Repeal the 8th: What A Long, Hard Trip It's Been for Women In Ireland

When Hot Press was launched in 1977, Ireland was a poor home to anyone who deviated from the Roman Catholic hegemony which controlled every aspect of Irish life. It would get worse before it would get better. But with the result of the Referendum to Repeal the 8th, we have finally come of age as a Republic.

I don’t give a damn what anyone says. This isn’t about triumphalism. It isn’t about wanting to rub the other side’s noses in it. It isn’t about shutting down the opposition. It isn’t about nastiness or cruelty, or anything like it. 

There are fundamental issues involved. There have always been – and it would be stupid and wrong to pretend otherwise. 

But first and foremost, the response of the Yes side to the result of the referendum is about something much more immediate, positive and beautiful than any of that. It is about a feeling, at last, of belonging. That justice has been served. That, after all these years, women will finally be treated with respect and dignity in this country. And it is about the happiness and the satisfaction that flows from that – and in particular from the fact that this is something that Irish people have voted for. Overwhelmingly.

There is no point in hiding it. When the results of the referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment came through, the feeling of sheer, irrepressible joy, and of release was, I don’t know... indescribable. It was a feeling after all. A sweet, powerful, emotional feeling. But language cannot fully express something like this, that sets the heart pounding, the pulse racing.

The euphoria hit first when the results of the exit polls carried out by The Irish Times and RTÉ came hurtling down the mojo wire on the night of the vote. The numbers were enough to take your breath away. There was a need to step back. Could this really be happening? Are you sure? 

I was in a restaurant at the time, with my life partner, closest friend and fellow campaigner through thick and thin, Máirín Sheehy. We checked the numbers again. No, we had not misread them. We started to receive calls and texts from family members and friends, anxious to share the news. In the restaurant, the staff, all wearing Yes badges, were also grinning from ear-to-ear through the after-dinner clean-up. There, and on the way through the streets of Dublin, I hugged and high-fived friends and strangers alike. At one point, it became impossible to quell the quiet tears of joy that ran down my face. 66 to 33. Incredible.

It was the end of a long, often dark, sometimes extremely hard, and frequently bruising, journey. But we had finally broken through to the other side. We had thrown off the old shackles. We had taken Ireland with us, out of the grim shadows, and into the light of a new dawn, a new day – and hopefully a new era.

It really was, in so many ways, a magical and historic moment. 


It is hard for people who weren’t there to realise just how horribly repressive Ireland was, to grow up in, in the 1960s and 1970s. 

The sneaky, claustrophobic, deadening hand of censorship smeared itself over every form of artistic expression here, cutting off or shutting down much that was great or potentially great. The most grotesquely puritanical, religiously-motivated complaints from a few twisted members of the public were taken seriously, and acted on by the petty zealots of the Censorship of Publications Board. 

Sex was the big taboo. Anything which implied that people might have a sex life outside the confines of marriage was suspect. Homosexuals didn’t exist. Books which strayed from the straight and narrow in their depiction of sex and sexuality were banned. Publishers were sucked into the web of repression. They took on the prejudices of the God squad, who snooped constantly, trying to identify and summarily crush bohemians and others of low morals.  

At the insistence of the Roman Catholic Church, contraception was illegal in Ireland. By all means, the privileged male elite of the Vatican allowed, with fantastic generosity, women could try to avoid becoming pregnant by aiming to have sex only within the so called ‘safe period’. But, in truth, of course, this was just a way of enforcing the idea that every sexual act should carry within it the possibility of procreation. And that less sex was better for everyone.

If you wanted to fuck, there had to be a risk of pregnancy. it was as simple as that. And, male or female, you could put up or shut up.

But what about blow-jobs? Or cunnilingus? They didn’t exist. Neither did masturbation, except as something that had to be confessed as a sin. So much of this brainwashing was carried out covertly. The church controlled the schools. They had been given a licence by a craven State to get inside children’s heads from the get-go. And they tried to: Christ did they try. 

