By Nicola Corless
LISDOONVARNA was bedecked in livery as usual at the weekend for the opening of its annual matchmaking festival. This year, however, it was more colourful than usual. Rainbow flags are a symbol of diversity, are associated with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and for The Outing, the flags were flown high in the North Clare village.
“One lovely thing was that the owner of another business in the town came running up here on Friday evening asking where he could get some of those colourful flags. Now the rainbow flag is flying over that premises too,” said Eddie McGuinness, one of the festival’s organisers.
Television presenter Brendan Courtney attended the festival, returning to the village where he spent many a family holiday as a child.
“Locals have been very welcoming. I pulled into Lisdoonvarna and saw the big rainbow flags everywhere and I said ‘oh we are welcome’. This is a very sophisticated part of the country. People here are well heeled and they are open,” he said.
“On Friday night, there was an amazing atmosphere. I don’t know how I’d describe it. It was almost like a wedding. Lots of people seemed to know each other and there was great craic. It was really brilliant,” Mr Courtney added.
According to Marcus White of the Hydro Hotel, where events were held as part of the festival, local opinion on The Outing was largely positive.
“What has been really brilliant is the support of the local community in North Clare. I was surprised how liberal Lisdoonvarna is. What any town or village needs are movers and shakers to make things happen and Lisdoonvarna definitely have those,” he said.
“In Lisdoonvarna, 90% of people were for this but it is a free world and everyone is entitled to their opinion and you will always have people who don’t agree with it but, overall, people here have been very supportive,” he added.
“I got hate mail but you take that with a pinch of salt. It was one letter and it stated that it was a festival for perverts and that I would be burnt out and that the hotel would be burnt out of it on the night,” Mr White went on.
He said there was never a question of not holding the festival. “It is the right time for this. We tried it on a smaller scale in the Earl of Desmond in Tralee but people have to learn and integrate and adapt. In the West of Ireland, in a town like Lisdoonvarna, it is not Dublin, it is not London. For Lisdoonvarna, this was a brave thing to do but I felt that the time was right now and that we could do it,” he said.
“A lot of people were skeptical beforehand. People said it wouldn’t happen in Lisdoonvarna, that it couldn’t happen here but times have changed and we have to move on.
“The gay and lesbian festival is a social issue and there are a lot of stories at the moment about how people can’t express themselves in the West of Ireland but it is great that people can come here and express themselves. They needn’t feel shy,” Mr White added.
Work is already underway on next year’s festival, which is likely to be held on the last weekend of September to avoid a clash with the Electric Picnic music festival. Mr White is also hoping for a special celebrity guest.
“This year has been a great success. I was delighted to see the numbers here but, like everything else, this is the first one, so now we have to build on it. I wrote to Stephen Fry in London to invite him for next year. That would be a big coup to get him. I wrote to him anyway so we are hoping to have him back here. Stephen Fry has great ties with Ireland and particularly Galway, so we are hopeful,” he explained.
Mr McGuinness believes as many as 2,000 people attended the festival at the weekend.
“We have had people from the United States, Australia, the UK, Switzerland, Canada and even Ennistymon. It has been an overwhelming success and the uptake from the local people and people from further afield has been great. We have not only planted the seed but also started growing what will be part of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival into the future,” he concluded.