A carnival and a big thank you to Ireland
Tens of thousands lined the streets for the biggest ever gay pride, writes Donal Lynch. And this year brought equal parts celebration, triumphalism and brand awareness
The soundtrack was the same - eardrum-perforating whistles and disco - but the homespun, activist atmosphere of yesteryear was long gone as the biggest ever Pride march took over Dublin city centre yesterday. With the battle for marriage equality now won, this was instead a victory parade, a carnival, and a way of giving thanks for the Yes vote in the recent marriage referendum.
People held up little signs saying things like: "Smithfield said yes, Finglas said yes, Newbridge said yes." America just said 'yes' too of course - its Supreme Court having made gay marriage a right in all 50 states - and amid the sea of rainbow flags there was a good smattering of star-spangled banners. In a well-thought-out show of solidarity, representatives from Roscommon and Leitrim, the sole Irish constituency that voted no in the recent referendum, marched right at the front of the parade.
In terms of sheer numbers this year blew all previous efforts out of the water. For context, RTE ran a clip of the roughly 200 people who took to the street in 1992 for the last Pride before decriminalisation and the march had the mournful air of a funeral procession. On Saturday, by contrast, O'Connell Street heaved and bopped like the epicentre of a Mardi Gras, with tens of thousands of people, including more children than we'd ever seen at an event like this, taking to the streets. Young girls bearing flags danced with guards. People climbed on to statues to kiss. The residents of the city centre hung out of windows, and waved from balconies as the throngs snaked their way down the quays and up toward Merrion Square.
Like the big American Pride parades it was the diversity within the LGBT community that really stood out this year. We had athletes of various sorts, including the Dublin Devils football teams. A group of bisexuals marched under one banner. Another group didn't seem like they were looking for any particular rights but wanted to be seen. "Asexuals exist" read their banner.
It was also notable how deeply corporate the parade had become. The event was sponsored by Bank of Ireland this year and almost every float bore the banner of a company eager to cash in on equality. We're not unique in this: In New York the rainbow flag now flutters over Wall Street and we are consumers first, citizens second, you could be forgiven for thinking. Equally predictably were politicians from across the political spectrum making sure they were prominently displayed on the winning team.
Of course, some of them have been supporters of the cause for longer than others. David Norris in a rainbow tie waved regally to the crowds and Leo Varadkar was draped in a rainbow flag.
In previous years the parade was lead through town by Panti's lips and quips, but in the year since the last Pride her celebrity has transcended Ireland's borders. She was just in Toronto telling Canadians about the progress we've made here and a bit of flight drama on the way home, which she tweeted about, meant that she only just made it back in time for the event. She wowed the crowds in a pink sequinned dress.
The rain held off all afternoon, which was lucky, given how skimpily dressed most of the crowd were. At Merrion Square someone had draped a rainbow flag around the statue of Oscar Wilde, which hardly seemed necessary given his particular gay rights credentials.
As the day progressed the crowds gradually neared the real point of gay pride - some socially sanctioned, human rights related day-time drinking.
The Front Lounge and Panti bar were jammed all day and later in the night the two hottest tickets were to clubs called Mother and Daddi. Which as one wag noted was fitting, because, even though we're all equal now, mothers and fathers still matter.