I remember clearly one of the only fragments of what someone might have thought passed for education about sex and relationships in Synge Street CBS, where I went to school. “My advice about girls,” the brother in charge – a brutal, cold, viciously sour character who regularly punished people en masse – said to us, on the last day before the summer holidays, at the end of third year in secondary school, “is to stay away from them.”

The evil temptresses. They’ll have your trousers down around your ankles before you know it. They’ll use their witchy ways to force you to sin. The Jezebels. The whores.

I wouldn’t have known what the word meant at the time, but this was the patriarchy at its most pathetically hostile and prejudiced at work. These… (I need to take a deep breath and hold back here)…  these ignorant, celibate men… knew nothing about women. They knew nothing about romance. They knew even less about sex. Their job was to create an aura of sin and guilt around the whole idea of girls and boys – or horror of horrors, members of the same sex – enjoying one another’s growing sense of individuality. It was all about what you couldn’t do. What you shouldn’t do. 

This is what we were force-fed: the whole damnable wreck which is the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude to sexuality. To me, it always smelt foul. And it was.


That was in or around the time that I realised clearly, for the first time, that there is no God. I also felt, in my gut, that all of the secretive, noxious, shame-filled propaganda we were being fed was having a profoundly negative, damaging effect on everyone down whose throats it was rammed. It made me, for one, sick. I wanted out. And so I began to forge my own way.

I remember the McGee case, in 1974, in which a 27-year-old mother of four had to go to the High Court to establish her right to use contraception. She was suffering from cerebral thrombosis. Her life had been endangered during her second and third pregnancies. She’d had a stroke and been temporarily paralysed. She was told by her doctor that if she became pregnant again, her life would be at risk.

Her situation in many ways prefigured what happened much, much later to Savita Halappanavar. Neither Church nor State gave a shit about the possibility that Mary McGee, mother of four, might die. The courts came to the rescue, as they would – both in Ireland and, as with homosexuality, in Europe – on so many occasions subsequently, deciding that married couples had a constitutional right to make private decisions on family planning. The law had to change. 

I suspect that it was this decision which inspired a cadre of Roman Catholic zealots to demand that an anti-abortion amendment – the 8th Amendment – be inserted into the Constitution. They wanted to head off at the pass the possibility that the Supreme Court might decide that a woman – for example, one who might die if a pregnancy were allowed to continue – would be entitled to an abortion in Ireland.

Every inch of the way, attempts to liberalise the laws on contraception and on homosexuality were opposed by the Roman Catholic hierarchy and their bullying lay foot soldiers. The line of continuity between all of this and the referendum on the 8th Amendment is clear. Forget the devious, placatory nonsense which is trotted out nowadays. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to control – or to continue to control – women’s fertility and their bodies. 

The bishops, and their lay cronies, were determined to impose on all of us a set of conditions which would ensure that women would be forced to stay at home doing ‘women’s work’. And until 1973, the State had played along, insisting that women had to leave the public service when they got married. All of this was a way of subjugating women, an ideology which sadly has been at the heart of most religious thinking for the past two thousand years and more. And still is… 

I remember too when Gay Sweatshop came to Dublin in 1976. The decision of the Project Arts Centre to invite them was widely denounced. A Fine Gael Councillor, Ned Brennan, hit the front page of the Evening Herald. “We don’t want any funny bunnies in Dublin,” he said.

Doubtless, phone calls had been made by the Archbishop. Either way, Brennan was giving voice to exactly what the hierarchy were thinking: they reviled the idea of homosexuals and what they got up to between the sheets. The idea that this talented, colourful, politically motivated theatrical troupe might flagrantly proselytise for ‘queers’ here was unconscionable. It couldn’t be allowed in Catholic Ireland.

You thought the recent decision to force the Project Arts Centre to remove the Maser mural was bad? In the wake of the Gay Sweatshop controversy, the Project lost their grants from the Arts Council and from Dublin Corporation (as Dublin City Council was known then). Ultimately, through sheer determination and a refusal to lie down and die, they found within their number the resources to carry on. But the State had spoken. Gays could go and screw themselves. ‘We’ didn’t want them in Ireland. 

That was the climate on the run-in to the launch of Hot Press in 1977. Make no mistake: as a direct result of the over-weening influence of the Roman Catholic Church, Ireland was a sick, twisted, repressive and sordidly sectarian place. And I’m not even talking about the North. 


