Pride Festival 2019: 'You only have one life, don't live a lie' - young farmers on changing times for gay people in rural Ireland


Rainbow alliance: Revellers taking part in last year's Dublin Pride Parade. Picture by Fergal Phillips.
Rainbow alliance: Revellers taking part in last year's Dublin Pride Parade. Picture by Fergal Phillips.
Rachel Bollard. Photo by Siobhan English
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

THE rural bastions of Macra na Feirme and the GAA recently announced that they would march in the upcoming Dublin Pride festival, a move which reflects the changing attitudes that are making it easier for people to be gay in rural Ireland.

However, these tolerant views in weren't always the case. Kilkenny dairy farmer Rachel Bollard recalls how difficult it was growing up gay in the countryside in the recent past.

"Back in the 1990s and early 2000s there was no internet where I was and I didn't know anybody else who was gay. I was very nervous of telling anybody," says the Jenkinstown native.

In her 20s, Rachel decided it was time to pluck up the courage and break the news to her farmer parents, James and Majella. "They didn't take the news well at the start. They were very upset because I was their only daughter," says Rachel.

"It took them a while to get their head around it, but thank God they are perfectly fine with it now."

Having tried her hand at chef work and horticulture, Rachel now farms a 40-cow dairy herd with her parents, something she says initially wasn't part of the plan.

Rachel Bollard. Photo by Siobhan English
Rachel Bollard. Photo by Siobhan English

"I'd always thought my brother would take over the farm but he moved to Donegal and it wasn't to be, so that's when I got drafted in," explains Rachel.

"I couldn't be happier. I love farming and always have."

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Until recently, Rachel did relief milking in the area to earn an extra income. While most of the farmers she worked with had no issue with her being gay, she admits that she received a "slagging" from some farmers - and verbal abuse from others.

"Most farmers were fine. They didn't care as long as I did my job. Some would joke and say things like 'oh, I've a brother-in-law I could set you up with', which is fine but some would say things like, 'I bet I could change you', which was just weird," says Rachel.

Irrespective of what your sexuality might be, Rachel feels that "getting stick" is part and parcel of being a woman in farming.

"The amount of times I have gotten asked by other male farmers if I can drive a tractor is crazy. Of course I can drive a tractor. How would I be able to farm otherwise?

"Other times a salesperson or someone might come into the yard and myself and my mother would be there and they'd ask, 'Where is the bossman?' It's frustrating."

Rachel used to play rugby locally in Kilkenny and adds that talk about her being gay never came up and wasn't an issue.

"That's the way it should be."

Having lived in Galway during her early 20s, Rachel was able to meet other gay people and feel comfortable in her own skin.

While she enjoys living in rural Ireland, she says the dating scene in the countryside is hard, especially if you're a dairy farmer balancing it between milkings.

"I do find it hard. I don't go out as much as other people either so that doesn't make it easy," she adds.

"I remember I was meant to be going on a third date with my ex-girlfriend and I had to ring her up and say that I wouldn't be able to go as I had to calve a cow last minute. She wasn't impressed.

"People also have misconceptions when they meet farmers. They think that we've loads of money and that's not the case. We've no social life either," she jokes.

While Rachel's coming out story had a happy ending, she said she wouldn't be surprised if people are still living in the closet in rural Ireland.

"You'd worry about farmers of the older generation who may have never come out. It is very hard for some people. I'd hope that it is changing for people."

Macra na Feirme recently announced that it would march in the Pride parade which is taking place in Dublin on Saturday.

The GAA and An Garda Síochána will also be marching for the first time this year. "It's great that these organisations, which are such a big part of rural Ireland, are marching, especially Macra na Feirme as it'll help make being gay more visible for young farmers out there."

Rachel's first love in life is farming and at the moment, while she has no plan to expand the dairy operation, she is interested in starting a Belted Galloway herd.

"I've ordered three Belted Galloway cattle from Wexford. They haven't come yet, so I'm excited to see what they'll be like and how I'll manage them. They're a good, hardy breed. They'll be my main focus for now."

