With his kind permission, we have reprinted Brendan Kennelly's appreciation of Thom McGinty, first written for The Diceman Cometh, a Halloween tribute held at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, in October, 1994.
“In the Diceman's presence, it is impossible not to ignore hustle and haste, hurry and hurry's mother. What other human being could turn busy old Grafton Street into an open-air temple of rapt attention? And what other human being could transform stolid, speculative middle age into pure childhood wonder? Time and again, bang in the middle of Grafton Street, I have been happy to join other children gazing on this figure, either utterly immobile or moving with a slowness so perfectly measured as to be almost imperceptible. Thom McGinty's magic has to do with his ability to mesmerise his audience, to lure them out of their busy city selves and to take them away into that land of perfect stillness where marvellous dreams are as normal as Bewley's sticky buns.”
Thom McGinty arrived in Dublin from Scotland in 1976. In Glasgow he had been involved in both street and traditional theatre and had also worked as an artist's model. In Dublin he had expected to take up a job in the National College of Art and Design once again as an artists' model but this didn’t materialise immediately. Short of cash Thom took himself up to the then Dandelion Market off St. Stephen’s Green. He dressed himself up, painted his face and sat still with a bowl for people to drop coins into. When they did so he would reward them with a wink. As he became more confident he performed the same character standing up and quickly became known as ‘The Dandelion Clown’.
After a little time he began work at the National College Of Art and Design and carried on both professions side by side. In the years to follow he became involved in the Grapevine Theatre Company and went on to form The Dandelion Theatre Company in Spiddal, Co. Galway. Although this Company lasted a few years it proved difficult to make it a financial success so Thom began to travel back up to Dublin at the weekends to promote a games shop called ‘The Diceman’ off Dublin's Grafton Street. At first he would do as he had done years before and stand totally still, using just a sign to promote the shop. However, as he became more popular, huge crowds would gather to watch him and this would sometimes block up the street. After being moved on by the Garda a few times he developed a very slow walk. This enabled him to move up and down the street, albeit at a very slow pace. As he moved so slowly it allowed him to maintain an element of stillness crucial to his performance. It also meant that he was constantly walking through one crowd and on to the next which helped to avoid blocking the street.
After a time the name ‘The Diceman’ stuck. Thom had left the Dandelion Theatre Company and was now performing full-time mainly in Grafton Street. As he became more popular offers of work began to flood in. From the mid eighties up to the mid nineties he became a landmark in Dublin's Grafton Street and also performed all over Ireland. Apart from his commercial work Thom would also perform on street to lend his support to various causes, Gay rights, the Birmingham Six and the plight of the Tibetans to name but a few. There was also an international element to his street performances. He performed in London, Seville, Berlin (before and after the wall), Moscow, Holland, Austria, Switzerland and France. He also had an intermittent Theatrical career and appeared in the Gate Theatre's Salome in Edinburgh and South Carolina, USA. Thom appeared twice on the Late Late show, once as he was coming to public attention in the mid 80's and once more in late 1994 to announce that he was suffering from HIV.
On Hallowe'en of that year a Tribute event was held in his honour at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin attended by his family, friends and a large number of his admirers. He died in his sleep on 20th February, 1995. By the time of his death there was hardly a person in the country who hadn't heard of him. Most people who had stood at one time or another and watched one of his street performances felt as if they actually knew him. Thom was born on 1st April 1952 and freely acknowledged himself to be an April Fool. His good friend, Charlie O'Neill designed a plaque to commemorate his life. It can be seen at the Diceman's Corner, Meeting House Square in Temple Bar, Dublin.