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Queering Ireland: Documenting the rise of the LGBTQ+ lobby in Ireland


PI Member
Oct 6, 2019
This is follow up to Beyond Magenta article here (Archive: http://archive.today/8sjEO)

Here is the current situation with twitter account holder Kelly (@kelly_justkel) and Cork City Council regarding the book Beyond Magenta. Archive here. Philip Dwyer situation to be updated.

In an attempt to understand why a controversial book like Beyond Magenta ended up on the shelves of Irish public libraries, an investigation was carried out and has revealed some of the internal practices of Ireland’s Councils in particular South Dublin County Council (SDCC) and its libraries.

Part 1

Irish Libraries

January 2019 Mick Fitzgerald, a journalist with Dublin City FM & TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland), interviewed two members/co-founders of SDCC’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, Ciaran Clark (Chairperson) and Sarah McHugh (Social Chair). SDCC’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network was launched in May 2018 (Archive: http://archive.today/zhJIk) and was the brainchild of Ciaran Clark. In the photograph, SDCC librarians Ciaran Clark, Sarah McHugh and Mark Ward hold the LGBTQ+ Staff Network banner while Cllr Paul Gogarty holds the rainbow flag.

(Note former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone in picture)

In this video Ciaran Clark states that Irish libraries are not censoring LGBT books and that of the 15 million books going through the Irish library system, ‘a good representation of those is LGBT material’. He then says, ‘Certainly in South Dublin there are a few staff that are specifically buying in LGBT material’ and that the library service is very committed to equality. He ends by saying, ‘There’s not a censorship situation of books… we do split young adult, and adult, and junior. So, you know, anything that does have graphic material is going to be in the adult, but it is there to be found and that’s great.’

Ciaran Clark describes the various routes available to get books into the Irish public library system.

In this video librarian Sarah McHugh states that SDCC are ‘very inclusive’, ‘incredibly supportive’, that they’ve created a ‘safe space’ for staff members, and that she wishes to see these LGBTQ+ Staff Networks rolled out nationwide. In this video, Sarah thanks Martina Malone, Chairperson of Dublin City Council’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, for her support. SDCC’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network, along with TENI, assisted in the development of the DCC’s ‘Gender Identity and Expression Policy and Guidelines’ document. The Interviewer Mick Fitzgerald, a journalist with Dublin City FM & TENI, talks about the fact that there are only 2 LGBTQ+ Staff Networks in all the Councils, and in referencing Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fitzgerald remarked, ‘We’re working on that’.

SDCC’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network is not confined to staff but reaches beyond to the public, through library events and activities such as Tonie Walsh’s Irish Queer Archive exhibition on the 1993 decriminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland. Librarian Ciaran Clark states that SDCC’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network is networking with other organisations such as Dublin City Council, Outhouse (community centre in Dublin for LGBT+ people, their families & friends), and is trying to make links with other organisations to do training events with them and so on. Before joining SDCC libraries, Ciaran Clark was instrumental in revitalising Outhouse’s LGBT+ library.

During the interview, the issue of expanded identities is explored and the challenges posed by the ‘newer communities’ are also discussed.

As per Dublin City Council’s LGBTQ+ Strategy, librarian Ciaran Clark states that he’s ‘going to look at’ having an LGBTQ+ Strategy for SDCC. Priorities for the strategy are visibility, representation, education and awareness. ‘Trans issues is a big problem… just a problem of awareness… how to not misgender somebody, or even being aware that you are misgendering somebody’.

SDCC librarians Ciaran Clark and Sarah McHugh hope to see a centralised LGBT+ archive in Irish public libraries & LGBT+ history education programmes in Irish schools. Mick Fitzgerald refers to the trans archives he has been working on and also to Tonie Walsh’s Irish Queer Archive (IQA), Ciaran Clark saying that his LGBTQ+ Staff Network ‘would throw full support behind’ having such archives in the libraries.

In 2016 SDCC librarian Mark Ward (see photo above with Ciaran Clark and Sarah McHugh at the launch of the SDCC LGBTQ+ Staff Network) wrote a post, ‘Is a Once Hidden Culture Still Hidden Away in Boxes? The Irish Queer Archive and The National Library’, on Libfocus.com, a library and information management blog. In this post he outlines his frustration that the National Library of Ireland has failed in ‘not fully exploiting’ the Irish Queer Archive, ‘the history of my community – an archival history that was painstakingly assembled and collected by a dedicated group over decades – deserves better than languishing in closed stacks.’ Over the past 10 years, Mark Ward has organised events and exhibitions supporting Tonie Walsh and his Irish Queer Archive e.g., TedX talk ‘Queering Our National Cultural Institutions by Tonie Walsh’ at TEDxBallyroanLibrary and Walsh’s exhibition ‘A Liberating Party: LGBT Pride in Ireland Since 1974’ which visited Tallaght and Ballyroan Libraries. In turn, Tonie Walsh has supported Mark Ward in his endeavours e.g., https://archive.is/0alab https://archive.is/7iIYj.

