Time to celebrate decade of fabulous change

In October UCC LGBT Staff Network celebrates its 10th anniversary, explains one of its founders Cathal Kerrigan
Time to celebrate decade of fabulous change
Cathal Kerrigan. Picture: Emmet Curtin.

TELL us about yourself;

I work as a librarian in UCC. When I started working there in 2003 I was based in the main Boole Library. Two years later I moved to the newly-built Health Sciences Library in Brookfield and was based there for 10 years.

Currently, I’m working on different projects and providing cover for colleagues on leave. In 2008, I chose to work a four-day week, which I find gives me a better work-life balance.

Where were you born?

I was born in Cork city, on Old Youghal Road near St Joseph’s Church. I went to the local national school, St Patrick’s. As there was no secondary school in the area back in 1967, I went on to the North Mon where I did my Leaving Cert in 1973.

Where do you live?

Since 2014 I’m back living in the family home on Old Youghal Road — I’ve come full circle! My great grandfather Charles Kerrigan was originally from an Irish-speaking part of Mayo and started using the English version of his name when he joined the British army. In Newfoundland, he married Effi McLean who was a Methodist. In the 1880s when he was stationed in Victoria (now Collins) Barracks they rented the house on Old Youghal Road and my parents and grandparents also lived there. In 1976, when the owner died in London he stipulated in his will that existing tenants should be given the option of buying their homes, which my parents and many of our neighbours did.


My father, Pat Kerrigan, was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1973/4 and was a Labour Party TD when he died of cancer aged 51 in 1979. My mother Margaret was a McCarthy from Mayfield, she died in 2014. I am the eldest of four — my sister Mary was 44 when she died of cancer in 2002; my sister June lives in Riverstown and my brother Pat in White’s Cross. I have eight nephews and nieces.

Best friend?

A work colleague I first met in 1977 through our involvement in the Everyman. We were both students in UCC at the same time. While I lived in Dublin in the 1980s and in Amsterdam in the ’90s, he lived in Poland and Germany; we used to meet up in Cork when back at Christmas.

We both ended up returning to Cork and UCC in the early noughties. Our friendship is based partly on this parallel life trajectory but also on our arguments — as our views on politics, religion, etc. are often different — when not diametrically opposed!

Earliest childhood memory?

This would be when I was about three and my father worked in the distillery. He was leaving for the night shift on a winter’s night and I recall him saying goodbye to Mam and myself; I got to sleep with her in their bed and Dad tucked us in after he’d put on his chunky gabardine overcoat.

Person you most admire?

Bernadette McAliskey — her sense of conviction and her consistency in fighting for those convictions through many difficulties and attacks from a variety of opponents, I find heroic. I am lucky to know her personally. Mairtín, my lover in the early 1980s, was a member of People’s Democracy and had been involved in political work with Bernadette in the North in the 1970s; when we moved to Dublin in 1981 we were both active as socialist republicans and I was a member of the campaign team when Bernadette stood against Charlie Haughey in the two General Elections in 1982.

Person who most irritates you?

Bertie Ahern. He was the most popular political leader ever in this country with an approval rating of 85%, at a time when this country was at its most prosperous. He had the opportunity to transform this country for the better, which no leader had had before (or may do for some time to come). He is a highly intelligent man with great abilities but he lacked any vision: he frittered away that golden opportunity.

Who would you like to see as Minister for Finance and why?

Clare Daly, because for her to be appointed two key events would have to have taken place. Firstly, all the progressive left parties, groups and individuals would have had to come together in an organised movement and, secondly, the Irish electorate would have had to give this movement a Dáil majority sufficient to form a government. I believe that given such an opportunity, Clare would implement real structural and systemic changes that would transform this country for the better economically, socially and politically!

Where was your most memorable holiday?

In 2012, I spent two months in China. I first discovered Chinese calligraphy and painting at the Rosc exhibition in the late 1970s and it became an ongoing fascination.

But I had never been to China. In 2012, I was lucky enough to be chosen with a colleague to participate in a work exchange with colleagues in the public library in Hangzhou near Shanghai. After hosting our Chinese colleagues in UCC in late 2011, we got to spend a month in April 2012 working with them.

I had a month’s holiday immediately afterwards and got to travel through the country. It was a wonderful experience — to see these landscape paintings become reality. Also, the people were wonderful — at that time of year I was sometimes the only westerner at these tourist spots and I would become part of the Chinese visitors’ holiday pictures! And, of course, the food was superb — even the roadside cafés.

