Ahead of the opening of Once Before I Go in the Gate Theatre next week, Tim Pitt who features on the poster image for the play tells us about being gay in Dublin in the ’80s.
“I can still remember nervously climbing the narrow, steep stairs leading to the small office at the top of the Hirshfeld Centre on Fownes Street. That was where I first met Reggie, a volunteer with Tel-A-Friend. It was a helpline I’d gone to for advice on how to tell my parents I was gay. I was 21.
Reggie was brilliant putting me at ease and told me about Flikkers, the centre’s disco on Fridays and Saturdays. It was an introduction to a community that was welcoming and felt safe during times when the outside world could sometimes feel unsupportive and hostile. We could be ourselves and I became a regular.
I was in college at Maynooth back then and looked forward to the weekends, meeting up with friends, having a boogie to the sets of the many talented DJs, and the prospect of meeting the man of my dreams.
Ringing a bell to gain entrance to the Hirsh, as it affectionately became known, added to the excitement and anticipation.
Other times we’d dress up and go in a group to a cinema in Harolds Cross where they showed the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some of the others knew all the lines!
Inevitably with the rise of the pink punt, the scene expanded and there were other gay nights at Sides, Minskys and Hooray Henry. Sometimes we’d flit and flirt between them ending up at a house party and continue partying beyond daybreak.
Bewley’s on Grafton Street, on a Saturday afternoon in particular, was a popular haunt with gay men. We’d meet up with friends with half an eye on the talent.
One of my biggest thrills was picking up 1970/’80’s American disco sensations Viola Wills and Odyssey from the airport in my mother’s car. They’d flown in to perform at the Hirsh and we were delighted they’d come to play at our gay community centre. I was in a band myself so to meet artists I admired was special.
This particular photo was from the Halloween Ball in 1987. One of the highlights of the year, it was organised like so many events by Tonie Walsh who was the president of the National Gay Federation. People put so much effort into their costumes and it was always a great night. Apart from his activism, Tonie worked tirelessly to bring us all together and entertain us. We felt we were part of something bigger.
I went out with Tonie for quite some time and one sad memory was being woken up in the early hours of the morning to find out the Hirshfeld Centre had caught fire and burnt down. It was a great loss and a particularly difficult time for many who’d given much to it, and for others who relied on its existence for a multitude of reasons.
When I saw this photo again all these years later it brought back so many fantastic memories. I think in my youthfulness at the time I took it all for granted and didn’t fully appreciate what a wonderful community I’d been a part of. I met so many wonderful people who are forever a part of my fondest memories.” – Tim Pitt, September 2021
Photo: Seán Gilmartin
“I think in my youthfulness at the time I took it all for granted and didn’t fully appreciate what a wonderful community I’d been a part of. I met so many wonderful people who are forever a part of my fondest memories.”
Once Before I Go, a new play by Phillip McMahon and directed by Selina Cartmell opens as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival on October 1 and runs until October 23 (previews from September 24). Tickets from €15.
See our new issue out this week for In Amity, a fashion shoot by Donal Talbot (photographer) and Sophie Donaldson (stylist) inspired by the relationship between Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, the former impresarios who ran the Gate Theatre.