10th/11th of April 2019, in the Killashee Hotel in Kildare, Mark Ward was a keynote speaker at the ‘LAI/CILIP Ireland Joint Annual Conference 2019 – Inclusive Libraries’. The theme of his keynote speech was, ‘The Library as a Queer Space: Investigating Access and Provision for LGBTQ+ Patrons’. [Link] Here’s a link to Mark Ward’s slides from his keynote speech:

April 2019, Mark Ward tweets to Glitter Hole, a ‘DIY drag collective’, expressing his shock at the cancellation of the Glitter Hole Drag Storytime event that was to be held at Deansgrange Library, a Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council library. [Link]

On foot of the cancellation of Glitter Hole’s Drag Storytime in Deansgrange library, a campaign was launched to repeal the 1929 Censorship of Publications Act which established the Censorship of Publications Board. As previously discussed at the beginning of this article, in January 2020, the Censorship of Publications Board concluded that ‘no action be taken against the publisher of this publication’, affirming that the book ‘Beyond Magenta’ could remain in circulation in public libraries. [Link]

Irish Queer Archive

Tonie Walsh, a former Chairperson of the NXF, is the founder and curator of the National LGBT Federation (NXF)’s Irish Queer Archive (IQA) and is the Chairperson of the IQA Advisory Group. In this video, broadcast in April 2020, Tonie Walsh discusses the current situation regarding the IQA which is housed in the National Library of Ireland, with Dr Mary McAuliffe, Assistant Professor of Gender Studies in UCD. Dr McAuliffe is also a board member of the NXF and is currently consulting with the National Library of Ireland regarding strategies to help the IQA go mainstream, as she believes, ‘Queer Histories’ are at the ‘centre of the national narrative’. Tonie Walsh wants the National Library of Ireland to digitise and mainstream the IQA and also wants LGBT+ history included in the Irish school curriculum.

National LGBT Federation (NXF)

National LGBT Federation (NXF), Ireland's oldest LGBT NGO, was founded in April 1979 with its HQ in the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar in Dublin, which itself had opened in March 1979. [Link] The centre was named after Magnus Hirschfeld who was a sexologist in Germany in the early 1900s. The centre was the first full time lesbian and gay community venue in Ireland and it included a café, a small cinema and a disco called ‘Flikkers".

(Flikkers Halloween disco flyer, 1986. Designed by Niall Sweeney)

The building was badly damaged in a fire in 1987, ‘but in its short history, the centre influenced and supported an important wave of equal rights, seeding the future campaign for women’s, civil rights, and the marriage equality campaign’. The NXF campaigns for LGBT+ equality in Ireland and abroad - ‘The NXF was instrumental in helping to establish the MarriagEquality organisation in 2007, a key national LGBT NGO that is advocating for civil marriage rights for LGBT people in Ireland. The current Chair of the NXF, Olivia McEvoy [now Caroline Keane], and the previous Chair, Ailbhe Smyth, are currently Board members of MarriagEquality. A former long-serving board member of the NXF – Orla Howard – is Deputy Chair of MarriageEquality… In 2010 the NXF joined the Fundamental Rights Platform (FRP) of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) to create better networks with civil society across Europe and to work at EU level to promote equality for LGBT people.’
The current Director of EU Fundamental Rights is Irishman Michael O’Flaherty, a former United Nations employee.

The NXF publishes Gay Community News ‘GCN’ which has received €342,000 from Atlantic Philanthropies and organizes the annual GALAS Awards.

One of the recipients of the GALAS ‘Person of the Year Award’ was the Irish writer Emma Donoghue – her screenplay, Room, was directed by Lenny Abrahamson and culminated in an Oscar nomination. Donoghue studied French under Ailbhe Smyth in UCD. Currently there is controversy around her children’s book ‘The Lotterys Plus One’. According to an online Canadian publication Rebelnews.com, the book is ‘promoting a four-parent polygamist, dual homosexual family’ and ‘features a three-year-old transsexual child, and has language that left parents of 8-year-old students mortified’. See Rebelnews youtube video. See archived version of the tweet https://archive.is/d3ybN. There are several copies of this book available in the Irish public library system in Junior Fiction, Juvenile Fiction and Child Fiction sections, some of which mention ages from 9 years plus. The live link to the catalogue is here and an archived version of the catalogue is here. - https://archive.is/D9von Emma Donoghue’s brother, David Donoghue, was Ireland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Trocaire refer to him as the ‘Father of the SDGs’. [Link this archive https://archive.is/A2AJG ] David Donoghue co-facilitated the intergovernmental negotiations for the United Nations ‘2030 Agenda’, helped to draft it, and he personally put ‘Leaving No One Behind’ in the 5th and final draft. Part of the United Nations ‘2030 Agenda’, embedded in SDG4 (the education goal), is the teaching of Holistic Sex Education. One of the controversial United Nations sex education manuals chosen was ‘International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education’ which recommends that children from age five should have an understanding of gender identities and should have the ‘skill’ to ‘reflect on how they feel about their biological sex and gender’.

