GCN was saddened to learn of the passing of Terri Blanche on Friday, March 24, following a short illness. Terri was a guiding light for lesbian visibility in the early days of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, often bridging the political divide between gay men and lesbians.
After she came out in 1973, she began frequenting the bar Bartley Dunne’s, where she socialised mainly with gay men. As she described in an interview with Edmund Lynch in 2013 for the LGBTI+ Oral History Project, “the women at that time were maybe a group of ten by comparison to what seemed to be… groups of hundreds of men, so, I got pally with the men.”
In 1974, she joined the newly formed Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM), where she volunteered with Tel-a- Friend (TAF), the first LGBTQ+ helpline in the South of Ireland. She explained, “basically, if a woman phoned, I could be there – so that there would be a woman to talk to a woman, rather than having the men, who would be very courteous and fine, but you know, to talk woman to woman.”
Along with fellow members of the IGRM, she travelled to Galway, Roscommon, Dundalk and Cork doing community outreach. She also went on to run the first women’s disco in the Phoenix Club, the IGRM headquarters on Parnell Square, before the organisation disbanded and the National Gay Federation (NGF) was founded.
When the NGF moved to 10 Fownes Street in 1979, opening the Hirschfeld Centre, Terri and Kathleen Gallagher took on the franchise to run the cafe called What’s Cooking?.
With the opening of the Hirschfeld Centre, the offices of Tel-a-Friend also moved into the building. Along with some of the other women who were involved with Liberation for Irish Lesbians (LIL), Terri helped to establish Dublin Lesbian Line, which is still in operation today.
Two close friends of Terri Blanche; Myra McGuirke and Helena Powell, spoke to GCN paying tribute to her legacy.
“I met Terri in the ‘80s. She was a masseuse living in an apartment on the South Side of Dublin. I did crystal and body workshops with her upstairs in Bewley’s on Grafton Street. She always used to wear a pair of tan leather gloves which made me think that she was a race car driver. She loved to play pool and was the only woman I knew with her own pool cue,” Myra McGuirke said.
“She met a woman from Cork and decided to move there. I became her moving driver. While renting in Cork, she found a leaflet about a house in Kanturk, where she lived for 20 years. She then moved to Wexford and lived there for five years. She bought a wooden cabin in Bettystown last year and loved it. She had just started a writing group and had said last year, if I’d told her she would have lived there, she would have said I was mad.
“She was a wonderful, powerful person and did much for the gay community. She was the first woman out in those days. May love and light surround her.”
Helena Powell shared, “Terri was a trailblazer for lesbians in Ireland in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Unfortunately, over time she was airbrushed out of the gay archives, like a lot of women in history! She was the first woman to be on the lesbian line and was openly out herself at the age of 16. She co-started the disco in Parnell Square in the ’70s alongside the men’s disco. She lived her life in her own unique way and was always open to helping others on the way.
“Her interests were many, including astrology, spirituality, crystals, and reading, she was an avid reader. Her removal was in Kanturk, one of the many places she had lived in throughout her life. Stories were told, tears were shed, and memories were relived at her removal. Her cremation was in Ringaskiddy, County Cork, a perfect setting and service that was befitting a wonderful woman who was taken from us too young at the age of 66. May she rest in peace.”
The team at GCN would like to acknowledge the incredible contribution of Terri Blanche to Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community and extend our condolences to all her family and friends.