1990s- Condoms, Gay Rights, Big Bands & the Guildford Four.
This RTE video clip from 1992 has been doing the rounds over the last few weeks. I have been contacted innumerable times about it due to the fact that I am interviewed in it (wow- I was kinda handsome once!) So I think it is well past time that I made a reference to the film and to what I was doing in Galway at the time.
Ireland in the early 1990s was a different country from today. No divorce, same-sex sexual activity was a criminal offence, condoms were banned, censorship in media existed, and the Troubles in the North continued unabated with state shoot-to-kill operations taking place.
But Galway in this era was full of energetic people who wanted to change the world and the country for the better. Local politicians such as Michael D. were supporting nationwide campaigns for justice
In September 1990, I left a successful career in the computer industry to take a co-lease on a quiet pub (Monroes) in a relatively quiet part of Galway and transformed it with great support into the city's first 7 day live music venue ('Club Rapparees' was the music side of the pub). Each night had a different genre- Mondays (Irish Trad), Tuesdays (Irish Set Dancing) Wednesdays (World/ethnic Music), Thursdays (Rock & providing opportunities for young bands such as the Real Men to play in front of a live audience in a popular venue), Fridays (evenings- trad sessions with Mary Shannon & friends; nights-alternating between Blues -Blues Connection & Appalachian- Higglers Jug Band), Saturdays (visiting groups incl Mamín Cajun Band, Miss Brown to You etc), and Sundays (mornings- Ephraim Reid's Big music Breakfast; early evenings- Sean Tyrrell & guests; nights- singer songwriters.
We made it into a very progressive venue- the first to install baby changing facilities in both toilets; the first to employ openly gay staff; the first to employ lots of non-Irish staff; the first hospitality employer to be committed towards employing single unmarried parents; the first to regularly host world/ethnic music (Russian, Middle Eastern, Arabian, West African etc).... We also ensured to have multiple Irish speaking staff for the Tuesday set dancing nights with a series of big signs over the counter translating appropriate English sentences into Irish e.g. "How Much?", "Where are the toilets?" "Can I have two pints of Guinness please."
I was fortunate that before I took the lease two legendary pubs were already developing great reputations in the locality - Waterfront (due to brilliant work by Jimmy Brick & Liam Stenson) and Taylors (so many awesome management & staff there).
Over a year later I was convinced against my better judgement by some others to take a lease on a club in Salthill and made it into a late night music venue (I called it 'Setantas') with bands such as Something Happens, Emotional Fish, Frank & Walters, Forget Me Nots, Wolfe Tones, Toasted Heretic and so many other great musicians performing there. We also hosted thematic disco nights such as Ruby Tuesdays (1960s-1970s Revisited)
On St Valentine's Day 1992, I happily took an active part in the 'CondomSense' campaign led in Galway by the fantastic Pete Smyth and Angela Savage to legalise the sale of condoms in pubs, the only Galway city publican do so. As a result I was harangued, threatened, received lots of hate mail, was condemned by the Bishop of Galway through a episcopal letter read out at Sunday masses in all diocesan churches and was regularly raided by the Garda with the condoms on sale being confiscated. I refused to stop selling condoms (recognising it as a human particularly women's right to have them), was prosecuted, appeared in court in March and was getting a jail sentence. We appealed and my case was to come before the courts in June with my imprisonment in jail being the likely outcome. But in May, the Irish media reported that Galway Bishop Eamon Casey had a teenage son from an affair in the 1970s with an young American Annie Murphy. The government reacted almost immediately to the backlash over the Church's stance on contraceptives now exposed as hypocritical and within weeks legalised the sale of condoms in pubs. The Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges against me.
I was interviewed on BBC Newsnight on the issue but refused to condemn Bishop Casey as I admired him for his previous work with the homeless Irish in Britain, his defense of the popular struggles against the right wing regimes in Central America and for supporting us in 1984 when we activists (including Michael D Higgins) protested against US President Ronald Reagan getting an honourary law degree from UCG (now NUIG) at a time when he was breaking international law in Nicaragua. Like me, he was I think an advocate of Christian Liberation Theology.
(ps we also protested against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and eastern Europe).
I was also involved at the time in many human rights/community campaigns such as Free the Guildford Four/Birmingham Six/Maguire Seven/Winchester Three, the Spirit of 1916 (1991 was the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising), Women's Rights, Establishing a Register of Absentee Landlords, Constructing Parks and Leisure Facilities in all neighbourhoods(up until then local sports areas comprised football pitches for young males and green areas either side of roads), and zoning an area for an ambitious Terryland River Valley (later Forest) Park. For the only time in my life I ran for political office, as an independent community activist (Community Action) to the local council (Galway Corporation now known as Galway City Council) but lost out for the last two seats to two national politicians (one was a TD- at that time TDs and Senators could also serve as local councillors)
I made lots of friends and worked with lots of inspiring people both in community/environmental/social campaigns and in the cultural/nightclub/pub/technology sectors during this period of my life. The early 1990s and indeed the 1980s in Galway were interesting times when change on so many fronts was happening due to so many idealistic people in the arts, communities, business, technology, educational, political, sexual and social spheres. However challenging a conservative system was tough and oftentimes came at a severe cost to the people involved.
But it makes me feel good to know and see so many people from that era still doing great and wonderful things today in Galway and beyond- I meet them so often and their enthusiasm has never waned.
This article is but a short summary and only gives a taste of that time. I have so much more to tell!