The first ever cover of Hot Press is a fascinating study. At the centre is our cover star, Rory Gallagher. Around him, is a mad collage of rock ’n’ rollers and reprobates. And at the bottom is a picture of the cabinet of the day, with Fine Gael Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in the centre. 


Now, look carefully behind the man who in 1974 famously crossed the floor of the Dáil to vote down a bill to allow the sale of contraception, which was being introduced by his own Minister for Justice, Patrick Cooney. Immediately over the right shoulder of Liam Cosgrave, we placed a picture of two men kissing. It was a statement of intent. 

Elsewhere on the cover was the then-little known future President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, highlighted by Hot Press for her work in the cause of women’s rights – and in particular for her handling of the McGee case. 

In those days, we were howling into the teeth of a gale. But at least it was a start. Ireland was a hopelessly narrow, bigoted, theocratic country, run for the benefit of Roman Catholics, in which women were routinely squashed under the heel of the patriarchy. They were abused and betrayed. They were marginalised and discriminated against. They were treated like dirt. And the insertion of the odious 8th Amendment into the Constitution of Ireland in 1983 put the dictatorial tin hat on all of that.

Ever since that first, scene-setting issue, Hot Press has campaigned for sexual freedom. We wanted Ireland to change. We argued for a more liberal, open, inclusive and caring society. But we also tried to act in that spirit. We gave an unprecedented freedom to writers in terms of the language they could use. We introduced the first ever mainstream gay column to an Irish publication with Bootboy. We ran a Sex Aid column that won for Hot Press a special award for pioneering work in relation to sexuality from the Irish Family Planning Association.

As we chipped away from the outside, the very foundations of the edifice of Irish Catholicism began to crumble. I won’t repeat every detail of the mounting series of scandals and outrages that cumulatively undid the Roman Catholic Church here: it would take forever. But the stranglehold in which they had held the nation was gradually weakened, enabling Irish people to think for themselves at last. 

It is enough, I think, to say that during the week after the referendum result, another scandal erupted, involving the illegal false registration, by the nuns, in a home run by the Sisters of Charity, of the birth details of children who had been adopted. And yes, that is the very same order that had wanted to control the new National Maternity Hospital. 

Some of the children were, of course, sold like livestock to doubtless well-meaning American Catholics. Over the ensuing decades, a rosary beads-long contagion of lies was foisted on both the birth mothers and the children, to frustrate the efforts they made to make contact with one another. The actions of the nuns, and of the institution that they ran, were shockingly two-faced, dishonest, loveless and reckless of the common good. 

It was all about the institution. It was about control. And in particular, it was about controlling women and their fertility. That was at the heart of Roman Catholicism. That was why the 8th Amendment had been inserted. And it stemmed, ultimately, from a blind fear, and a mostly unspoken and unacknowledged hatred, of women.


This is what we had been fighting against. And this is what was at stake in the referendum. Could this toxic mixture of prejudice, fear, hostility and condescension – “we know best” – be defeated? Could the Yes campaigners persuade the Irish people that they should, in fact, trust women to make decisions about crisis pregnancies?

It seemed clear from the vote in the Same Sex Marriage referendum, that Ireland had undergone an extraordinary transformation since 1977. Would that translate into a Yes vote in the referendum? This was the ultimate test.  

During a campaign in which every trick in the book was tried by the anti-choice mob, it was impossible to know for sure. They lied. They bullied. They bent the facts. They distorted the figures. They shouted the opposition down. They removed Yes posters. They engaged in a typically cynical campaign of disinformation.

They even roped in the Pope, to say that he was coming to Ireland later this year. And ‘indulgences’ were put on the table.

At times, listening to No campaigners hogging airtime, talking over Yes advocates and broadcasters alike and generally appealing to the very worst in people, a current of fear was impossible to eradicate. What if voters believe this – or even some of this – propaganda? Towards the end of the campaign the threat of “foreign” abortion clinics coming into Ireland was thrown into the mix, in a desperate bid to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment in favour of No. It was a new low. 

