13 October 2009, 22:04
'Isn't that a fine big one. That would give you a horn'
The records of the Dublin Criminal court unearth the whispers of a wealth of hidden gay men’s histories, particularly in the years immediately following the Irish Civil War and Irish Independence. As well as a thriving cruising and cottaging culture existing around inner-city Dublin, they also reveal hidden lives often ruined by public exposé and bigoted judicial procedure, both at court and police level. What at first appears as police coercion resonates, I feel anyway, with echoes of several other possible discourses.
On the 12th of October, 1927, a Kildare man appeared before the court charged with ‘attempting to procure an act of gross indecency from another man’. This in itself was nothing unusual in nineteen-twenties Dublin; the records show scores of similar cases. What is interesting here is that the other man, the so-called victim of the crime, was a Garda detective. The interpretation of the historian from whom I originally sourced this, Diarmuid Ferriter, understands the detective’s part in this as being a Garda set up, a cottaging honey trap if you like.
I can’t help but notice however, this is the only case of its sort that I can find, where a Garda detective went incognito into a public toilet to entrap a gay man.
All of the other cases were either assault charges brought by one civilian man against another, or, they were reported to the Gardai by civilian informants who had witnessed sexual acts in public toilets.
Furthermore, given the huge effort that was put into both state and church policing of sexuality in the newly-Independent Ireland, why are there no official Garda records or even other secondary sources (that I’ve been able to find so far anyway ) that mention such an undercover Garda operation to police men’s public toilets? Perhaps something will turn up in the future, but I can’t help but wonder if there is more to this court record than meets the eye?
The Garda Detective in question doesn’t refer to any undercover operation; indeed, he gives his reason for being in the public toilet in the first place as ‘needing to use a Public Lavatory on O’Connell Street.’ Explaining how he came to arrest the man from Kildare, his statement claims that ‘My attention was attracted to him because when I went down the steps, he stared at me’ (The public lavatories on O’Connell street are underground with a spiral staircase leading down into them) The two men then chatted outside for a while and the defendant invited the Garda detective for a drink. The detective declined saying he was busy but arranged a meeting for during the following week.
On the appointed date the detective who was ‘acting on instructions’ – without actually saying just whose those instructions were – met the gay man from Kildare. The detective states he opened the conversation by talking about ‘the weather’; to which the gay man responded by saying ‘I heard of a very good place at the back of the bank in Fleet Street. Will we go there?’ (The toilets in question were actually situated in Parliament Row, which is just off Fleet Street, between Thunder Road Cafe and the Morgan Hotel)
On the way there the defendant bantered with the detective about other men he’d met and told of the ‘lavatory in the Winter Gardens' (in the now destroyed Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street) as being a ‘great place – you’d only have to stop there a few minutes and you would meet somebody.'
Upon arrival at the toilets on Parliament Row, according the detective, our man from Kildare ‘struck a match’ and then opened the detective’s trousers. He then
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this.
There is very little to go on, and the records actually wouldn't stand up to any great scrutiny on this one.
But still, the records don't tell me why the Garda detective elected to meet the defendant a week later, when in reality he could have very simply made the very same arrest within five minutes of arriving at the scene?
Surely, if he was on duty he was on duty? Or was he even actually on duty when he made the liason. There are no implications either way in the records.
And, to reiterate, there are no other records from the period tell of a similar operation.
Or, perhaps he needed to arrange back up, hence the delayed rendezvous, but there is only one rather ambiguous mention of any other police involvement in this, and that is the previously mentioned, and very ominous, ‘on instructions.’
It does leave me wondering was this a case of a self-loathing gay Garda detective who turned chicken just before he was about to engage in some illicit man-on-man action; and so reneged on his prospective parter, perhaps through a strange mix of the fear of being caught and the terror of going to hell?
My conjecture also takes me down another route: Could the two men have possibly been apprehended by another on-duty uniformed Guard? It wasn't strange for uniformed Gardai to patrol men's public toilets. Could he then have colluded with the Garda detective in question to stage a cover up operation by framing Our Man from Kildare as the evil pervert brought to justice.
