Gay Travel in Ireland

Dublin's Panti Bar in Capel Street - a LGBT hotspot
© Bernd Biege 2016

Given the sometimes old-fashioned reputation of the country, it is normal to wonder about the state of Gay Travel in Ireland. For anyone in the LGBT community, the classic picture of Ireland as a very religious and generally quite conservative country may not bode well for travel plans. But take heart - travel in Ireland is generally problem-free, whatever your sexual orientation or identification might be as long as you are as safety-conscious as you would be in any foreign city or country. Ireland has become a much more gay-friendly country with the referendum passing of the Thirty-fourth Amendment which amended the Constitution of Ireland to permit same-sex marriage in 2015.

Though generally, it might make sense to adopt a low profile in the more rural areas.

Gay Ireland - A Complicated Story

Despite the high national esteem for the poet Oscar Wilde, the actor Mícheál Mac Liammóir or the nationalist Roger Casement, homosexuals and especially gay men were not historically celebrated or widely accepted in Ireland's even more recent history. As a result, the LGBT community has long been used to living very much in the closet.

In the mid-1970s both the Irish Gay Rights Movement and the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association started their fight against discrimination and for law reform. The Hirschfeld Centre, a community center for lesbians and gays in Dublin's Fownes Street, became the focus of activities after its official opening on Saint Patrick's Day 1979. Legal struggles were initiated by David Norris, a Joyce expert, gay rights campaigner and Senator. But only in 1993 was male homosexuality (or rather "buggery between persons") finally decriminalized in Ireland.

Then, in 2015, Ireland approved an amendment to the constitution via popular referendum to recognize same-sex marriage.

Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in Ireland

Ireland today prides itself in being an inclusive, non-discriminatory society which essentially means that being gay is not a crime in itself anymore and that you may openly follow your sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this does not imply acceptance by every single Irish citizen. In some circles, homosexuality is still regarded as sinful and/or an aberration - even an illness.

On the other hand, the LGBT community has established itself in Ireland and feels no need to live in hiding anymore - for more on Ireland's gay scene see below. But note that this is a fairly recent development and that most openly gay Irish are young. The older generation often preferring to stay in the closet.

While discrimination against people identifying as LGBT is officially frowned upon, it still exists. Open displays of same-sex affection will in many places at least raise eyebrows and gay men enquiring about a double room may suddenly find the B&B hopelessly overbooked. Openly gay couples may also attract snide, rude, insulting or downright threatening remarks in pubs. Fortunately, most aggression stops at the verbal stage.

However, as a sign of the changing times and wider acceptance, Ireland elected its first openly gay head of state in 2017. Leo Eric Varadkar became the fourth ever openly gay leader globally.

The Gay Scene in Ireland

Today Ireland has a lively "gay scene", especially in Dublin and Belfast. Some favorite hang-outs like the "George" in Dublin are clearly identifiable by their use of the rainbow flag, others are far more discreet. The best bet for visitors who want to meet other gay people is to obtain a copy of GCN, the Gay Community News, a monthly magazine with comprehensive listings.

Marriage Equality and Panti Bliss

In 2015 Ireland became the first country in the world to get marriage equality by popular demand - a hotly contested referendum decided on henceforth calling all unions between two consenting adults marriage, regardless of the sexes involved. And Ireland also gained an openly gay Health Minister in the same year (Leo Varadkar had his coming out on national radio in January and is now the Prime Minister). In 2016, the prominent lesbian campaigner Katherine Zappone was made Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

Who'd have thought so just twenty or so years ago?

The Pantibar run by Panti Bliss (the stage name of Rory O'Neill, Ireland's most public, though not always popular, drag queen) on Dublin's Northside (Capel Street, Dublin 1, website pantibar.com) has become a rallying point for many of the more extrovert members of the LGBT community, while The George is the best known and well-established gay pub just across the river (89 South Great George's Street, Dublin 2, website thegeorge.ie).

What About Homophobia in Ireland?

Yes, there still is still homophobia in Ireland, and some very outspoken concerned citizens might make LGBT visitors less than welcome with the usual sneers and insults, openly or in a more disguised way. Homophobic attacks are also not unheard of, so again bear in mind that while Ireland, in general, should be regarded as a "safe" destination, you might experience some negativity from the less enlightened substratum of society.