Might these throwback foot-soldiers of a moribund old Ireland succeed in worming their way into people’s hearts and play effectively on their deepest anxieties and fears? You couldn’t entirely dismiss the possibility.


In the end, Irish people saw through the cynicism and the scare-mongering. Approximately 70 percent of women are estimated to have voted to Repeal. It is, by any standards, an extraordinary statistic, reflecting a complete change in the complexion of Irish society. Almost 63 percent of men also voted Yes, confirming the scale of the seismic shift that has taken place.

But the most important figures are probably these: 85 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds are estimated to have voted Yes. And the percentage of Repeal-voting 25-to-34 year olds is almost as high at 83 percent. 

On the basis of these figures, the old Ireland against which Hot Press has railed is surely dead and gone: it is with Archbishop McQuaid and the Magdalene laundries in the grave. But this is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot. There is more to do. Much more.

For a start, women in the North are entitled to the same freedoms as those in the South. We must wrest control of the schools from the religious orders, whose dead hand is still at the tiller in this crucial arena. We need to create a healthcare system of which we can all be proud. It is imperative to find a way of addressing deprivation and inequality; to redress the democratic deficit; to act on climate change – and so on. 

But a fortnight on from the vote, we are still entitled to feel good about the country we all have participated in creating. 

We have finally left behind the kind of brutal, repressive, paranoid attitudes of the past, which dominated this part of the world in relation to sex and sexuality. We have embraced openness and equality. We have chosen respect. We have chosen love.

There is now an attempt to portray the Yes side as the new Hitlers (only worse than the old). This is a deliberate, calculated misrepresentation. Under the ancien regime, people were not allowed to act according to their own conscience in relation to reproductive choices – even where they were victims of rape and incest.

The difference now is that people will be allowed, within democratically agreed limits, to make their own decisions. No one who doesn’t agree with abortion will be forced to have one. No ‘No’ campaigner will ever have to fly to England to not have an abortion. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ were never the flip sides of the same coin.

Personally, there is one other point I want to make: my mother was a committed Catholic. She was perfectly entitled to be. I respected that right without reservation and loved her deeply. 

I feel the same about anyone and everyone’s religious beliefs, including Scientologists and Moonies: they are entitled to them. I have good and close friends of almost every religion and none. Ultimately, it is each to their own, until those views impinge of the freedom or the health of others. And so there is no justification whatsoever for giving any one religion control of the laws or the institutions, or the schools, of a democratic republic.

In Hot Press, we said that a Yes vote would be a vote for freedom. A vote for care. A vote for compassion. A vote for women. The equality agenda has always been a central part of our mission. We desperately wanted to help to build a better country. Well, this is what Irish people have chosen.

And so, in time for this birthday issue of Hot Press, it seems all the more fitting to be able to say a huge thank you to everyone who voted Yes. Thank you in particular to all of the people who fought so hard over the years to bring about this change. Thank you to Ailbhe Smyth, Orla O'Connor and Gráinne Griffin of Together for Yes – and to all of the canvassers and activists who put in the leg work that's so vital to winning votes. Thank you to the great citizens of Ireland.

Now it is the role of Government to legislate on that basis.

With the resounding Referendum result, women living in Ireland have been empowered in a way that would have been almost unimaginable when Hot Press launched 41 – or even more so at the time of the original referendum, 35 – years ago. Finally, we are a Republic at last.

Not a perfect one by a long shot. But we can work on that…


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The Message: And Then There Were Four

It is just over 40 years, since Larry Mullen put the note on the noticeboard in Mount Temple Comprehensive, which led to the formation of U2. As various contributions to this special issue of Hot Press confirm, that gesture changed the world for millions of people all over the globe. But that they are still together is perhaps the band’s greatest achievement...

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The New Proclamation – Repeal The Eighth

The Hot Press Collective sends a message to the people of Ireland

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Jackie Hayden and Peter Murphy For Wexford Lit Fest

Hot Press alumni are among the leading attractions at the upcoming Write By The Sea festival in Kilmore Quay

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The Message: Niall Stokes - We Should Adopt The New Zealand Model

The Minister for Skills, Training and Innovation, John Halligan put his head above the parapet in relation to the laws on prostitution in Ireland. As it happens, he was right.