Former Chairpersons of the NXF were David Norris, Ailbhe Smyth and Tonie Walsh – they remain close friends to this day. [Link] Ailbhe Smyth was Tonie Walsh’s French tutor in UCD in the 1970s. Smyth would go on to be a strategic advisor for the Marriage Equality 2015 referendum, a Co-director of the Together for Yes referendum campaign and Co-founder/Convenor of Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment. Brian Sheehan (General Secretary of Social Democrats & Co-chair of ILGA-Europe) and Cian O’Callaghan (Social Democrats TD) have also been involved with the NXF.

Current board members of the NXF are Caroline Keane (Chairperson), Steve Jacques (Secretary), Brendan Byrne (Treasurer), Adam Long, Dr Chris Noone, Dr Mary McAuliffe, Andrea Rocca, Claire Egan, Steve Sands. ‘National LGBT Federation Company Limited By Guarantee’ was set up on 3 March 2000.

As well as being the Secretary of the NXF, Steve Jacques is also the ‘Key Executive’ of the ‘National LGBT Federation Company Limited By Guarantee’, and he is also the ‘Nominations Coordinator’ for the NXF’s GALAS Awards. Steve Jacques won ‘OUTSTANDING role model LGBT 2019’ [Link], and was shortlisted as a ‘Diversity Champion’ at the European Diversity Awards. [Link]
Steve Jacques is also Group CEO for Key Assets and Fostering First - 'Key Assets - The Children’s Services Provider (Part of the Core Assets Group) which is an international children and family social services agency working in 12 countries'. In 2015 Key Assets and Fostering First supported a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum and they ‘got behind’ the NXF in printing their “Yesx10” campaign leaflets. [Link]
Here is a picture of Steve Jacques with former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone at The GALAS Awards. [Link]

In 2020 the NXF published its current policy priorities ‘to advance LGBT+ equality’. [Link] Adam Long is insistent that there is an urgent need for Hate Crime legislation that is LGBT+ inclusive and would like to significantly strengthen the 1989 Incitement To Hatred Act by lowering the threshold of proof required for conviction.The NXF Board member Adam Long states that they want to capitalise on the success they’ve already had over recent years, ‘socially reforming issues around the progressive agenda’. Adam Long has spoken in admiration of the controversial LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell, stating in 2014 that Peter Tatchell has been an ‘inspiration in the global struggle for LGBT equality’. [Link]

Education equality is seen as the next great social reform e.g., the NXF outlines their demands regarding Relationships & Sexuality Education (RSE) for Irish school children:

1: Make LGBT+ themes a compulsory element of the new RSE curriculum and applicable to all schools, regardless of ‘ethos’ (as per recommendation of All-Party Oireachtas Education Committee).

2: Repeal the provision of the 1998 Education Act that allows schools to teach RSE in line with the ‘characteristic spirit of the school’. The right of all young people to a fact-based education delivered in an affirming and inclusive environment needs to become the priority in this crucially important area.

3: Adopt the Scottish model of incorporating LGBT+ themes across the entire school curriculum.

The Dublin Pride Annual Political Debate is hosted by the NXF and for the last few years has been chaired by NXF board member Adam Long.

2018 marked a particularly important year for Dublin Pride festival in the months of June and July. It was the 25th year since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and it was the 30th anniversary of the founding of the NXF’s Gay Community News which was co-founded by Tonie Walsh.

21st June 2018, the then Minister for Children Katherine Zappone attended the launch of Tonie Walsh’s GCN30 exhibition in the Gallery of Photography Ireland. See image below of Tonie Walsh and former Minister Katherine Zappone:

28th of June 2018, the NXF held its Dublin Pride Annual Political Debate. According to Adam Long the panellists are demanding ‘great social reform’, following the success of the 2015 Marriage Referendum and 2018 Repeal the 8th Referendum, the next great push is for a radical overhaul of the Relationships & Sexuality Education (RSE) in Irish schools.
The speakers of this debate included Sinn Fein Senator Fintan Warfield and controversial British LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell in which he gave the infamous speech on the Sex-Ed Opt Out clause. [Link] Peter Tatchell is a Patron of British LGBT+ NGO Educate & Celebrate whose CEO is Dr Elly Barnes MBE. Irish LGBTQ+ NGO ShoutOut’s Executive Director Bella Fitzpatrick participated in the Q&A session at the debate as did Chairperson of the INTO LGBT+ Teachers’ Group, Cecelia Gavigan - both Fitzpatrick and Gavigan participated in the INTO Equality Conference with Dr Elly Barnes in Wexford, February 2020.

In 2014, Cecelia Gavigan launched the ‘Different Families, Same Love’ poster with teaching guidelines resource for Irish primary schools at the INTO education conference ‘The Inclusive School’, and Rory O’Neill (Panti Bliss) was also present and gave a speech – in 2015 Rory O’Neill was with Peter Tatchell campaigning in Brighton, UK.

