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Norris, David (b. 1944)  
 
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David Norris began his career as a scholar, specializing in the works of James Joyce, but his involvement in the glbtq rights movement in Ireland led him to challenge the country's repressive laws. As a senator, Norris has continued to work valiantly for equality for all Irish citizens.

David Norris is the son of an Irishwoman and an Englishman. The couple had been living in the Belgian Congo, where his father was employed as an engineer, for fifteen years when Norris was born on July 31, 1944. Some six months later his mother went home to Ireland with Norris and his older brother, the plan being that her husband would soon join them. Instead, his job responsibilities kept him in Africa until his death six years later.

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A voracious reader and diligent student, Norris was accepted to Dublin's Trinity College, where he continued to excel, winning the prestigious Foundation Scholarship in 1965 after his second year of studies.

Joyce Scholar and Preservationist

Upon receiving his bachelor's degree Norris became a lecturer at Trinity, where he remained until 1996. His specialty is the works of James Joyce, whose writing he eventually began performing in critically acclaimed one-man shows. Wearing a white suit and dark glasses and sporting a cane, Norris brings Joyce to life for his audiences. Norris has sometimes used his performances to raise money for worthy causes. Among those benefiting from his generosity have been AIDS patients, battered women, and a disabled woman from the west of Ireland who needed a modified van.

Norris brought the same sense of excitement to the classroom at Trinity, where he was renowned for giving lectures that were remarkable for their depth and erudition as well as enjoyable because of his enthusiastic and flamboyant delivery.

Norris combined his passions for Joyce and for architectural preservation in a project that resulted in the establishment of the James Joyce Cultural Centre in Dublin. Norris had bought a house on the once-stately North Great George Street in 1978 and lovingly restored it. By 1982 twelve other houses on the street had been torn down owing to their state of disrepair. Norris stepped in to convince the Dublin Corporation to spare Number 35, the only remaining Georgian residence, which had been built in 1784, so that it could house a museum celebrating Joyce.

For over a decade Norris worked to secure private and public funding, as well as money from the European Union, to realize his dream. On June 10, 1996 Irish President Mary Robinson opened the center, which now attracts 30,000 visitors per year.

In his devotion to all things Joycean, Norris has also been a strong supporter of Bloomsday, June 16, the date upon which the events of Joyce's Ulysses (1922) occurred. Norris has called that work "probably the greatest novel written in the twentieth century--certainly in English--and one of the greatest works of creative imagination ever."

Regarding his promotion of Bloomsday celebrations, he stated in 2004, "I told Bord Failte [the Irish Tourist Board] thirty years ago that Bloomsday could be a Dublin Mardi Gras. Now, not only do we have a successful day, we also have a week of events, something which is key to drawing tourists."

Norris was an active and avid participant in the celebration of the centenary of Bloomsday in 2004. On that occasion he stated, "Bloom is right: insult, revenge, hatred--all these things are pointless and enmesh people in endless feuds and bloodshed. To understand the common humanity of people, struggling to make their relationships, their homes and families, to survive and create social networks and an understanding of the arts . . . I think Joyce's message in that is very clear."

Gay Rights Activist

Were these achievements all that Norris had contributed to Ireland he could be proud, but he has accomplished much more. He became involved in the Irish gay rights movement early on and continues to work to gain equality for glbtq Irish people.

Ireland in the mid-1970s was not a society in which homosexuality was much discussed, let alone generally accepted. Norris showed the courage to step forward publicly by becoming a founding member of an organization called the Irish Gay Rights Movement. The association soon divided into two interest groups, one that offered social opportunities and the other that campaigned for legal reform. Showing typical dedication, Norris worked for both.

Norris was among the founders of the Hirschfeld Centre (named after the pioneering researcher and activist Magnus Hirschfeld), a facility that opened on Saint Patrick's Day 1979. It provided entertainment, with a movie theater and a disco that occasionally drew celebrities including Elton John. The center also offered a library and social services.

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