A question of taste with Tonie Walsh

By Des O’Driscoll

Tonie Walsh (58) says he’s been making a show of himself his whole life, but at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, he’s getting up on stage to do so. 

Tonie Walsh begins his new show at the Peacock in Dublin on November 27.

Running from November 27 to December 1, I Am Tonie Walsh, produced by ThisisPopBaby, has the Clonmel man telling the story of Ireland’s seismic social change, from the perspective of somebody who has lived through it, gloriously, after dark.

Known as Ireland’s ‘Godfather of Gay’, Walsh has fought for civil rights — for housing rights, women’s rights, and gay rights — for decades. He’s also managed to be a DJ, club impresario, historian, activist and storyteller. www.thisispopbaby.com

Best recent book you’ve read:

Diarmaid Ferriter’s Ambiguous Republic is a sprawling overview of Ireland in the 1970s, my favourite decade.

Best recent film:

Cold War. Utterly heart-wrenching story of star-star-crossed lovers in Poland, after WWII.

Best recent show you’ve seen:

Mary Swanzy’s retrospective, ‘Voyages’, at IMMA is a reminder of the woman’s exceptional talent and utterly modern sensibility. More people need to know of her.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘Sheherazade’ is a beloved favourite I return to time and time again. Gorgeous composition, brilliantly colourful orchestration.

First-ever piece of music or art or film or gig that really moved you:

Nina Simone’s Baltimore album floored me the first time I heard it (back in the ’80s).

The best gig or show you’ve ever seen (if you had to pick one!):

Pet Shop Boys, in 1990, at Wembley Arena, directed by the late film-maker Derek Jarman.

Tell us about your TV viewing:

Although I pay for a TV licence, I only watch TV on player. And intermittently at that.


Lyric FM, while I’m working.

You’re curating your dream festival — which three artists are on the bill, living or dead?

Sylvester, Klaus Nomi, Grace Jones (above).

Your best celebrity encounter:

I’ve met so many celebrities over the years, but the best has to be Viola Wills, the LA disco diva, who died in 2009. After hosting her in Dublin, in the late ’80s, we became friends and had some fun times together.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history or music event — where, when, and why?

I am obsessed with ancient Egyptian history, especially the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom, c. 1,500 BCE. Such an advanced society on so many levels.

Do you have any interesting ancestors or family?

My father, Vinny’s family ran a tobacco factory in Dungarvan from the 1700s until the 1950s. On my mother’s side, my great-grandmother, Isa Hughes, was a member of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and founding manager of The Gate theatre, in Dublin. Her husband, Hector, co-founded the Irish Republican Socialist Party and was a noted QC, barrister, and British Labour MP.

My great-uncle, Liam Ó Briain, fought in 1916, co-founded An Taibhdearc, Galway’s Irish language theatre, and was a celebrated professor of Romance languages at UCG. His daughter, Eileen O’Brien, wrote the Turascáil and Irish Women’s Diary columns for the Irish Times.

Unsung heroes — individual or group you think don’t get the profile/praise they deserve:

The National LGBT Federation, which celebrates its 40th anniversary, deserves a reckoning.

You are king for a day — what’s your first decree?

I would roll out a basic wage for all in society, then institutionalise the three tenets of good government, namely universal healthcare, universal education, and subsidised, affordable housing for all.

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