29th of June 2018, Tonie Walsh and Fintan Warfield attended the launch [Link] of the former Minister for Children Katherine Zappone’s ‘LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018 – 2020’. For the LGBTI+ community this represented an historic moment as Ireland became the first country in the world to produce such a strategy – in September 2020 new Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has announced he is extending the ‘LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy 2018-2020’ into 2021. See here [Link] a photo of Tonie Walsh with Una Mullally, Independent Chair of LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy group and Irish Times journalist, at the launch.

29th of June 2018, Tonie Walsh attended a meal with Peter Tatchell and several NXF Board members (Caroline Keane, Dr Chris Noone and Adam Long) and former NXF’s GCN editor Brian Finnegan (now Director of Communications for ILGA-Europe) – during this time Brian Finnegan interviewed Peter Tatchell where he called Tatchell ‘legendary’. See image below from Dr Chris Noone’s tweet of the occasion.

30th June 2018, former NXF Chairperson Tonie Walsh attended the Dublin Pride Parade with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and his friend Sinn Fein Senator Fintan Warfield. It has been well reported now that controversial LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell participated in this 2018 Dublin Pride Parade with the now Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman.

Dr Chris Noone is the Chairperson of the Research and Policy Sub-Committee of the NXF – in this twitter thread he outlines his proposed changes to Ireland’s Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) e.g., Consent and ‘Porn Literacy’. He has also contributed to the development of the first LGBT+ Staff Network at NUI Galway, of which he is a member, along with fellow NUI Galway psychologists Dr Kate Dawson (see Dawson’s ‘Porn Literacy’ class below) and Andras Kolto (see his retweet referencing the 1920s below). Dr Chris Noone, of the NXF, has completed a study on pornography with fellow NUI Galway psychologists Dr Kate Dawson, Dr Padraig MacNeela and Professor Saoirse Nic Gabhainn (a professor in NUIG’s WHO Collaborative Centre). [Link] For more information on the controversial work of Dr Kate Dawson for the new sex education curriculum and her work on ‘Porn Literacy’ see here – [Link].
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PI Member
Oct 6, 2019
Part 2

Queering our National Cultural Institutions

In September 2019 SDCC librarian Mark Ward organised a TedX talk featuring Tonie Walsh’s presentation, ‘Queering Our National Cultural Institutions’. Tonie Walsh states, ‘But I’d actually rather imagine it was probably De Valera and his boyos in the early days of the Irish Free State, and they were all boyos in those days, making the decisions on our cultural behalf. Middle-aged men deciding what we could see, what films we could watch, what films deserve censorship, what icons deserved to be shared amongst us. How we actually interpreted our culture. How we defined our sense of Irish identity.’
Elsewhere in this video Tonie Walsh says, ‘The Sheelas [Sheela-na-Gigs] are emblematic of how we queer our national cultural institutions. And when I say queer I’m specifically thinking of LGBTI people, Irish people, but I’m also thinking of, well how LGBTI people see themselves reflected back in our national cultural institutions, how they also exploit those collections. But also to how we engage, how we seek out and subvert heteronormative and ethnographic discourse in our heavy hitters like the National Museum of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland.’

Tonie Walsh – ‘Ireland’s Godfather of Gay’.

Born in 1960, Walsh [Link] spent most of his childhood in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Walsh is a great-grandson of Hector Hughes, former Labour MP for Aberdeen (UK), and Isa Hughes, suffragist and founding secretary/manager of Dublin's Gate Theatre. Tonie Walsh studied History of Art and French in UCD and his French tutor was Ailbhe Smyth - both he and Ailbhe Smyth would go on to be Chairperson of the NXF. A DJ, Tonie Walsh, was integral to the running of the Hirschfeld Centre’s disco, Flikkers. During the 1980s, Walsh became Chairperson of the NXF, was co-founder and editor of the NXF’s Gay Community News (GCN), which is Ireland's longest running gay publication, and he came 2nd place in the inaugural Alternative Miss Ireland which was held in SIDES dance club in 1987. In 1997, he re-organised NXF's archive holdings into what would later become the Irish Queer Archive (IQA), now housed in the National Library of Ireland since 2008.

The 1990s saw an explosion in the LGBT rave and club scene. This was due to certain conditions of the time such as more relaxed licensing laws, decriminalisation of homosexuality, lots of available space for clubs in the city, a sudden unprecedented economic growth and social liberalisation that made Ireland attractive for business investment and for returning immigrants. In 1993 Walsh founded the Horny Organ Tribe which was a collective of performers, DJs and producers. The nightclub ran in the Ormond Multimedia Centre on Sundays and was home to club nights including ELEVATOR and Strictly Fish, which played dance and house music and attracted a crowd of sexually diverse individuals.

Throughout this period one of Tonie Walsh’s closest collaborators was Niall Sweeney who had studied in Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design (now IADT) in the late 1980s at the same time as Rory O’Neill (Panti Bliss). In 1994 Tonie Walsh, Niall Sweeney, Rory O’Neill and Karim Rehmani-White formed HAM Productions to organise new and diverse queer club nights in Dublin e.g., GAG, H.A.M. and POWDERBUBBLE. HAM Production’s flyers, designed by Niall Sweeney, and associated ephemera are part of the Irish Queer Archive which is currently housed in the National Library of Ireland.