Or perhaps the two men were reported by a Good Catholicly/Newly Independent Citizen. Who was then told that the best way to deal such a sin was to leave it in the capable hands of the Gardai, who would ensure that the detective involved was sent to the Priest. Irish Catholic morality, purity and chastity were delicately folded into contemporary ideas of how the men and women of the New Independent Ireland rejected the former 'perverted British Ways'. Sunday Sermons were often followed by a 'reading from the altar' of those that were known to have strayed from the official Catholic doctrines and of just who could have what sort of sex with whom.
And, of course, this also leaves me wondering about the sub-culture of gay men in the Dublin of the 1920s.
Here there are silenced voices, lost lives.
There could be much more to these stories, and, over time, I may endeavour to follow those voices down the corridors of Modern Irish History.
Tellingly, the man from Kildare, just before the Garda detective revealed his identity, is reported to have said ‘People have a great time here in the city. We can do nothing in the country. We are being watched everywhere’.
The average sentence for sexually abusing a child at the time was seven months with no fine.
The average sentence for raping a woman at the time was three months with no fine.
Our man from Kildare, who did nothing more than show his ‘fine big one’ to a Garda, in a toilet in Parliament Row, was sentenced to twelve months of hard labour and fined twenty five pounds.
13 October 2009 @ 22:45
A bent copper .
Nothing unusual there.
13 October 2009 @ 23:07
It narrates like a well written short story
I was fascinated by the sentence the man received in comparison with some real sexual crimes committed at that time and Iran pops into my mind where marital rape is legal and they hang their homosexuals.
But I am glad of the social progress we have made for now anyway.
13 October 2009 @ 23:14
Perhaps it was his brashness in the manor in which he spoke to the Garda, ‘Isn’t that a fine big one. That may give you a horn. Look at that’ that turned the Garda, or maybe he was sizing up when he looked down and one of them had the wrong measurement for things to go further.
12 months it doesn't surprise me in the lease to learn that was the sentence, the crime as against a man, the highest level in society at the time (and according to some of the remaining laws from that era, still to this day).
14 October 2009 @ 12:52
Another excellent piece, Cormy. They are always worth waiting for.
Alot of research has been carried out into 18th, 19th and 20th century gay life and 'sub-culture' in England, but very little seems to have been done in Ireland. Perhaps it's time it was.
14 October 2009 @ 23:05
Excellent read,freaky times back then though.
17 October 2009 @ 01:52
Excellent blog,keep up the good work,I remember Dublin in the late 70,s and 80,s,and in particular to the infamous 'Barclay Dunnes Pub'you should try and obtain somehistory on this time of the gay scene in the capital city,cheers,keepupthe good work.
19 October 2009 @ 20:45
Because I'm lazy, I'm just pasting a piece from a college project I did last year that touched on this amongst loads of other gay stuff.
This [1861 Offenses Against the Person Act] law was to remain in force through the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and for the first seven decades of its existence. It’s worth noting that consensual acts in private between women more than fifteen years old remained legal (O’Malley 1996:135) although in 1921, unsuccessful attempts were made by British lawmakers to have the 1885 act amended to include lesbianism (Lacey 2008:181-182).
Regarding the enforcement of the law, O’Malley cites the 435 committals to prison under it between 1937 and 1961. Admittedly, most of these sentences were for short periods and may have mainly involved recidivists (1996:7). But behind the cold statistics, there was the huge cost to individual people. Colm Tóibín mentions the young male couple in the town where he grew up being repeatedly targeted by the forces of law and order and sent back to jail again and again for “misbehaving” – their lives being ultimately ruined (2002:265). The existence of this law on the statute book was a huge barrier to equal rights for the gay community.
It was also a disincentive for any victim of homophobic violence to seek any form of redress or even to report the crime. The lack of protection afforded to the gay community – and their status in the greater scheme of things – was underlined most forcefully in the suspended sentences handed down to four Dublin men in March, 1983 for having beaten to death a man they had suspected of being gay (Burke 2008). One of those found guilty was subsequently sent to prison for six months – for stealing a car (Lacey 2008:253).
1. Lacey, B. (2008) Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History, Wordwell Ltd., Dublin
2. O’Malley, T. (1996) Sexual Offenses: Law, Policy and Punishment, Roundhall, Sweet and Maxwell, Dublin
3. Tóibín, C. (2002) Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar, Pan McMillan Ltd., London
23 October 2009 @ 19:46
I think you read too much in it.
It was a different time then.