Favourite TV programme?

Game Of Thrones — its mixture of politics, history, fantasy and sex — delightful!

Favourite radio show?

John Bowman’s Sunday morning From the Archives programme — he makes it relevant (and sometimes topical) by relating current events to the stories he tells from the store of material in the Radio Éireann archives. Recently he devoted two programmes to Seamus Murphy, which were rich in reflections on art and on Cork.

Your signature dish if cooking?

Potato and butter bean curry from Rose Elliott’s Bean Book.

Favourite restaurant?

Italee — authentic Italian food delivered in a plain setting without pretension.

Last book you read?

Swords In The Hands of Children: Reflections Of An American Revolutionary by Jonathan Lerner. A riveting account of how as a teenager in 1967 he joined the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and become a key organiser as it opposed the Vietnam War, racism, etc. He then goes on to describe how the leadership destroyed this mass movement in frustration in the early 1970s and the core group became the covert underground Weathermen, carrying out bombings of government buildings until they self-destructed in the late ’70s.

Best book you read?

In Search Of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. This book taught me how to live and give meaning to my life — I know this sounds overblown and pretentious but I mean it sincerely and straightforwardly. I first read it in 1976/7 when I was a student — it’s long so it’s good to be able to devote time to it. I was an angry, confused gay man struggling to fight all the negativity about me in 1970s Cork.

I was lucky that David Norris and some others had founded the Irish Gay Rights Movement in 1974; I joined and helped set up the Cork group and the Phoenix Club (on MacCurtain Street). Reading Proust’s novel and about his life just revealed so much about the world and opened a whole world view to me.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

Keep Me Singing by Van Morrison. John Creedon played Out In The Cold Again from it on his show a couple of months ago and I was wowed by it. The whole CD is full of nostalgic melancholy, which perfectly suits my aging sensibility!

Favourite song?

It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan. Since first hearing this song as a teenager in the ’60s it’s been my all-time favourite song which contains the wonderful line: “But even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.”

One person you would like to see in concert?

Annie Lennox with Hozier — saw them on TV performing a duet a couple of years ago at the music awards — they were dynamite!

Your proudest moment?

In 2015, when Dr Joan McCarthy and I were presented with UCC’s Staff Recognition Award: The Frank McGrath Perpetual Award for Equality and Welfare. Frank was a trade union activist and elected a worker representative on UCC’s Governing Body; after he died in a workplace accident his colleagues wanted to honour his memory and set up this award. We were the second recipients. Getting recognition from one’s peers is, I believe, one of the highest honours one can get. To be given this particular award by our colleagues and institution was special. Joan and I were involved in LGBT activism together since the late 1970s and the award recognised our work over the years; but it was also a recognition of our community — especially resonant immediately after the same-sex marriage referendum.

Spendthrift or saver?

Spendthrift — I saw too many wonderful people die in their 20s and 30s as a result of AIDS in the 1980s to believe in deferring living — carpe diem!

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

I would have traffic-calming measures put on the road as it is now extremely busy and traffic speeds by continuously.

What makes you happy?

Getting immersed in a good book.

How would you like to be remembered?

When you’re gone, you’re gone! Possibly as a footnote in Irish LGBTQ+ history?!

What else are you up to at the moment?

In October we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the UCC LGBT Staff Network and I am part of the group preparing for it. In 2007 Joan, myself and a couple of others set up the network with support from UCC HR. It was launched by the then UCC President, Dr Michael Murphy.

Our new President, Professor Patrick O’Shea, has agreed to be keynote speaker at our anniversary celebration in the Aula Maxima on Thursday, October 12. For me this is tremendously significant.

In 1980, I was elected president of UCC Students’ Union. As I was openly gay, I brought my then lover Mairtín to the Grad Ball. In November 1980, we founded a student GaySoc and after six months campaigning, it was denied recognition by the university authorities. Back in 2007, I reminded people of this and pointed out what a wonderful change it was to now, a quarter of a century later, have those same university authorities invite us to set up a staff network and support us in doing so.

In the decade since, more wonders have occurred, culminating in the same-sex marriage referendum — all has been transformed, transformed utterly!

I look forward to our anniversary event being a celebration of all this!

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