HAM Productions and GAG

In the following video Niall Sweeney talks about how, in the early 1990s, the Irish gay scene needed a bit of a ‘shake-up’, that the gays were just ‘plodding along in their gayness’, and thought ‘what’s the funnest thing we can do that’s going to annoy everybody?’. They went to fetish events in London to get ideas, and then set up the fetish club GAG in Dublin. One of the GAG performances, named Pearl Harbour, involved Rory O’Neill (Panti Bliss) positioning himself on all fours on a ‘heavy-duty electric rotator’ and Niall Sweeney (Mr Sphincter), dressed in black rubber, slowly pulling a six-foot-long string of pearls from O’Neill’s rectum, swinging the beads over his head and throwing them into the audience. O’Neill agreed to do it because 'it wasn't boring'.

Rory O’Neill also made a ‘paint enema’, an idea he got from Leigh Bowery, who had given himself enemas during his performances. Tonie Walsh (Jelly Slut) would sit in a bath of warm green jelly wearing only a pair of rubber shorts and then had men coming over wanting to ‘piss’ on him and pour their drinks on him.

Another GAG performance, ‘Cake Hole and Candle Wax’, involved Niall Sweeney ‘wearing head to toe leather and rubber, lying flat on a table on the stage’ while Rory O’Neill covered him in ‘all different trifle mixtures, like jelly and custard and whipped cream. And she’s there whacking him with cream and hundreds and thousands and then got a big birthday candle and pushed it up his bum and got Niall’s partner, Frank, to actually light the birthday candle and then we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’.’

These performances ‘set the template for the rest that would follow’, Rory O’Neill stating that these types of performances gave people the ‘licence to be licentious’ and ‘permission to let their hair down’ - elsewhere Tonie Walsh has said that their ‘own innate madness and twisted view’ were encouraged during these times.

In the second half of this short video from February 2019, Mick Fitzgerald, journalist with Dublin City FM and TENI, describes his experiences at GAG mentioning ‘it was mainly djs and gimps’ and he goes on to describe Rory O’Neill’s ‘paint enema’ on a blank screen, saying ‘it was a great work of art’.

Wren Dennehy (Avoca Reaction), Director of the Irish Branch of Drag Storytime, says about GAG, ‘That was back in the good old bad old days where you could get away with that… I’ve only heard the legends of GAG’. Dennehy wonders if O’Neill’s enema painting is hanging ‘in some gallery somewhere’, and commenting on O’Neill, Dennehy says he’s ‘quite literally pulling things out of her arse.’

GAG and the Weimar Republic

In 2017 Brian Finnegan, former editor of NXF’s Gay Community News, interviewed Niall Sweeney and Rory O’Neill where they discussed their collaborations over the years. In this clip they discuss their memories of GAG. Niall Sweeney says, ‘if we did something that was outrageous or beyond a boundary that it just freed up everybody else there’. Rory O’Neill says, ‘we were like encouraging people to just really go for it and it was open to everybody, I mean it was very queer’.

The interviewer Brian Finnegan attended GAG in the 1990s. He too is an admirer of Peter Tatchell, in 2018 calling him ‘legendary’ and stating that Tatchell has fought ‘courageously’ for human and LGBT rights. Currently Brian Finnegan is working as Director of Communications for ILGA-Europe, an LGBTI NGO working on equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia.

Elsewhere in this clip Mick Fitzgerald, a journalist with Dublin City FM & TENI, in November 2019, interviewed Wren Dennehy on his show. Fitzgerald says, ‘One of the best gigs I ever went to in the last 30 years in Dublin was the GAG Ball… We had people wandering around with gimps it was wall-to-wall drag queens in those days because there was no-where else to go. But when I went to the Big Durty Queer Cabaret I thought this is the Weimar Republic… this is challenging and I loved it to bits.’

Wren Dennehy (Avoca Reaction), Director of the Irish Branch of Drag Storytime and Founder of the Big Durty Queer Cabaret, says, ‘I love that you say Weimar, that’s really where the inspiration comes from. Somebody said that to me on Friday night as well. That’s the highest compliment I could receive about the cabaret… I see a comparison there between that culture in the ‘20s and what’s happening now and that there’s a sort of window that’s open slightly and all the freaks are crawling out of it.’

