‘Let’s celebrate the next generation of Irish people who can marry whomever they love’

Writing through tears of joy and pain, Donnachadh McCarthy, who came out in his late teens in 1979, is still relishing the result of last week’s marriage equality referendum

‘Let’s celebrate the next generation of Irish people who can marry whomever they love’

I cried lots of tears every time I watched the coverage of the positive marriage equality referendum. When I came out in Cork, in my late teens in 1979, the punishment by law for sleeping with your partner was life imprisonment with hard labour.

I had two gay friends brutally murdered in homophobic attacks — one was left in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs with 27 knife wounds and the other left tied up with a knife through his heart.


Those who murdered gay people in Ireland in those days were regularly not imprisoned — they claimed as their defence that the gay man had made a pass at them. A dog genuinely had more rights than we did in Catholic Ireland.

I often met damaged gay people whose family or they themselves had subjected them to aversion therapy — electrocution or vomit-inducing pills if a sensual picture of a beautiful man turned them on.

I had been sexually abused by a repressed elderly Irish Catholic priest while an altar boy.

In 1978, I was elected to be the first chair of University College Cork’s gay society, which promptly became the first student body in the 150-year history of the university to be banned. We turned this into a positive, as we asked all the other student groups to host events for us instead and gay rights became instantly the most active, positive cause on campus. Even the Catholic student group hosted an event for us.

I was one of the first out gay people to be photographed in a national newspaper.

Facing my poor mother after this was one of the ugliest scenes I have ever had to peacefully endure.

But bless her, she/we worked through it and seven years later, she bought a house-warming present for me and my then partner.

Another family member kept asking me to see a priest who was also a psychiatrist — I refused and said if they did not stop I would stop seeing them, as I was not mentally ill. They kindly stopped.

Some of the clients in pub that I worked near UCC demanded that I be fired. My boss did not tell me this until six months later — as he said if too many of his regulars did so, he would have had to let me go.

I went on the first gay pride march in Dublin — 40 of us straggling down Grafton St. I founded and chaired the first Homophobic Violence and Abuse Forum in Southwark, London, to where I had emigrated, which successfully helped change the local policing from one of persecution to one of protection.

And here we are just 36 years later and the Irish people with a large majority endorse marriage equality for all its citizens.

They ignored, in their hundreds of thousands, the homophobic patriarchal calls of many Christian, Evangelical, and Muslim male religious “leaders”.

So big thanks to all those groups of Irish atheists, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Christians, straight, LGBT, and immigrants who made world history.

How truly, truly amazing for so-called Catholic Ireland to become the first country in the world to vote in a referendum for marriage equality. As the amazingly brave senator David Norris (he was a speaker at a packed university debate at which I publicly and emotionally outed myself in front of my friends all those years ago) has said, us older Irish gays will always carry the scars from those days of brutal inequality — having to always be afraid of being murdered if you were seen holding hands with your lover in public — and it has taken its toll on all of us.

So let’s take a moment to remember with love the gay people murdered in Ireland over the centuries, and those who took their own lives because they could not take the mental pain any more.

Then let’s also truly celebrate that the new generation of young people — gay, straight, bi — who can grow up to love and marry if they wish, whoever their heart leads them to do so.

I am so proud of Ireland and am still crying bitter tears of joy and pain as I write this.


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