The Happy Gordons
This video documentary sets out to examine Gay life in Ireland, and gives most of its 26 minutes to Irish lesbians and gay men in New York. These include Anne Maguire of the ILGO (Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation) taking being arrested and hassled by Noo Yoicks Finest (the polis) calmly in her stride, Billy Quinn a Dublin-born artist and Tariach MacNaillais.
Tariach came to Gay politics by way of the Hunger Strikes agitation and says he was told than an out Gay man was not going to be employed in his field of Youth and Community Work. The other person from Northern Ireland who spoke, Cherry Smyth, lives in London (England, UK). She is of middle-class, liberal Protestant origin. Her parents had she makes clear, no insuperable problems with her sexuality. She also said things about “being Irish” which I found difficult to grasp. You don’t have to be Catholic and Gaelic to be Irish. Who said you did? Why does “being Irish” matter?
Billy Quinn is a working class Dubliner who was sexually abused in his childhood and has worked in bars from a very yong age. Where he acquired his rather plummy accent is a mystery. He compared Molly Bloom unfavourably with Jane Austen’s heroines. The latter were prissy and repressed but James Joyce’s Molly was a great sexual Earth-Mother. This proves he hasn’t read either Joyce or Austen. Compared, for example, with Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Molly is positively south. Jane Austen, a great comic writer, is central to English, even British culture. Joyce is not central to modern Irish culture. Billy Quinn’s paintings, founded, so far as one could see, in a culture of “wee holy pictures” and fold Catholicism seems far more relevant to what one could almost call a post-Catholic Republic than Joyce, the middle-European intellectual.
Quinn says that many of his friends found the news that Ireland had abandoned practically all of the laws criminalising Gay sexuality almost impossible to believe. Kieran Rose explained why it was not impossible in the rather short amount of time he was allowed. Mike Quinlan said that ten years ago a Pride demo “ran down Grafton Street”, implying that this was nervousness on the part of the marchers – rather than the fact that a decision was taken to hurry us up with fantastic disco tracks. In 1992, GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) decided on a Pride for Dublin: the fact that Galway was organising its third and Belfast its second Pride[s] was neither here nor there of course … not.
The video looks very good. You can’t really miss with the New York skyline and the Irish scenery, and the excitement of a big public ceremony, namely St Patrick’s Day parade. A flash of wit was a group of red-necks carrying an AOH banner marked ‘Orange County’. There was a flash of Belfat Pride with a bible-0thumper given more time to talk than the locals. There was a cut to Catholic objectors to Dublin Pride, which appeared to be saying that one was as bad as the other. But the Paisleyites put up a bigger (if not a better) show.
The Sin Fein banner was shown at the Dublin Pride demo (it was the one which came days after the change in the law). Why, one wonders? There were a dozen – at least – ‘straight’ political groups there, including Democratic Left and its leader De Rossa. There was also the Socialist Workers Movement, which has been assiduous in it support of Gay groups – to the point of being irritating. Why were they not shown?
There did seem to be a rather simple-minded (straight) political agenda behind these images or lack of the, including the non-appearance of people who actually live in Northern Ireland (not to mention the rest of the island).
This sort of thing is not inherently a bad thing artistically – it can give a certain flavour to a work. But the special flavour of the place (Ireland-in-general and Northern Ireland in particular) leached away, mainly because most of the people talking had lived outside of the island for the greater part of their short lives.
There were really two videos fighting to get out of this one. Maybe Paula Crickard, the director, should re-splice the material and produce one on New York and one (possibly even two) on Ireland – there are plenty of tales worth the telling.
Reviewer; Sean McGouran Reprinted from upstart print edition
Should the YouTube copy of this documentary stop working, then it can also be viewed at the Northern Visions Archive