In the mid 1970s a Butterfly Club in Cork became the unlikely location for gay meetings.
In 1975 the Cork branch of the Irish Gay Rights Movement was established. Prior to the opening of the MacCurtain Street premises, finding rooms for meetings or social events for the LGBT community was problematic. Most venues would refuse a booking from a gay group and, as Cathal Kerrigan notes, “even if they did, there was so much fear in the community about being identified at the time that most people wouldn’t come.”
Pat, one of the members of the Cork IGRM’s Committee, was also Secretary to the local Lepidopterists Club (the Butterfly Club). This club had access to community rooms in the yard at the back of St. Francis Church in Cork city centre. Pat had the keys and suggested using this venue for a monthly cheese and wine event on a Sunday. In order to get permission from the Lepidopterist Club he told them that it was for a literacy support group!
These afternoon cheese and wine social events were held on the first Sunday of each month. The room was on the first floor of a building at the rear of the car park in a non-residential area, providing a degree of safety for gay people who did not want to be noticed attending a gay event. Word spread and the event became popular with around 30-50 people attending. One man recalls: “I remember I had my first gay kiss there.”
A bank account was set up and attendees were asked for a donation to cover costs and future events.
However the Butterfly Club gatherings were short-lived. After a few months one of the other members of the Butterfly Club became suspicious and started asking questions. As Cathal Kerrigan comments: “success brought its own problems,- while everyone was careful not to draw undue attention – by leaving in small groups etc. – Sunday was not a shopping day back then and North Main St. was very quiet – so the activity there could not go unobserved.”
One Sunday there was a knock on the door as the group was setting up for that day’s social. Pat answered the door to his fellow committee member from the Lepidopterists Club. He told Pat that he know that something ‘questionable’ was going on. As Cathal remembers: “He’d given Pat an ultimatum – he’d say nothing to rest of the club committee provided it ended there & then. Pat had agreed. The other committee member had said he’d return in half an hour to check!”
The gays packed everything up and Edmund offered his apartment in Sunday’s Well as an alternative venue and efforts were made to let people know. Cathal again: “A couple of us stayed behind to hang around the gateway and inform people of the change of venue – we didn’t have mobile phones or e-mail in those days – just landlines and not many people had them – but phone calls were made to those we knew who did.”
This event highlighted the need for a safe gay venue – where members of the LGBT community could gather and organise without fear of being discovered or told to leave. As Cathal Kerrigan comments: “when we had time to reflect several of us felt that our scurrying away like criminals was pathetic. We decided we needed to be bolder and assertive. Several of the Cork IGRM committee members had business experience and with the funds gathered through the cheese and wine event, set about finding a premises. This was how the 4 McCurtain Street premises was found and set up.”
Thanks to Cathal Kerrigan for providing information about the Butterfly Club and the Cork IGRM.