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The Outing: LGBT Rights in Ireland

Traditional Ireland and contemporary LGBT culture combine...

One of Europe’s oldest and biggest matchmaking festivals has extended a warm welcome to the LGBT community. And, after 157 years of the festival, it has been worth the wait.

At first glance, traditional Irish and contemporary gay culture aren’t natural allies, but at the heart of both, you can find a love of music and arts, an appreciation for what has been fought for and a burning pride for what has been achieved.

Ireland is increasingly taking a liberal stand on gay rights with 73% of Irish people supporting same sex marriage being included in the Constitution. With gay marriage just around the corner, the time is right to celebrate in a unique spin on traditional Matchmaking festivals.

As buses full of people pull into the small town, they are met with streets paved with rainbow banners and signs declaring You’re not the only gay in this village! Inside the Hydro Hotel events are literally kicking off, with a same sex Céilí as hundreds of men, woman and those still deciding, take to the floor. Old and young, gay and straight, every type of person held hands and spun in time to the demand’s of the caller.

Joe, an 18-year-old from Dublin, was brought to the festival by his mother, who is staying with him at the hotel. "I want to make friends and I don’t really go out on the scene, so I thought this was a good start." he says. Later in the evening Niamh Kavanagh belts out Eurovision hits and one of the organisers, Dónal Mulligan, reads out a text from a young man who came out of the closet the minute he heard about the festival. Pride is in the air it seems. Many have chosen this historic event to come out. What better timing John from Gort says, "The outing is the place to come out. And everyone’s been fine, I guess I was just worried about the unknown."

The next day there are various trips to local historic sites and sports activities. Dublin-based drag artist, Panti, runs a series of workshops throughout the day and hosts a version of Blind Date. Later she serenades the crowd with a traditional Irish version of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. London’s Johnny Woo offers more cabaret before the club doors open. Veteran Matchmaker Willie Daly is on hand to pair couples up, but it is event organiser Eddie McGuinness, who matches the first couple.

The friendliness is infectious and soon the locals descend upon the hotel to join in the dancing and singing. Two sets of stag parties turn up and declare that they heard about the festival and knew this would be where the best fun was to be had. Down in the town, in full drag, Johnny Woo is mixing with the locals and newly converted fans. Séamus and his wife Linda (In their 70s) announce that this has been the best matchmaking festival so far. It’s not about being apart from, but a part of. The spin may have been about matchmaking, but really it’s been about so much more.

If only for tonight, there is love in the air and acceptance. Gay men dancing with stag parties, drag queens leading traditional music sessions in the pubs. The lines have been blurred now, the territories are shared. Not so much an outing, but more a homecoming.

Words: Dane Buckley (@daneacle)

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