Dennehy said that Irish Drag Queen, Shirley Temple Bar, an Alternative Miss Ireland winner, inspired him to become a queer performer. Wren Dennehy studied English and Human Development in College and for his final year thesis he outlined the lack of gender and sexuality education in primary schools. In October 2019, Wren Dennehy was a speaker at ShoutOut’s ‘Queering the Curriculum’ panel discussion, along with INTO LGBT+ Teachers’ Group Chairperson Cecelia Gavigan. According to Eimear Sparks, member of YouAct, Wren Dennehy said, 'Pronoun policies are really important. Gender neutral uniforms, toilets. Creating a culture of safety and openness among students and teachers so that they can be themselves… There's a school in Wicklow that just allowed gender neutral uniforms - that should be the case everywhere. It must be so difficult for a young trans person to navigate these structures, which aren't even conducive to their growth.' Wren Dennehy was an intern with ThisIsPopBaby’s ‘I Am Tonie Walsh’, a show which uses Walsh’s life as a lens through which to examine the LGBT+ rights movement in Ireland. Dennehy was to perform Drag Storytime in the Irish Museum of Modern Art as part of the Derek Jarman exhibition. In June 2020, in his new role as Director of the Irish Branch of Drag Storytime, he performed with Creative Ireland’s Cruinniu Na nOg, in conjunction with RTE and Dublin City Council.

Recently, the Arts Council of Ireland supported Wren Dennehy’s audio story for children aged 6+, "Sam and the Shapeshifters". The story features an 8 year old girl who is keeping a secret from her mother and says, 'I’m going to let you in on a little secret, on the outside I’m a girl, just like any other. I’m 8 years old and my name is Samantha, but inside me is another completely different person, and guess what, he’s a boy, and his name is Sam. Sam is the real me, but for a long time, I had to keep Sam a secret. You see, I’ve always known that I was 2 people, not one, not twins, but 2 people living in the same body. The thing is, most people only ever got to see one of these people and never the other. My Mam never knew about my secret double life, but that’s because sometimes grownups aren’t very clever, sometimes grownups are only able to focus on what’s on the surface, they can’t use their imaginations to read between the lines.’ The girl turns to another adult, her grandmother, and when her ‘strict’ mother leaves the home, the little girl and her grandmother watch TV in secret, in particular programmes on space. The child thinks that humans are ‘boring’, ‘compared to the endless possibilities that existed in the alien world’. She says, ‘space was for everyone, it didn’t matter if you were a girl or a boy or whatever' and that in space 'everyone was equal', and that 'nothing was weird, in fact in space, it seemed the weirder you were the cooler you were'.

Queer Notions

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Tonie Walsh and his colleagues in HAM Productions went on to build a strong working relationship with former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds’ nephew, John Reynolds of The POD and the Electric Picnic. Walsh’s ever growing community built up a social movement which was rooted in the domestic, social and political contexts of the time, and the queer club scene that emerged had a major role in mobilising political drives of Ireland’s social movements. In the late 1990s the Alternative Miss Ireland gained a strong foothold - it had a ‘long standing manifesto of subverting conformity through dancing, dressing up and having fun’; there was an attempt to ‘queerify Ireland’.

Born in 1967 in Dublin, Niall Sweeney was the first generation and youngest child of an immigrant family. He considered his parents to be ‘staunch Europhiles’ and they were ‘politically, aesthetically and culturally activated, both in Ireland and abroad’. ‘I’m a real egg-er-on-er,” Sweeney said, “It is something to do with an interest in puppetry.’

He studied in Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design in the late 1980s and frequented SIDES dance club and Flikkers at the Hirschfeld Centre, and became friends with Tonie Walsh in 1986. He used his skills as a graphic designer to create installations, posters and flyers such as flyers for the Hirschfeld Centre’s Flikkers disco and designed the first edition of the NXF’s Gay Community Newspaper. To this day he continues to design for the Irish LGBT+ community. In the early 1990s Niall Sweeney, Tonie Walsh along with many others began to experiment with new technologies in the club scene such as ELEVATOR, DEAF and D1 Recordings. Around the same time Sweeney, Walsh, Rory O’Neill and Karim Rehmani-White set up HAM Productions whose events included GAG, H.A.M. and POWDERBUBBLE.

Sweeney started Alternative Miss Ireland (1987-2012) and considers it to be one of the greatest achievements of his life, and he firmly believes in its ‘social, political, cultural and transformational power’ – Tonie Walsh was responsible for the music of the AMI. According to writer Dr Fintan Walsh, ‘The AMI has been an especially important forum for the development of Rory O’Neill’s drag persona Panti’. Regarding the persona of Panti Bliss, Rory O’Neill writes, ‘However, the truth is probably closer to Panti being a more passive participant, Niall’s “fully poseable life-size doll”, a shorthand symbol in his work for transgression and fun, a recurring motif. In truth it had little to do with me. I was just lucky that, for whatever reason, he liked to dress me up and make pictures with me in them’.

He considers Sweeney to be a ‘genius’ and currently Niall Sweeney is responsible for the artistic design of Rory O’Neill’s PantiBar in Dublin. Currently Sweeney runs his graphic design company Pony Ltd in London, ‘output at the studio ranges from popular culture to the avant-garde, from high-brow to low-brow’, and he continues to collaborate with his colleagues in Ireland who he has worked with from the early 1990s.

