Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival, which has been on the go for over one hundred years, is set to host singletons from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community for a weekend of fun and frolics.
The Outing, which runs from Friday to Sunday, will mark the opening weekend of the month-long festival which traditionally sees thousands of single men and women descend on the small town of just over 800 people in search of love.
The event is being organised by the Hydro Hotel owner Marcus White, former editor of Free magazine Eddie McGuinness and Donal Mulligan, who first discussed the idea as far back as 2002.
“Well we initially came up with the idea of doing a rainbow weekend in Kerry,” says McGuinness. “It would have been a sort of gay Rose of Tralee but the market wasn’t ready for it then.
“In discussing the idea we came to the conclusion that it would probably work better in Lisdoonvarna; simply because Lisdoonvarna and Willie Daly’s matchmaking festival suited it better from the marketing perspective. It had a bigger name and a bigger drive.”
The weekend will be hosted by Panti, the Mayo native who is arguably Ireland’s most famous drag queen. She is leaving her regular club night in Dublin’s famous PantiBar to, as the organisers’ boast, “embrace her glamorous culchie roots”. It is guaranteed to be a colourful and loud spectacle involving drag acts from across Ireland and the globe, plenty of music and even a bit of a céilí.
But, apart from all the loving and laughter, the organisers hope to use the event to raise awareness of LGBT issues that still persist in Ireland. With that in mind, tThe Outing will be raising funds for BelongTo, a national youth organisation which helps young LGBT people across the country.
According to BelongTo, almost 60% of LGBT young people report homophobic bullying in their schools, while more than half have been called abusive names.
About 40% are verbally threatened by school peers and perhaps, most shockingly, over one third of LGBT people at school have heard teachers pass homophobic remarks.
Those statistics are disappointing but it would be remiss to not acknowledge that Ireland has come an awfully long way with regards to gay issues since decriminalisation 20 years ago.
“I think society here in Ireland is riper for an event like this,” says McGuinness. “Especially if you look beyond our shores. In 1993 homosexuality was decriminalised both here and in Russia, but Russia has gone backwards whereas we’ve really moved forward and that’s a good sign of what Ireland as a nation has done.”
Indeed, as an anecdote for progress, what’s about to happen in Lisdoonvarna can be held up as an example of tolerance and inclusion.
This is, after all, the first major gay event outside a big city in the country. From a societal point of view, this weekend is a very big deal. Twenty years ago the idea that something like this could happen in a small town in Ireland would have been met with disbelief.
“Society in Ireland has changed a lot in the last few years,” says McGuinness. “And we can see that in the village. We’ve taken over a few hotels — the Imperial, the Hydro — and the village has really got behind the whole thing. They’re calling it the Pink Weekend. Our nice little tagline is ‘You’re not the only gay in this village’. I was around with some of the local businesses and people the other week and they really can’t wait for it. They feel it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“We’re even doing competitions for the best dressed business and that sort of thing, and we can see that they’re really embracing it. I take my hat off to the town of Lisdoonvarna.”
McGuinness, who has worked in the hotel trade as well as event management and choreography, says there will be something for everyone at the event, but for him there are a few acts that stand out.
“I’m really looking forward to an evening with Niamh Kavanagh,” he says. “There’s a very intimate evening with herself. We’re also bringing some of the country’s top clubs such as the Dragon from Dublin and Club T, and there’s also Panti and Bunny.
“We’re flying in Johnny Woo, a very alternative drag performer from London and that might shock a few people, but I think it’ll be something they’re going to enjoy. Also what we have planned for the lighting of the Hydro Hotel will light up the sky.”
Whatever about lighting up the hotel, the Outing is sure to bring a bright start to this age-old festival.
* www.theouting.ie, Aug 30-Sep 1