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University of Galway History Seminar: ‘For Irish homosexuals the border question has little or no meaning – at least as far as their homosexuality is concerned’: The rise of the Irish Gay Rights Movement, 1973-1974

January 25 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


January 25
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


online & livestream in Room G010, Hardiman Research Building


Dr Kevin O’Sullivan

University of Galway History Seminar

Dr Patrick McDonagh

(Independent Scholar)
‘For Irish homosexuals the border question has little or no meaning 

– at least as far as their homosexuality is concerned’: 

The rise of the Irish Gay Rights Movement, 1973-1974


In a November 1973 issue of the British based gay newspaper, Gay News, an article appeared with the title ‘Irish Gay Beginnings: Full Report on First Ever Irish Gay Conference’. The conference that the article was referring to had taken place at the New University of Ulster in Coleraine and had been organised by the Sexual Reform Movement. At the end of the conference a resolution was passed which committed those present to work in the future for the establishment of human rights for the sexually oppressed in society and to forge links with groups active in advancing gay rights, both domestically and internationally. Such was the novelty of this statement at the time, that the Irish Independent carried a report three days later in which Dr. Austin Darragh, director of the UCD Psycho-Endocrine Centre, warned the Irish government against legalising homosexuality, warning that to ‘legalise it may be legalising a disease and may stop researchers like us proceeding with our attempts to plum the causes and possible treatment for the condition.’

Despite the significance of this conference very little attention has been given to it in wider Irish LGBT+ history. On the 50th anniversary of this conference, this paper will look back at this significant moment in Irish LGBT+ history and the impact it had at the time. In doing so, this paper will highlight the extent to which the rise of a gay rights movement in Ireland was influenced and supported by British and Scottish based organisations as well as the role student organisations and universities played in creating a space where a focus on the issue of gay rights could take place in the early 1970s in Ireland. Finally, the paper will also demonstrate the extent to which the gay rights movement in Ireland emerged due to the efforts of activists both north and south of the border.


Dr. Patrick McDonagh is an independent scholar who obtained his PhD in History from the European University Institute, Florence, in 2019. His first book, Gay and Lesbian Activism in the Republic of Ireland 1973-93, was published in 2021 by Bloomsbury Academic and received an honorable mention in the Donald Murphy Prize category for distinguished first book at the 2022 American Conference for Irish Studies. He has published articles in the Journal of the History of Sexuality and the Journal of Irish Economic and Social History. He has also contributed chapters to two academic books: From Sodomy Laws to Same-Sex Marriage: International Perspectives since 1789 [eds. Sean Brady and Mark Seymour] (Bloomsbury, 2019) and Queer Youth Histories [ed. Daniel Marshall] (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022). In 2020 he was the guest editor of a special edition of Studi Irlandesi: A Journal of Irish Studies which focused on ‘Minorities in/and Ireland’.


This talk will be delivered online, via Zoom. Register here for the link: https://forms.office.com/e/umVH2KZLGF
The seminar will also be livestreamed in Room G010, Hardiman Research Building.

This talk is part of the University of Galway History Seminar series.