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Irish people have moved on in a way that is genuinely impressive. Dr. Lara Kelly’s testimony on abortion is one example. But there is a new honesty among Irish politicians too that gives cause for optimism.

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DJ Paul Claffey Features In Moving Video of Likely Murder Victim Sandra Collins

The family of the Mayo woman, who disappeared in December 2000, have called for an inquest into her death...

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A Message to Nice: "Our hearts are with the bereft people of Nice in this terrible moment."

Anyone who has experienced the manifest beauty and wonderful joie-de-vivre of Nice at its best will have been deeply moved at the shocking mass murder on the Promenade des Anglais July 18. But Europe must look into its own heart too, to find answers..

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HMV Not Aiming To Take On Netflix!

Reports that HMV are to close down their four Irish stores have been confirmed – but news reports that the company’s new online platform will go head to head with streaming giant, Netflix, are not accurate.

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Virgin Media Secures Coronation Street and Emmerdale For 10 Years

Details are emerging of the deal, concluded yesterday, which saw Virgin Media – owners of TV3 – buy UTV Ireland

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The UK referendum was won by the Leave side on the promise that Britain would take back control of its borders. Their victory will stoke far right, anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent.

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Brady, Hendrick and McCarthy Star As France Beat Ireland

For a wonderful 60 minutes, it seemed that Ireland might just oust the hosts France from Euro 2016. That dream may have died as a result of errors in Lyons yesterday – but the sense that Irish football is on the rise once more is a wonderfully encouraging one. By Niall Stokes.

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Wes Hoolahan The Hero As Ireland Draw With Sweden

It was an enthralling day of football at Euro 2016, with Ireland getting off to a solid start in Group E – only to be trumped by a brilliant Italian win over Belgium.

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Stop everything, Euro 2016 is upon us!

Irish Water and Repealing the 8th can take a back-seat as the Euros kick-off in France. Now all we need are a few Shane Long hat-tricks to seal the deal...

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From The Archives: Let There Be Light On Same Sex Marriage

A year on from our historic and momentous 'Yes' vote on Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum, we look back at Niall Stokes' pre-vote message urging the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respect

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The Message: It Is Time to Educate Together

Religious control of schools promotes inequality, prejudice, division – and worse. It is also against the founding spirit of the Republic. It must be challenged now.

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Guy Clark: After David Bowie and Prince Another Genius Departs

Guy Clark was one of the greatest songwriters of the modern era – and in Old No.1, he made one of the most extraordinary and enduring albums of all time. By Hot Press editor, Niall Stokes

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The Message: Farewell to a Legend

Prince was the latest in a long line of black artists - from Sam Cooke and Otis Redding to Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye - to push the envelope, both musically and culturally...

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The Message: Our Patience is Running Out

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need to end the posturing and hammer out a deal, which will provide the country with a sustainable government.

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The Message: 1916: History In The making

The Proclamation of 1916 was a powerful document. In recalling the momentous events of a hundred years ago, it is important not just to honour those who took part in the Rising, but- even more so- to see what we can learn in order to best shape our future...

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The Message: The Party's Over

Where now for the Labour Party, after an electoral annihilation the scale of which outstripped all their worst fears?

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The Message - Niall Stokes on the election's burning issues

As the nation heads to the polls, it’s vital to consider not just the candidates vying for our votes, but the type of country in which we want to live

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An Interview With Enya: She Moves In Mysterious Ways

When Enya released Watermark in 1988, it WAS the beginning of one of the most remarkable chapters in the story of Irish music. With Nicky Ryan and Roma Ryan ever-present as collaborators, 80 million album sales and dozens of awards followed. Now, after a seven year hiatus, she is back with a new record, Dark Sky Island, and a determination to take the collective’s music to the world in a different way.

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The Message: There Went the Bad Times

Darkness seemed to be everywhere in 2015. It is hard to maintain any sense of hope, when barbarism is so militantly on the rise. But if we don't, we surely will be lost...

