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Dublin's gay scene was hidden but it was thriving

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Hilton Edwards and Micheal Mac Liammoir outside the Gate Theatre. (Part of the NPA/Independent Newspapers Collection)

Hilton Edwards and Micheal Mac Liammoir outside the Gate Theatre. (Part of the NPA/Independent Newspapers Collection)

Hilton Edwards and Micheal Mac Liammoir outside the Gate Theatre. (Part of the NPA/Independent Newspapers Collection)

Under the terms of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act, homosexual acts were a criminal offence in Ireland when Charles Self arrived in Dublin to work in RTE. Yet despite the stigma, the city had a thriving gay scene.

The famous Gate theatre duo Micheal Mac Liammoir and Hilton Edwards were openly gay. Norman Scott, who later attained notoriety as the lover of UK Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, was living in Kildare Street in Dublin in the late 1970s and frequented the local coffee shops and pubs.

There was an underground scene comprised of married men, priests and prominent public figures who lived in constant fear of being 'outed'.

The more obvious gay scene was centred around the theatre and RTE, which was known by some in both the gay and political communities as 'Fairyhouse'.

Bartley Dunne's pub, along with Rice's and Tobin's nearby, formed a triangle of 'gay-friendly' pubs before the term was widely in use. None of them were strictly gay and they liked to keep an eclectic clientele so that prominent figures in the legal profession, actors and the like would not stand out as being obviously homosexual at a time when it was illegal.

The murder of Charles Self shone a spotlight on this world.

"The Garda response was to round up 1,500 known gay men and build a data bank of fingerprints and photographs and ask who they slept with and for their partners' names," said Brian Merriman, director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). "This action traumatised and destroyed many lives."

The Garda investigation into Charles Self's killing noted: "Many of his friends and acquaintances can best be described as an arty set with different attitudes and behaviour patterns from that of ordinary and conventional members of society."

Homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, mainly at the instigation of Senator David Norris, by the then Minister for Justice Maire Geoghegan-Quinn.

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