For over a decade, Sweeney, O’Neill and Walsh have collaborated with ThisIsPopBaby, a theatre and events production company, whose creators, Philly McMahon and Jennifer Jennings, draw their inspiration from Sweeney & Co.’s work from the 1990s. Walsh’s friend Sinn Fein Senator Fintan Warfield also performs with ThisIsPopBaby.


In 2010 ThisIsPopBaby produced a week-long queer arts festival across Dublin City called Queer Notions which featured visual art, music, lecture, drag, film, performance and politics. As well as designing the art work, Niall Sweeney participated in the festival, as did Tonie Walsh. Part of the festival was a panel discussion called ‘Queer Futures: Rehearsing The (im)Possible’. The event was ‘Part of Queer Theory, Culture and Society, a year-long interdisciplinary seminar series hosted by The Trinity Long Room Hub’ and was chaired by Dr Fintan Walsh (TCD). Mark O’Halloran, Irish actor/writer, was a panellist in this discussion, as was Peggy Shaw who in 1980 co-founded Split-Britches who are creators and facilitators of queer performance in the WOW Café in New York. Irish Times Una Mullally attended the Panel Discussion saying ‘Peggy Shaw was excellent’. In 2010 Dr Fintan Walsh published a book called ‘Queer Notions: New Plays and Performances from Ireland’ in which Niall Sweeney wrote an essay. The book was favourably received by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik. ThisIsPopBaby were seeking to build a community of ‘active citizens’ in order to create ‘a better world’. A committed community had been building which supported Rory O’Neill throughout Pantigate in 2014.

‘Part of Queer Theory, Culture and Society - a seminar series’
(Dr Fintan Walsh, Mark O’Halloran, Stacy Makishi, Liz Burns, Peggy Shaw. )

Several weeks after Pantigate, that support base strengthened and grew following Rory O’Neill’s Noble Call speech in the Abbey Theatre, a speech which is credited with pitching Irish queer performance onto a global stage. It was also a major factor in the success of the Marriage Equality Referendum in May 2015, where Panti became one of the key figures in the Yes Campaign. Panti Bliss is now an Irish global ambassador who travels the world for the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs campaigning for LGBTI+ rights in other countries.

Derek Jarman Exhibition in IMMA, Tonie Walsh and Peter Tatchell

November 2019, after 3 years in the making, Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) and its Curator of Exhibitions, Sean Kissane, launched a four month major retrospective of the work of British artist, filmmaker and queer activist Derek Jarman (1942-1994), marking 25 years since his death. Jarman was a close personal friend of controversial LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell and co-collaborator in the queer rights direct action group OutRage! that was co-founded by Peter Tatchell. Like Tatchell, Jarman did not want ‘mere equality within the status quo’, he wanted to ‘transform society’.

Tonie Walsh and Peter Tatchell spoke at the Derek Jarman Seminar which was held the day before the launch of the exhibition. Walsh’s long-time collaborator from HAM Productions (GAG, H.A.M., POWDERBUBBLE) Karim Rehmani-White, chaired the discussion, and Walsh was introduced to the audience as ‘Ireland’s counterpart to Peter Tatchell’. To mark the exhibition, Sean Kissane and Karim Rehmani-White co-edited the IMMA publication, ‘Derek Jarman, PROTEST!’, and it was designed by Niall Sweeney.

The exhibition also held a ‘Chroma’ 4 month programme based on Jarman’s 1993 book ‘Chroma – A book of Colour’, the plan being to ‘build new alliances across a diverse set of communities’ by bringing together ‘creative practitioners, educators, activists and designers to respond to ideas of ‘intersectionality’’ – Niall Sweeney, ThisIsPopBaby, and members of Glitter Hole (club/cabaret & Drag Storytime events) were amongst the participants in the ‘Chroma’ programme. Also at Club Chroma in IMMA, HIV Ireland launched a new community based initiative called MPOWER. The MPOWER Programme is a suite of peer-driven community-level interventions which aim to achieve a reduction in the acquisition of HIV and STIs. Tonie Walsh gave a keynote speech as did Sean Kissane, and several weeks later Senator Fintan Warfield tweeted about the programme.

In this video Tonie Walsh discusses creating a ‘New Republic’ while Peter Tatchell pays tribute to the people in the North of Ireland and the Republic for the progressive changes they have made over the last several years.

Public Relations

Tonie Walsh attended the event with his friend Stephen Moloney - Account Manager at DHR Communications, journalist and radio presenter on LGBT+ issues, and partner of Sinn Fein Senator Fintan Warfield.

DHR Communications is a ‘full-service public relations and public affairs agency that has been providing quality communications support to local, national and international organisations since 2004, focusing on public interest issues and services; spanning arts and culture, education, health and human rights.

Supporting all aspects of service delivery for clients, including: the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Free Legal Advice Centres, the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, the Heritage Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’.

Catherine Heaney is Founder and Managing Director of DHR Communications, former Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association, Chairperson of the National Museum of Ireland (NMI), Chairperson of the Irish Government’s forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which has ‘embraced’ the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations ‘2030 Agenda’. She is also a graduate of the prestigious executive programme on strategic communications at Columbia University in New York. Heaney volunteered for the Hillary Clinton election campaign at its headquarters in Brooklyn, New York in 2016.

