Christopher Robson Photographic Collection

Christopher Robson, 1941-2013, was many things in his life – an architect, a trade union activist, a photographer, a sailor, a keen traveller, a great cook who could make anything better “by adding a bottle of something”, and always excellent company. He loved his family, his friends, and his partner. But another facet of Christopher’s life was his sexuality. He was gay. And he was gay in an Ireland where diversity was discouraged, and homosexuality was illegal. After an early struggle with his sexuality, Christopher embraced his identity, and worked steadily and tenaciously for decades to win civil, legal, and social equality for LGBT+ people in Ireland. When Christopher died in 2013, Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland, said: “Christopher made an immeasurable contribution to Irish society, believing as he did in the inherent freedom and dignity of each and every person. He gave unstintingly of his time and immense talent to promote and achieve equality in Ireland”.

During his many decades of gay activism, Christopher also took thousands of photographs, many charting Dublin Pride’s growth in scale, ambition, and confidence. In 2015, in accordance with Christopher’s wishes, his partner Bill Foley generously donated 2,000 photographs dating from 1992-2007 to our national collections. These gorgeous photographs ensure LGBT+ representation in Ireland’s story.

The following biographical information was kindly contributed by Bill Foley, Christopher Robson’s partner...

Christopher Robson was born in Dublin on 29 January 1941. He went to Gonzaga College, and then on to University College Dublin where he studied architecture, alongside a growing interest in photography. Christopher worked as an architect in London, and travelled and worked in the Middle East and North Africa. By 1972, Christopher was back in Dublin, working as a research architect in the Office of Public Works. He came out in the early seventies after a long struggle with his sexuality, and met Bill Foley, the love of his life, in 1978. They set up home together in Ranelagh, Dublin. Christopher got involved in gay rights activism with Bill’s encouragement.

Involved is an understatement. Christopher was a founder member of the Dublin Lesbian and Gay Men’s Collectives, of Gay Health Action, and of GLEN, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, of which he was also sometimes co-chair. He was a special advisor to the World Health Organisation, secretary to the European Council of AIDS Service Organisations, and a council member of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. From 1982 until his untimely death in 2013, Christopher was at the heart of virtually every advancement in Irish LGBT+ rights.

And Christopher undertook all of this activism in “spare” time from his very busy career as senior architect in the Farm Development Service of the Department of Agriculture. Such was his influence on Irish farm buildings and farm landscape development that the Irish Landscape Institute made him an Honorary Member in 2000. And then there was his photography. All through the years that  Christopher was helping to shape Ireland in many ways, he used his camera to capture the bravery, determination, and ingenuity of his fellow LGBT+ activists. Christopher’s photographs from 1992 to 2007 take us on a colourful, insightful, and ultimately joyous journey.

On 11 March 2013, Christopher and Bill Foley were Civilly Partnered, after 35 happy years together. Christopher died from cancer 12 days later.

Eviction, Moyasta, Co. Clare, ca. 1886-1890 (LROY 1767).
Eviction, Moyasta, Co. Clare, ca. 1886-1890 (LROY 1767).
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