Contributed by Ciarán Wallace
When a person dies it is like a library burning down. The US author Edmund White spoke for many historians and archivists when he described the loss of personal and communal memory that happens every day. Happily, a significant new collection of Irish social, political and social memory will shortly be available to researchers. The Irish Queer Archive (IQA) is a fascinating, and surprisingly rich, body of material relating to the campaign for equality by Irish lesbians and gays. As a by-product it also records the official and unofficial opposition which they faced. Indeed much of the history of late-twentieth century Ireland can be traced through this archive.
The archive contains around 250,000 press-clippings from as far back as the 1950s and copies of the many community publications produced since the 1970s. Provincial newsletters, short-run ‘zines’ and colour magazines (37 titles in all) give a lively picture of life both north and south of the border. One photo of half a dozen gay men with placards outside the Department of Justice in 1974 reminds you how grey Ireland was – in all senses of the word. Another shows the accidental fire in the mid-80s that destroyed Dublin’s gay community centre in (the then very unfashionable) Temple Bar. Banners and flags from early Gay Pride marches, along with badges and handbills relating to the start of the Aids crisis, form part of the large ephemera collection. (As part of Pride 2009 a flavour of the IQA’s eclectic material is on show in Dublin from Wed. 24th to Sat. 27th June at The Project Arts Centre on Essex Street East, in the now very fashionable Temple Bar district. A few photos can be seen in the December 2006 issue of Gay Community News.)
The IQA was deposited with the National Library of Ireland in 2008. In a few weeks the catalogue for a significant portion of its manuscript collection will be completed. This includes the National Lesbian & Gay Federation, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, Lesbians Organising Together, Out magazine, Gay Games, Gay Heath Action, Alternative Miss Ireland, the Women’s Education, Research and Resource centre, and the Dublin Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. (See the NLI website for details.)
Researchers could consider the coincidence of the emergence of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement and the leading role played by Queen’s University, Belfast in the early gay rights campaign. Historians of the women’s movement already see parallels between their field and the struggle for lesbian & gay rights. Was University College Cork really the first NUI college to recognise a Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual (LGB) student society? Did Trinity College Dublin’s input help or hinder the engagement between campaigners and a disapproving state? How was it that a Fianna Fáil Minister decriminalised gay sex? The opening of this exciting archive could constructively queer the pitch of recent Irish historical, sociological and political research.