Sunday 25 March 2018

From Anne Doyle to The Diceman - Ireland's gay icons

Anne Doyle
Anne Doyle
Stephen Gately
Katherine Lynch
Mary Robinson
Shirley Templebar
Vincent Hanley

What does it take to be a gay icon? A tragic backstory helps (we love a broken woman). A good soundtrack is always a plus - lip-synching is fine, of course. You should be comfortable with the prospect of one day meeting a drag version of yourself and comfortable with the fact that they might do a better version of you than you. And, naturally, you need to be a friend to the cause. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most iconic icons of our gay times

Anne Doyle

With her dry wit, power suits, sphinx-like delivery of the news and effortless glamour - she looked incredible walking Aengus Mac Grianna down the aisle - Anne Doyle is the mother every gay man wishes they had. A few years ago, when graffiti was all the rage, a Banksy-like mural of her appeared overnight under the bridge in Glasnevin. It looked a bit like a gay Sacred Heart picture and was confirmation for all slow learners: Anne is now an icon.

Mary Robinson

What is it about Mayo? Long before there was Panti, another fiercely lacquered queen from the Yew County made her mark on gay rights in Ireland. Mary Robinson represented David Norris in his cases challenging the criminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland.

She authored one of the most memorable feminist moments in modern Ireland with her inauguration speech; after becoming Ireland's first female President, she invited gay groups to the Aras for the first time.

And she had a haircut, which, for a long time, hovered right on the precipice of mullet. She is still the only person on our list who had her likeness rendered in a rug portrait - whose haunted eyes stared out at shoppers on Dame Street for over a decade. We were never sure what the metaphor was supposed to be - Robinson was no doormat - but she went on to become UN High Commissioner For Human Rights and Ireland's pre-eminent friend of the friends of Dorothy.

Vincent Hanley

In the 2010 Martin Scorsese-directed documentary Public Speaking, the writer Fran Lebowitz said that the people who got Aids first were the "brilliant, witty, hot" ones because they were the ones who were getting laid a lot. Vincent Hanley was a small-town boy - he grew up in Clonmel - who became one of the brightest stars of 1980s Ireland. He earned renown as a presenter in Dublin before leaving for New York, from where he sent reports home to what journalist Cahir O'Doherty called "the dazzled, famished eyes of Irish youth".

He had the misfortune to contract HIV when the hysteria about the virus was at its worst, and died in 1987. It would be another five years before his cause of death would become known.

Shirley Temple Bar

We'll never forget the moment, about 10 years ago, when Shirley Temple Bar abruptly changed from Shirley to Declan - her male alter ego - on Telly Bingo and RTE started getting complaints from old dears down the country who missed that nice girl Shirley.

What would they have made of her weekly Riverdance-on-acid turn at The George on Sunday nights? Panti's current performance sidekick is Belfast belle Bunny, but everyone knows that Shirley, a former winner of Alternative Miss Ireland, is still the de facto Tanaiste of Drag.

The Eurovision Winners

Caitlin Moran has described the Eurovision as "a big expo of liberality, creativity and homosexuality: the most prominent LGBT festival on Earth", And, like railroads and racism in America, the song contest's high-camp entertainment couldn't have been built without the Irish. In the late 1990s, we all had to rack our brains for a way not to win the contest, but consistently came up short.

Now that we're struggling to get among the contenders again, the legends of the good old days are remembered fondly. Yes, even Dana. Because, the poor thing - just like Charton Heston in Ben Hur, she failed to get the homosexual subtext of the whole thing to an almost touching extent.


There hasn't been a pop star this opaque about their sexuality since Morrissey. Hozier has said that people "presume" he's gay, but won't comment on what the truth is since it's "beside the point".

We couldn't agree more, but his powerful video for Take Me To Church - in which a gay man is kidnapped by masked men - directly addressed the gay-rights situation in Russia and questioned institutionalised oppression. It was one of the hits of the year. One pop-music moment is worth a million political speeches and, for this reason, Hozier is one of our icons.

The Diceman

In 1988, a book of black-and-white photography of Dublin was brought out to mark the capital (allegedly) being a millennium old. Amid the pleasant scenes of riverbanks and Georgian architecture, one image stood out: Thom McGinty in full priestly garb, outside Government Buildings, kissing another man full on the lips.

McGinty, a native Scot, was one of the most important cultural figures of the time. Poet Brendan Kennelly eloquently summed up his incredible appeal: "In the Diceman's presence, it is impossible not to ignore hustle and haste, hurry and hurry's mother. What other human being could turn busy old Grafton Street into an open-air temple of rapt attention? And what other human being could transform stolid, speculative middle age into pure childhood wonder?" McGinty died of Aids-related complications in 1995.

Katherine Lynch

In the mid-1990s, Panti appeared on Maury Povich's chat show on American prime-time television and was transformed into a cigar-smoking macho man at the behest of his 'sister'.

His 'sister' turned out to be Katherine Lynch, Panti's friend, and the two of them just went along with the stunt for a free flight to America. Like Panti, Lynch, a grand-niece of the poet Patrick Kavanagh, got her start in Dublin's gay clubs, before going on to gain national renown as a comedienne and becoming Ireland's answer to Bette Midler.

Stephen Gately

His voice was reed-thin, but his heart was huge, and when Stephen Gately died suddenly in 2009, Ireland went into mourning.

As one of the only two with a live mic in Boyzone, he was the inspiration for a million teenage fantasies and was part of one of the biggest boy bands of the era. Gately changed the game for public figures with his openness, which was perhaps best seen in a 1999 Late Late Show clip, during which the singer thanked his lover, Eloy de Jong for his love and support throughout his time in the pop closet.

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