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Interviews

Senator David Norris “My life has been great fun’’

Behind the doors of Senator Norris’ home

Story Highlights
  • “My FAVOURITE space in the house is sitting by the window in the kitchen where I can listen to THE BIRDS SING.”
  • “I LOVE meeting people but I’ve no problem on MY OWN. I am not LONELY.”
  • “I’m so LUCKY in that I have this BEAUTIFUL house.”

Senator David Norris is a former University lecturer as well as being a member of the Oireachtas; having served in Seanad Éireann since 1987. Senator Norris is a prolific figure in Ireland, most notably for his hard work in endeavouring to Campaign for the Homosexual Law Reform. In 2011, he also ran in the campaign to be the next President of Ireland but he was pipped to the post by the current President, Michael D Higgins.

After the Presidential campaign, he was diagnosed with li-ver cancer. Having bounced back from the awful disease and with an irrepressible vigour for life at the wonderful age of 76, Senator Norris very kindly allowed this publication into his home on North Great George’s Street to talk about the Georgian house he bought 40 years ago for a price of 25,000 Irish pounds, his life and his interest in watching antiques pro-grammes.

“When I was a child back in the 1950’s there weren’t any com-puter games and there wasn’t all of this entertainment that there is nowadays for kids. I had an Aunt who I really loved,’’ said Senator David Norris. “My Aunt had a lot of old leases and deeds from the houses that they had lived in, in the 18th and 19th century and what we used to do on a Saturday; we would take out one of the deeds and we would go and look at and see if we could find where the houses were and my Aunt would talk about the lovely fan-lights, the wonderful plaster work and so forth.

“I developed a love of these houses and we lived in Ballsbridge and when my Mother died I had to sell the house and I moved to a modern four bedroom house in Dundrum; I lived there for three years, I kept the house very well and I had nice furniture and after three years I sold it for three times the price I paid for it.

The neighbours were furious with me but they should have been delighted because I was setting up the value of their houses. “Then I moved to a lovely Edwardian house in Greystones with an acre of grounds and I used to slave in the garden. People would come down to visit me at the weekends and they would tell me that I didn’t know how lucky I was to have all this space and a lovely garden and I would tell them lucky my fanny,’’ he added.

“When I got more involved in public life, living so far away became more awkward and I was running a gay disco around in Parnell Square and then suddenly the numbers dropped. We were the first gay disco ever and a commercial disco set up because they saw the possibility of making money and it was been run in the basement of a house across the street (from this house) and I came around to have a look at it (the disco) and I fell in love with the street because I thought it was absolutely beautiful and I was determined to buy a house in the area.

“This house (my house) came on the market. It went to auction but I was away when the auction took place and I had assumed that the house had been sold but it wasn’t. 12 months later I bought the house. It was full of nurses, students, doctors and people like that and I said to them when you can move on please do.

“There was a very nice family living here and they lived in one room which was made up of smaller rooms such as a kitchen, sitting room, a bedroom and there was a bathroom down the corridor. I spoke with this family and told them I had asked the other tenants to leave as it was just a flat to them but I told the family that I wasn’t going to kick them out or put the rent up as they had lived here all their lives. It was lovely because I became a part of the family almost. “When the family died off, I took down the partitions and there was an old wooden Victorian fireplace in the room and I designed a marble fireplace and had that put in. David Norris

It is very much in the 18th century style,’’ Senator Norris went on to explain.
Throughout the four storey house, rooms are decorated in period colours of green and red, and the furniture is all in keeping with the period as well. Since buying the property, he restored the rooms to their original state and added his own personal touches including a mural on the staircase.

The home is full of family heirlooms and Senator Norris uses every part of the house. “This house is so quiet and I have a lovely garden out there. Unfortunately half of the garden and the mews had been sold off years before I bought the house. This side of the city had been the fashionable part of Dublin in the 18th cen-tury and a lot of members of Parliament and so on would have had their town houses on this street and on the surrounding streets and then a lot of them moved to London to be closer to the Parliament.

“The houses were then sold and they first of all became pro-fessional houses and then later on tenement houses. When I moved in here 40 years ago, this street was in great difficulty and its sister street Dominic Street had been flattened by the corporation, there were only six 18th century houses left on it and the rest were rather miserable corporation flats which have now been knocked down and they had the intention of doing the same to this street to acquire the houses and pull them down,’’ he explained.

“Working on this house has been a labour of love. There were financial pressures because it is expensive to do up a house and I didn’t have huge amounts of money, I only had my inco-me from Trinity and so on,’’ revealed Senator Norris. “I worked on the house one room per year and that made it an adventure. It was lovely to have a new place. The last room I worked on was the front room here on the ground floor.

I had it full with boxes of papers and manuscripts, documents and other things. I gave all of the stuff to the National Library and that cleared out the room so I put in a book case and a piano.’’ Earlier this year, he competed in the celebrity edition of the RTÉ One programme ‘Home of the Year 2018,’ alongside Lorraine Keane, Eoghan McDermott, Melissa Hill and Mike Ross.

Senator Norris’ home was crowned the winner of the show and he split his €5,000 prize money between two rather worthy charities. “When the producers of Home of the Year 2018 approached me I was surprised because I’m not a celebrity but then when I saw the other people I didn’t know them and in reality we’re ordi-nary people who have a bit of a public profile.

I also thought they preferred to feature houses that have everything in pla-ce, modern designs and they all have huge kitchens with big islands. When I was growing up, there was no such thing as an island in a house, you might have seen them in American films. We had a big house in Ballsbridge but the kitchen was tiny and there was a range cooker and a sink in it,’’ enthused David.

“I was very surprised when I was announced as the winner of the show. I gave half of the money to Sister Stan for the homeless. She is a lady who I have a lot of admiration for. I’m so lucky in that I have this beautiful house and there are other people in the area who have nothing. The other half of the prize winnin-gs went to Belong To and they have a very good programme to stop bullying of young gay people in schools and I think that is terrific. I was never bullied in school about being gay because I was an alpha male,’’ he said.

“I was very surprised when I was announced as the winner of the show. I gave half of the money to Sister Stan for the homeless. She is a lady who I have a lot of admiration for. I’m so lucky in that I have this beautiful house and there are other people in the area who have nothing. The other half of the prize winnin-gs went to Belong To and they have a very good programme to stop bullying of young gay people in schools and I think that is terrific. I was never bullied in school about being gay because I was an alpha male,’’ he said.

 

As to his favourite space in the house? “My favourite space in the house is sitting by the window in the kitchen where I can listen to the birds sing,’’ said a smiling Senator Norris. As a man who has already planned his funeral and has a eulogy prepared. He reflects upon his life and goes on to explain that he is someone that always had a lot of energy and he’s being happy. Over the last few years, his physical energy has been sapped by the cancer he had a number of years ago.

“I have organised my funeral down to the last detail. There will be a Haydn Mass, a bit of Mozart, two lovely little weepy Victorian hymns, a proper Communion service, incense, the works, the ballad of Joe Hill, and then a jazz band. I am also going to deliver the eulogy, I have already recorded it professionally. “If my life was to end tomorrow, I would describe my life as fun. It was great fun, he says with a smile. Living alone but being such an extroverted person must be a weird existence for him or is it? “I love meeting people but I’ve no problem being on my own.

I am not lonely. I watch antique programmes and politics; I love watching antique programmes because they are great! I also read quite a lot. I used to play Rugby but I woul-dn’t turn over in bed to watch it now! Although I would watch the French team because they have such nice short trousers and they show off their wonderful legs,’’ concluded a laughing Senator David Norris.

Source
Words: Emer KellyPics: Home and Build

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