Written by Orla Egan
The first Cork lesbian meeting of which I am aware took place on 30th January 1978.
The Cork IGRM opened its premises in 4 McCurtain Street in 1977. Some lesbians socialised at the weekly discos but these were predominantly male.
There were some attempts to set up a specifically lesbian social scene in Cork in the late 1970s. There were negotiations with the Cork IGRM to try to make the centre available exclusively for women one night a week. A lesbian meeting was held in the IGRM premises on 30 January 1978 to discuss setting up a lesbian scene in Cork.
Marian Barry wrote a short article in the 1978 edition of Sapphire about this:
“Since the formation of the Cork Branch of the I.G.R.M. the gay women of this city have been considering setting up a social scene for themselves. Now that the facilities of the club have been made exclusively available to us for one night a week, I will try with your assistance to get this underway. The first womens meeting will take place on Monday 30th Jan ’78 at 8.00pm and hopefully will continue on each subsequent Monday at the same time. Looking forward to your support.” Marian Barry
(Sapphire, Cork IGRM Newsletter. Vol. 1, No. 1, Jan.-Feb. 78)
It seems that Cork lesbians continued to encounter difficulties in trying to negotiate space and support within the McCurtain Street centre. One of the motions passed at a 1981 National Gay Conference in Cork proposed “that the men in McCurtain Street allocate one evening of each week for a social run by women for women.” (1981 National Gay Conference Report) This would seem to indicate a lack of support for independent women’s activities in the McCurtain street club and that the club continued to be geared primarily towards the needs of gay men in the city.
The Cork Women’s Collective was set up in late 1978 / early 1979, following two public meetings on feminist issues. The CWC held its first meeting in the Imperial Hotel in Cork: 60 women showed up, which had been expected and the room which had been rented for the meeting was not big enough. Jacqui O Riordan, in her BA Thesis on The Womensplace (UCC, Sociology, 1992) notes that the CWC was “involved in feminist issues such as conscious raising, contraception, abortion, rape, women politicians, nationalism and the H-block debate. They were also actively involved in selling contraceptions in the city and organised a number of public meetings, at which people like Nell McCafferty and Mary Daly were guest speakers.” (p. 9) One of the interviewees in O Riordan’s study notes that a lot of professional women were involved in the CWC, that it had a middle class emphasis and that there were only limited discussions of class issues. According to Joan McCarthy, there was very strong lesbian involvement in the CWC and there was good support for issues of concern to lesbians.