Welcome to Lisdoonvarna Photo by Brandon Riley Miller
How could I possibly have known that by the end of the trip I'd be talking to a transgender boxing promoter of international renown, a drag superstar whose documentary debuted to resounding acclaim and an Irish dynamo dedicated to promoting his GLBT community even when it meant risk of bodily harm.
But find this trio -- Kellie Maloney, Panti Bliss and Eddie McGuinness respectively -- I did, in the most unlikely of places, The Hydro Hotel in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland. They, along with myself and 12 other journalists from around the world, had gathered in the West of Ireland (read: rural) along the Wild Atlantic Way for a #GLBT themed matchmaking and music festival in its third year called The Outingwhich was to be be part of another matchmaking festival engrained in the area for hundreds of years.
And getting there was half the fun.
After a brief stay in Dublin (which you can read about at the HuffingtonPost here we boarded our coach, lovingly called the Celtic Rider (after my favorite motorcycle and car touring company in Ireland) for the four hour drive across the country to Lisdoonvarna and the festival.
Half way through the country we encountered the Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall. In the middle of sleepy central Ireland here's an entire plaza with gas station, restaurant and museum dedicated to the US President. Why? Falmouth Kearney who came to the US and whose daughter , Mary Ann would be Obama's great great grandmother. But what was even more interesting was asking the Irish what they think of our President.
"I wish he was our leader," one Canadian told me on the streets of Dublin. Plenty more had opinions, and they are featured in episode 2.02 of my TV show Karel Life In Segments for Free Speech TV below.
Our destination, Lisdoonvarna, is a sleepy village of around 800 people located in the West. It's been host to a matchmaking festival for over 600 years, usually after the harvest when farmers and others would come to town to conduct business. If it were in the last century, they may have gone to visit someone in Wille Daly's family. They've been matchmaking in Co. Clare for over 100 years.
"Well, making a match for anyone, man, woman, whatever, is always a challenge," Daly told me as the event got under way. Daly is a man who is not that internet savvy, is old fashioned Ireland at its core. It was important to have him at the event, to lend it the credibility of the overall matchmaking event. And present he was.
"I can find someone for you, I'm sure, nice young man like yourself," he laughed. "It's always about the love, about compatibility, about can you forgive them and can they forgive you enough to stay together for the long term. I imagine tonight will be much of the same," he stated, holder a book of matches made that was battered and worn, bound in old leather an one belonging to his father, grandfather and great grand father.
It was to be a night like no other in this town, gay men, women, transgendered men and women, people of all kinds looking to have fun and perhaps meet someone special. It was a time of happiness, and openness, of same-sex couples showing their love in the streets and pubs and restaurants and now, after the referendum, couples able to legally wed.
Karel and Eddie McGuinness Photo Brandon Riley Miller
"What a time this is for Ireland, and for the world," Eddie McGuinness stated "And for this town and the West of Ireland. I mean, can you imagine, today we were on the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland's busiest attraction, with a 10 foot rainbow flag declaring to the world come on over and feel the love," McGuinness laughed.
And indeed we had. The journalists and a group of people from The Outing gathered for lunch just as the sun broke through exposing these majestic cliffs that attract over a million people a year for the view. The visitor center and supporting restaurants sell picnic lunches that are quite delightful and we took them up to look out over one of the most beautiful spots in the world under a flapping rainbow flag. What a sight indeed. And what progress, remembering being gay was just decriminalized in 1993.
The town had rolled out the red carpet. There were sing alongs at the fabulous stone-pizza kitchen the Roadside Tavern next to a wonderful local pub hosted by drag queens; rainbow flags adorned the city and the highways in and out; the Hydro was booked to capacity and the King Thurmond (where we all met in the lobby for the WiFi and it provided quite a fun social experience) was packed as well. It was the end of the six week festival, but the town was more than ready and willing to welcome the GLBT community.
Panti Bliss, event co-founder and drag persona of international acclaim did an incredible comedy and musical set and acts from both Ireland and the UK kept the crowd laughing or dancing all night. The Nualas, a female comedy trio, were downright hysterical and it was fun to see Katrina from Katrina and the Waves belting out her hits. Bliss has such a history and is so outspoken you simply have to watch the interview below to get the full grasp of this dynamo.
Karel and Kellie Maloney Photo by Brandon Riley Miller
And Kellie Maloney, formerly Frank Maloney, a boxing promoter who handled Lennox Lewis and others had more than a few things to say about Caitlyn Jenner and the state of Trans-rights around the world.
"I felt it was important to be here, to support this event at this time," Maloney told me as we sat to talk. "There's a lot more to being transgendered than having a reality show, and the fact that we are here , in this town at this event talking about it is incredible," she added. She more of her below.
The one thing this wasn't was a "circuit party" or bar-type event. It truly was a festival of music, of laughter, of romance. It was joyous, it was unassuming and it was set in the most unsuspecting areas in the world. It's welcoming to all ages and sexual orientations and is certainly going to become an event I look forward to annually.
It was so much fun we had to bring along a film crew so we could get all the good stuff. Here is episode 2.02 of my Free Speech TV show Karel: Life In Segments and below is episode 2.02 which features a trip to the Doolan Caves also in the West.
If you're gay, 18-85 and want to go to a unique event that is set in one of the most beautiful places in the world, then The Outing in 2016 will be for you. It's expanding each and every year and next year being the fourth should be even better. Ireland has embraced its GLBT community, complete with marriage equality and Transgendered workplace protections. And they're doing it with flair. Be sure to check out the two episodes featuring The Outing below.
Karel: Life In Segments Episode 2.02 The outing.ie
Karel: Life In Segments Episode 2.01 Ireland and The outing.ie