 PM

A COMMEMORATIVE PLAQUE has been unveiled in Temple Bar at the site of the former Hirschfeld Centre, Ireland’s first dedicated, full-time community centre and space for the LGBT community.

The ‘Hirsch’, as it became known to those who passed through its doors, first opened on 17 March 1979.

It was funded by David Norris, a gay rights activist at the time who would go on to be a senator and one of the leading voices in the struggle for LGBT equal rights. 

Speaking today, Senator Norris, who unveiled the plaque at 10 Fownes Street alongside Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe, recalled that on opening night around 300 people showed up, significantly more than expected. 

“Young people came. We did environmental discos, women’s discos. Young people came in, they saw the potential…[the centre] lifted this area.”

The centre was operated by the National LGBT Federation and was one of the first places for Dublin’s gay community to meet, socialise, organise and get to know each other at a time when many gay men and women were forced to hide their sexuality. 

It also served as an important location for the discussion and spreading of political ideas aimed at improving the rights of gay people in Ireland.  

Containing a restaurant, cinema, library and counselling rooms, on weekends it was also home to the Flikkers nightclub. The centre was integral to the development of gay culture in Dublin. 

Tonie Walsh – an LGBT activist and founder of the Irish Queer Archive, who was involved in the running of the centre – spoke to TheJournal.ie last year about the importance of the centre.

It was, he said, the locus of Ireland’s gay scene.

“It was a reconditioned warehouse in a street that was half-derelict,” said Walsh. 

It had a side alley to Dame Street which made it comfortably covert for those still in the closet who’d rock up to the building”

For the men and women who visited Fownes Street, the centre’s purpose was threefold, Walsh said.

It acted as a default commercial scene in the absence of any commercial scene. It was also “a home from home” for young gay people who’d been turfed out of their houses. The centre opened on Christmas Day for those with nowhere else to go.

Walsh said it was “a logical family in place of a biological family”.

After eight years of operation, the centre was destroyed in a fire on 5 November 1987.  

As noted in the history of the National Gay Federation, the fire was “presumed to be an accident”. 

Senator Norris said today that, despite the fire, “the spirit of the Hirschfeld continues”. 

“Delighted” 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie yesterday, Walsh said he was “delighted” that the plaque was being unveiled. 

“I’m delighted that it’s happening… It’s something that should have happened sooner,” he said. 

Walsh said that the centre was not the very first community centre for gay people in Ireland, but rather the first full-time venue. He said the unveiling of the plaque today will help to illustrate how organised people were in 1979 and how clued into international developments.  

Dublin’s LGBTQ Pride Festival kicks off tomorrow in Dublin and will run until 30 June. The festival follows in the tradition of holding dedicated LGBTQ+ protests, marches and events across the world. 

In 2018, 60,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin, according to organisers. 

With reporting from Cónal Thomas

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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