Donegal’s Gay Pride Festival and Parade helps shape new era in Irish rural life

When Pól Penrose spoke tearfully at the end of Saturday’s Gay Pride Parade in the Irish rural town of Falcarragh in Donegal and thanked everyone profusely for their support, he probably didn’t fully realise how truly history-making his efforts – and those of his fellow committee members – had been.

In Ireland, but more specifically, rural Ireland, and in an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht to boot, he and his colleagues, and all those who marched in, and watched, the parade, including my wife and myself, or hung supportive rainbow-coloured banners and flags from their homes and shops, helped break through yet another socially backward barrier.

The well-organised festival, which included poetry readings, film workshops, drama, concerts and online discussions both as Gaeilge and as Bearla, and Saturday’s parade promoted dignity, equality and fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTQ+), and their families.  

As Pól, a gay actor from Falcarragh who features in ‘Ros na Rún,’ TG4’s longest-running series, said to me during an interview for an article for this week’s ‘Donegal News.’

“Such a festival, BRÓD na Gaeltachta, is a long time coming, a celebration like this in an Irish rural town means people no longer have to move to bigger towns and cities due to their sexuality,” said Pól. “Though it was the first such event in any Gaeltacht, community, support was so strong our initial idea, a weekend event, exploded into a weeklong festival.” Pól co-ordinated the festival following a vigil he initiated after the death of two men in Sligo in April in homophobic attacks.

Maggie McKinney, originally from county Down who walked in the parade, summed up the views of many, “I’m delighted it happened, it was such an important event, promoting inclusivity for all.” Someone from Berlin said, “it was well worth the journey.”

There are probably few more experienced people than friendly author and archaeologist, Brian Lacey, to describe what a social milestone, Falcarragh’s Gay Pride Festival and Parade represented. Lacey, who has penned many scholarly books, as well as one entitled, ‘Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History,’ and a festival committee member living in Dunlewey, said, “It was a wonderful spectacle, one that clearly illustrates how Irish society has changed. It was fully supported by the community and businesses, most of which flew Gay Pride Banners. Keep in mind, long ago the Catholic Church burned people at the stake for being homosexual and in more modern times, gay people had to battle with issues such as AIDS and their civil and legal rights, with little public support. The same-sex marriage referendum here seven years ago was, of course, transformative.”

To all those, young and old, male and female, people of all religious and spiritual persuasions, who helped the recent festival in any way, shape or form, to be the success it was, I salute you and raise my glass to your long life and happiness.

Through your bravery, your vision, your determination, your sheer pioneering spirit, you have helped lead people – not just in Donegal, not just in Ireland, but in places far and wide – into a brand new emerging world of greater mutual understanding and acceptance. And there’s no better attitude than that to forge a better future for each and every one of us

That is an exemplary accomplishment, one to be proud of, one no amount of money can buy, no level of fame can achieve.

It was done through pure organisational grit and determination powered by an openness and a willingness to do more than just talk the talk – to literally go one step further – to walk the walk.

Bravo to you (us) all.

Is mise le meas mor, Sean.

Photos and videos by Columbia Hillen.


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