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The Message: From the Miami Showband to Le Bataclan

The orchestrated jihadist attacks on Paris were an abomination. And the worst of the atrocities took place at a rock gig in the Bataclan, where 89 people died. So where do we go from here?

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The Message: The U2 Boys Are Back In Town

As the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour finally approaches Irish shores, it's time to once again celebrate U2 - not just the best of Irish, but the greatest rock band in the world.

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The Message: The Church's Control Of Education Must End

As recently highlighted by Roopesh Panicker, it is outrageous that, in 2015, educational discrimination on the basis of religion is still the norm in Ireland.

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The Message: It's Not Easy Being Green

After the high of beating the World Champions, neanderthal tactics and selections by Martin O'Neill ensured that The Boys In Green could not match the Sunday heroics of our rugby team...

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The Message: Why Mental Health Needs a Re-Evaluation

We've come a long way since the '60s, with music, literature, movies, TV and journalism all playing their part to reduce the stigma of mental illness. But reason must still prevail if we are to continue to make strides.

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The Message: Shelter From The Storm

With Europe's response to the refugee crisis lacking in effectiveness and empathy, the threat of ISIS suggests WB Yeats' most chilling words are now perfectly fitting for these times...

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The Message: Johnny Lyons: An Appreciation

Amidst the shock and grief of Johnny Lyons' premature passing, we pause to give thanks to a truly unique character for the countless laughs and many golden memories he gave us. Shine on, sir...

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The Message: No Homes To Go To

As rental prices of houses and apartments skyrocket, especially in Dublin, thousands of Irish men, women and – unforgivably – children find themselves at grave risk of homelessness. Between them, local politicians and the Government must find a solution – and fast...

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The Message: The Dope Show

It is easy to vilify those who take banned substances in the pursuit of sporting glory, but some of those who would be named and shamed are far more sympathetic figures than we would like to admit...

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The Message: Rockin' All Over the World

...Or Ireland at least. Blazing rows erupted and staff members had to be pried apart, but the votes are in and the 50 best Irish gigs since Hot Press's inception have been settled on.

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Berkeley: A Cosmic Injustice

The response to the tragedy in Berkeley was powerful and moving. But it is hard to listen to celebrities claiming a special relationship with God, when there are so many victims of tragedy – and of oppression– to think about...

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The Message: When I Was A Cowboy...

Sunday June 14 marks the 20th anniversary of the legendary Rory Gallagher's tragic death. While the world has changed in many ways, the trail-blazing guitarist's impact is still keenly felt...

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The Message: The Systematic Oppresson of Gays is Over

It was a joy to be alive in Dublin on the day the result of the referendum was announced. But there is still some way to go in the campaign for the separation of Church and State...

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Patti Smith Interview

"We're uncompromising. We're uncompromising to a fault I think. Because sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we wind-up up blind alleys. You know. Maybe Radio Ethiopia sucks. I Don't know. Me and Patti are the only ones that like it in the world. But I don't care 'cos when we put that on we feel great." - Lenny Kaye [First Published in Hot Press Volume 2 No 7, September 1978]

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Let There Be Light

The referendum on same sex marriage is an opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respect – and in doing so to show the rest of the world what these words can really mean...

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Five Irish Albums in Top 10

With Hozier, HamsandwicH, Paul Brady, Le Galaxie and Kodaline all doing well, we are witnessing a small boom in Irish music. So how can we ensure that it lifts an even greater number of Ireland’s finest into the charts?

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The Message: We Need To Talk About Charlie

Irish people who genuinely believe in free speech need to support the scrapping of our blasphemy laws.

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The Message: This Nation's Saving Grace

These are turbulent times, as Sinn Fein and socialist Independents find themselves in the unprecedented situation of topping the opinion polls. However you view this, pause to be thankful that there is no hard-Right movement of significance in Ireland, and no apparent appetite for one...

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Glen Hansard Unveils New Songs At Film Fundraiser

It was one of those special Dublin nights. The occasion was a fund-raiser for a new short film, entitled Descend, directed by Hedi Rose, and written by Irish-based Texan screenwriter Margaret Miller. The location was upstairs in The 51 Bar on Haddington Road.

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