3 Beresford Place, behind the Custom House on Dublin’s Northside, boasts an interesting history. As a hotel from the 1930s to the mid 1940s, it was a popular meeting place for gay men in the capital. This predated 1950s and 1960s gay-friendly pubs, Rice’s and Bartley Dunne’s, and was several decades ahead of gay community centres, the Hirschfeld (1979) and pubs, The George (1985).
For the last seventy years, the premises has been managed by the St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) to provide a “friendly location for visiting seamen.”
The always informative Archiseek website tells us that Beresford Place:
…is a short curving terrace of five houses built on an axis with the central dome of the Custom House. The terrace was designed by James Gandon in 1790 but was much simplified from his designs in execution but still shows James Gandon’s vision for the setting of the Custom House. Much dilapidated externally the interiors are relatively unremarkable. The terrace is named after the Rt. Hon. John Beresford who as Chief Wide Streets Commissioner was responsible for bringing Gandon to Ireland.
The Hotel Beresford at 3 Beresford Place was first opened in 1931 by a Ms. Mary Cahill. It offered a “most comfortable and up-to-date” stay with excellent catering and moderate terms. In 1940, the hotel was taken over by a Mrs McKeown from Co. Longford.
I’ve come across two brief mentions of the Hotel being a rendezvous spot for Dublin’s small and underground gay community.
Paul Candon in a history article, published in Gay Community News (February 1996), quotes an elderly gay man who said that in the 1930s “the popular social meeting place for men at this time was a hotel called the Beresfort” (sic).
The same person also pointed to the significance of the opening of the Parisian-style Pissoirs around the city for the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. These public toilets were widely used as a cruising spot for gay men for the next number of decades.
David Norris has commented on this activity and even specifically referenced the above public toilet in his 2012 autobiography A Kick Against The Pricks:
There was a hugely active sexual life in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s but it was concentrated in public lavatories, because that was where society corralled gay people. I find it hard to imagine that nobody seemed to think it extraordinary to have a queue as long as you might see outside a cinema along Burgh quay, at the corner of Capel Street bridge and Ormond Quay, every weekend evening.
The second Beresford Hotel mention comes from To Live the Impossible Dream: The Life & Times of Liam Ledwidge (1997). Author John Farrell remarks on a scandal in the early 1950s, that “destroyed many a career”, when a number of gay men were arrested by the authorities. He said that the “gents” concerned were known as “the Beresford” and that they used to “stand across from the current Liberty Hall”.
The hotel was put up for sale in 1945 and bought by the SVP to use as a ‘Seafarer’s Club’. Before Beresford Place, this Club was based at 12- 14 Eden Quay. Opened in 1910, it was advertised in the ‘Seaman’s Handbook For Shore Leave’ as a place that was:
Open day and night to all seamen without distinction of creed, nationality, or color. Accommodations for 7 officers and 35 men. Rates per day, including subsistence, 4 shillings and 6 pence, rates per week 35 shillings; rates per night, bath, 1 shilling and 6 pence. Check-room, restaurant, lunch-counter, reading-room, writing-room, library, billiard rooms. Entertainments every Wednesday evening.
While 3 Beresford Place was purchased in 1945, due to serious renovation work and other unknown delays, the Seafarer’s Club did not move north of the river until 1962. It had to temporarily close its doors in 1978 after a severe fire damaged the building but opened again two years later.
What kind of service did the Seafarer’s Club provide in the 1980s? An article published in the in-house magazine of Irish Shipping Ltd Signal (Autumn 1980) noted that the Club offered:
….dancing, bar, billiards, table tennis, library including foreign newspapers, television, chapel, telephones and a small shop … The members are all volunteers and number about forty hostesses and twenty stewards and run the Club for 365 days of the year … Looking through the club’s Visitors’ Book one discovers that (sailors) come from as far apart away as Greenland and the Gilbert Islands…
The ghost-sign on the building is still clear today:
So why did the Hotel Beresford become a popular meeting place for gay men in Dublin? It’s hard to know specific reasons but I assume its close location to the docks and the one-time Monto area had something to do with it. It was also within easy reach of Amiens Street train station (now Connolly Station).
Perhaps one or two liaisons took place in the hotel and then word spread slowly amongst the local gay population and visiting sailors that this was the place in the city to meet others with similar interests. When it closed down as a hotel, gay men probably still met up in the area. This makes sense if the immediate area was popular with sailors from all around the world. According to journalist John Farrell, locals who cruised in the area were known as “the Beresford” – in reference to the hotel that they used to meet each other in.
If you have anymore information on the Hotel Bereford or gay social history in Dublin (1930s – 1960s), please leave a comment or drop me an email.
[Note: The Hotel Beresford in question has nothing to do with the current hotel of the same name that is directly opposite the passenger entrance to BusAras. A converted wine warehouse, this was formerly known as Hotel Isaac with Isaac Butt's bar attached.]