Life changing: Will Keane made the decision to move home to farm the family beef holding in rural Roscommon after the death of his father in 2015

My story: 'It should be your own choice when you want to come out - do it on your own terms' Will Keane

ROSCOMMON farmer Will Keane never told his father he was gay and he says it's something he has no regrets about due to the generational gap that existed between them.

"I came out to my mother but was conscious of the age difference between me and my father so I didn't tell him. I've no regrets, I'd have loved him to know but I felt it wasn't necessary," says the Knockcroghery native.

A teenager in the 1990s, Will says that he grew up in a time in Ireland where being gay was still very much a taboo. It wasn't until he started college in Dublin in 1998 that he felt comfortable enough to come out.

"I was growing up at a time in Ireland where it still wasn't okay to be gay, but there was a feeling that things were changing, especially when I went to college," he says.

"I went to the George nightclub and like lots of people, I left home to come out."

Having completed a degree in video and TV production at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art Design and Technology, Will journeyed to London where he worked for the BBC behind the scenes on the likes of Later... with Jools Holland.

He later returned to Dublin where he switched to a career in technology and worked as a project manager for computer giant IBM.

In 2015, Will's life changed forever upon the sudden death of his father Michael, who farmed their family beef holding in rural Roscommon.

Will made the decision to leave city living behind and come home to the land.

He says that the last four years rearing an Angus beef herd have been a real "baptism of fire".

"I used to look at my dad out in the fields working at 11pm and couldn't understand it, but now I'm doing it, I'm always trying to make up for time.

"It's a very different life. No doubt as a farmer you're not celebrating at the end of the year when you look at your balance sheet."

Not long after returning home, Will took up the role as Roscommon campaign officer for the Yes vote for the marriage equality referendum. The Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency was the only region that rejected the vote.

"I did have a belief it would be passed, but that didn't happen. I believe if the question was asked now that the vote would be passed in Roscommon."

While Will still believes it is hard for people to come out as gay in rural Ireland, he has met so many people who have come out and are comfortable in their own skin.

"It should be your own choice when you want to come out. Do it on your own terms. There's so much of life to be lived," advises Will.

He admits that he was worried it would be lonely and isolated when he moved home to the farm but he has thrown himself into life in the local community.

"I became as involved in everything as possible. I used to do social media for the Roscommon Lamb Festival and I'm involved in a ukulele club that was set up recently."

Cian Carrigan

My story: 'I was always very flamboyant, but I wasn't afraid to get stuck in on the farm' Cian Carrigan

FARMER'S son and former Big Brother contestant Cian Carrigan is worried that there are gay farmers out there "living a lie".

The Goatenbridge, Co Tipperary native who took part in Big Brother last year, has six siblings, three of whom (including himself) are gay.

"I have a gay brother and gay sister. They paved the way for me to come out. My mother now jokes that you have to come out if you're straight in our family," he says.

"My parents always knew I was gay and were totally fine with it. I was always very flamboyant but not afraid to play hurling or football and get stuck in on the farm."

While there are a number of gay farmers living in his area, Cian fears for those who haven't come out or may never come out.

"There is still a small stigma out there for some farmers.

"They may be afraid that they will get sneered at for being gay and that's why they keep it quiet or may worry about the future of their farm if they don't have a partner."

Cian urges anybody in the farming community who is struggling to come out "to be true to themselves".

"You only have one life, don't live a lie, especially if you are with a straight person you're not being fair on yourself or them."

Recently Macra na Feirme, rural Ireland's voice for young people and farmers, announced that it would march in Dublin Pride for the first time.

Macra president Thomas Duffy says the parade stands for everything that Macra stands for.

"Social inclusion is the fulcrum of Macra na Feirme values and there isn't a better place to demonstrate this than at Pride which is a celebration of LGBTQ+ people, their families and their friends.

"The festival highlights the progressive work being done but it also acknowledges that a lot more work remains.

"With this in mind, I would encourage our members to get involved and sign up now to take part on June 29."

Eddie McGuinness, Dublin Pride Manager and organiser of the Outing LGBTQ+ matchmaking festival due in Dromoland, Co Clare in the last week of September, also welcomed the news that Macra would be taking part in Pride.

"It's great news and is coming at a time where the gardaí are now marching and so are the GAA. It's great progress."

READ MORE: Guide to Pride: everything you need to know about Pride 2019

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