Saluting the Diceman: a life in pictures
As friends gather this Easter week to mark his birthday and the 20th anniversary of his death, we salute Thom McGinty with a gallery of images from our archives
The Diceman Thom McGinty during the lesbian and gay "kiss- in" outside Leinster House, in June 1988, as part of Lesbian and Gay Pride Week. Photograph: Paddy Whelan / The Irish Times
Thom McGinty's appearance on Grafton Street in the grey 1980s of recessionary Dublin was a beacon of light. The Diceman, as he became known from his costume for the games shop, would typically remain utterly still in his brilliantly ridiculous costumes, a piece of human art on a then mainly dull commercial street. Passers-by might be ignored totally or rewarded with a wink or more often a mocking expression. Children or drunks might pinch or poke, but the statue would not react. Dublin had not seen anything like it. In time, his fame grew and a walk down the street without spotting Thom was a disappointment, especially for photographers like this one seeking a stand-alone image for the following day's paper.
Thom was born in Glasgow in 1952 and was a member of the Strathclyde Theatre Group. He came to Ireland in 1976 and worked initially as a nude model at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin. His street performances attracted big audiences and when Gardai sought to move him on he did so in the slowest of slow motions. A big part of Thom’s performances were the costumes themselves, always eye-catching and sometimes provocative. He could be the Mona Lisa, Dracula, a light bulb, a teapot, or a clown. A particularly skimpy outfit attracted further Garda attention and he was charged in 1991 with a breach of the peace for wearing a costume which could offend public decency.
When Thom acquired a manager, Aidan Murphy, (and street protector against those pinching children) he started doing more corporate work and appearing at commercial launches and the like. His costumes however rarely succumbed to commercial crassness, there always remained a surreal streak, a rebel spirit sometimes sending up the very product it promoted. He made several theatre appearances including a part in the Gate Theatre production of Salome directed by Stephen Berkoff. Not knowing where and how Thom would appear next was an important part of his mime art. Concert goers at a Mary Coughlan series of gigs in the Olympia, for instance, were treated to his momentary appearance as a horse during a performance of Jimmy McCarty's Ride On. The appearance in a flash of light and smoke was so quick that viewers were left wondering if they imagined it. As a gay man Thom appeared at various events promoting gay rights before it was popular or fashionable. He also appeared at human rights demonstrations supporting such causes as Tibet and the Birmingham Six. In 1990 however, Thom contracted HIV and after a period of declining health he died on February 20th 1995.
As friends gather to mark his birthday and the 20th anniversary of his death, we salute Thom with a gallery of images from our archives. If you walk down Grafton Street today you can see many performers and pretenders but you won't see Thom, a true original - his likes will not be seen again.