September 2017, DHR issued a press release on the HIV in Ireland Survey, and attended the HIV Ireland’s 30th Anniversary National Conference. Activist Tonie Walsh spoke at the conference and called for a memorial that commemorates those who have died from AIDS in Ireland and this was backed by Sinn Fein Senator Fintan Warfield.

February 2020, DHR (Stephen Moloney/Sebastian Enke) issued a press release ‘Yes Equality partners with National Library on digital collecting project’, where it also outlined the launch of a major LGBTI+ programme of events planned for May 2020 co-curated by Tonie Walsh and the National Library of Ireland - Tonie Walsh continues to be the curator of the IQA in the National Library of Ireland.

February 2020, the National Musuem of Ireland (of which Catherine Heaney is a Chairperson) projected images of people from the trans community onto the facades of the interior courtyard.
December 2019, the National Musuem of Ireland launched the Rainbow Revolution exhibition which featured Rory O’Neill’s ‘Noble Call’ dress. Tonie Walsh featured amongst other well-known LGBTI+ people in the exhibition.

Unfinished business:

In an interview a 2018 interview with Mick Fitzgerald, Tonie Walsh said that he wants to finish what was started in 1916 and 1922. He believes we have ‘unfinished business’ and wants to tap into the enthusiasm of the ‘Baby Gays’. Walsh spoke about ‘political media work’ that he and Sinn Fein Senator Fintan Warfield did in Poland. He expressed his concern about its rising nationalism. He believes that Ireland is an LGBT+ role model for the world, says that Poland looks up to Ireland and that people wonder how Ireland achieved it all in 2 generations and believes that Ireland can give a helping hand to those that are being oppressed, who are suffering under conservative religiosity and conservative values. He also believes that we have to help the conservative LGBT+ Poles who are living in Ireland. In the interview Walsh also said he wants the 2015 Gender Recognition Act to be further amended. ‘We have an amazing Gender Recognition Act which we are now tinkering with again to amend’.

According to a Gript article, Fintan Warfield has said, ‘In relation to gender recognition, we want to extend gender recognition to 16 and 17 year olds, that would be what Sinn Fein supports, and then, allowing gender recognition for under 16 year olds with parental consent, and then where parental consent isn’t available, that the family court would rule in the best interests of the child, would be Sinn Fein’s position’.. Recently Warfield has said that ‘Pride is unfinished business’.

Club Chroma Chlorologia and Intersectionality at IMMA

Currently, the Office of Public Works (OPW) are supporting a project by Niall Sweeney in the Irish Museum of Modern Art called Club Chroma Chlorologia which is a follow-on from the ‘Derek Jarman, PROTEST!’ exhibition earlier this year – ‘The CHROMA project explores ideas of intersectionality, as it relates to themes of the body in relation to colour and space, identity politics, cultural blindness, forced anonymity and the theatrics of visibility and invisibility’. Also Sweeney calls on ‘visitors to unite in becoming agitators, visionaries and glorious outsiders. Rooted in the domestic social and political contexts from which the self-organised, informal queer club scene of 1990s emerged and its role in mobilising the political drives of Ireland’s social movements, Niall creates a space for playful transformation, experimentation and self-expression - inviting you to make Club Chroma your own’.


At the moment, controversy surrounds an Irish nightclub called ‘Bukkake’, which was setup in 2007 and is hosted by Buzz O’Neill, an Event Manager and ‘LGBT rights shouty type’ who also runs IrelandWeek which is a week-long event based in LA supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In this Facebook post Buzz O’Neill credits Niall Sweeney for this design of the Bukkake flyer. For more Bukkake flyers see here, here, here and here. Bukkake also runs another club called Sweatbox, in Dublin, along with Philly McMahon and Cormac Cashman. Sweatbox have worked with ThisIsPopBaby and Tonie Walsh. For Sweatbox see here, here and here.

(Bukkake Event poster designed by Niall Sweeney)

(Here is Buzz O'Neill with then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar)

(Note that THISISPOPBABY are also involved in IrelandWeek in LA)
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bells of shandon

PI Member
Jun 13, 2019
A comprehensive ,well researched expose of the LGTB+ Militant Activists section in Ireland.
My attitude to the Homosexual and Lesbian people of Ireland is the same as Queen Victoria.
'I care not what contortions they get up to in private, as long as they do not perfom in Public and frighten the horses'.
Queer Theory is part of the Cultural Marxism project, to undermine and confuse the morals of established society and destroy the cohesion of established behaviour.
I particulary am affronted by their attempts to involve children.
A dangerous, sinister and insidious group who have wheedled their way into Institutions where they control their narrative and attempt to impose it on us with propaganda techniques.
A classic example of Rudy Deutske contribution to the Cultural Marxist promotion,
by the 'Long March thru the Institutions of influence'.
They are an infestation and need to be routed out to prevent the corruption of our children.
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