SPEAKING TO JOURNALIST, ACTIVIST AND DUBLINER UNA MULLALLY

We’ve been speaking to the managers of Generator Hostels across Europe to get recommendations about the local people we should feature on Parallel. After speaking to Osgur Ó Ciardha – the general manager of Generator Dublin – we were put in touch with Una Mullally.

Una Mullally doesn’t just have her finger on the pulse; she's pretty much the beating heart of Irish cultural and political life. When she’s not DJ-ing on TG4 or writing for The Irish Times, she and countless other members of Ireland’s LGBT+ community are struggling for equality against an ancient and stubborn patriarchy. Despite the success of last year’s referendum – Irish voters voted overwhelmingly to recognise marriage equality and change the constitution – we learnt that there’s still a generation’s worth of work to be done. We spoke to Una about the LGBT community in Dublin and the city’s best progressive cultural institutions to know about.

Hi Una. How long have you lived in Dublin?
I’ve lived in Dublin all my life. I grew up in Deansgrange, which is kind of the no man’s land of the Southside, went to college in DCU on the Northside, and moved into the city centre when I graduated. I’ve been living in the city centre for eleven years or so: the Tenters, Foley Street, O’Connell Bridge, and now off Camden Street. 

You wrote a book about marriage equality in 2014. You must have spoken to a lot of people about the struggle for LGBT rights in Ireland to put it together. Who were some of the most inspiring characters you came across?
Even though writing a book is hard and writing an oral history is possibly the most time-consuming way in which to cover an issue, speaking to so many interesting people who have shaped LGBT rights in Ireland was a privilege – and I really mean that. People such as Tonie Walsh, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish queer culture and history from protests to disco; Panti who cuts through the bullshit and encapsulate thoughts in such a succinct manner; the lesbian rebel Izzy Kamikaze; Maria Mulholland who is fearless in going against the status quo; Katherine Zappone and Ann Louise Gilligan who took on the state in the name of love; Colm O’Gorman who is as fearless as he is articulate; youth workers and activists and people who have been banging drums for so long and fighting for their rights when far fewer people were listening. But, ultimately, it’s the human stories that always hit home, away from the lobbying and activism and organising. I’ve always found that everyone is inspiring if they’re standing up for what they believe in, even in the smallest of ways. 

"MAYBE I JUST HAVE MY LESBIAN BLINKERS ON BUT DUBLIN IS A HELLA GAY TOWN, AND A DECADE-AND-A-HALF OF IMMIGRATION HAS THANKFULLY MADE THE SCENE MUCH MORE DIVERSE."

What's it like to be a member of the LGBT community in Dublin right now?
I think what happens in a post-marriage-equality environment is the LGBT community recalibrates. The community was united and mobilised around a specific goal, but behind that unity there is a remarkably diverse bunch of people, with different outlooks, needs, priorities and so on. 

One of the great things about the LGBT community in Dublin is how mixed it is. Unlike other cities, the scene is quite mixed by gender, so while you have your more male and female-geared nights, punters in bars and clubs are mixed across the gender spectrum. I think Dublin is experiencing the same thing as a lot of cities regarding access to physical spaces for the queer community, so a couple more queer bars wouldn’t go amiss. But there’s also an underground scene that comes and goes in waves and can be very happening, especially with queer nights in smaller studio spaces, in squats, and so on. 

There’s definitely a confidence to the LGBT community in Dublin right now. Maybe I just have my lesbian blinkers on but, to me, Dublin is a hella gay town, and a decade-and-a-half of immigration has thankfully made the scene much more diverse. It’s obviously not all rosey, like any city there are issues with occasional street harassment, but I think opposition to that kind of homophobia is also very heightened. Is it a relatively good city to be LGBT in? I would say definitely yes. 

How have Ireland's attitudes shifted towards LGBT people recently?
The outcome of the marriage referendum definitely made a lot of LGBT people feel more accepted in Irish society. The campaign for our rights, and the conversations that took place created a more open environment for LGBT stories, I think. But the referendum also had a large psychological cost in terms of the damaging, demeaning and sometimes hateful rhetoric that formed part of the ‘No’ arguments. But I think attitudes have overwhelmingly shifted towards the more positive end of the scale. There’s an openness and an acceptance that either wasn’t there before or perhaps more accurately was unspoken or less visible. 

But marriage equality is not a panacea, and LGBT people still experience more complex issues than their straight counterparts, especially when it comes to mental health, familial rejection, school bullying, workplace discrimination and so on. The Gender Recognition Act was a massive step forward, but I think it’s one of the few cases of the legislation being ahead of public sentiment, so I think a lot of people still struggle with concepts of fluid or non-binary gender identity or the transgender experience. But Ireland has changed hugely, and has been changing hugely over some time. Let’s hope that the social change we’ve experienced can be part of a broader picture, especially when it comes to reproductive rights for women which is just a cruel fucking joke at this point, and has to change immediately. 

What's the general state of Ireland's politics these days?
I don’t watch current affairs television or listen to Irish radio anymore unless I have to. I’ve got to a point in my life where I can’t deal with anti-intellectual, mostly male, middle-aged, conservative politicians talking absolute pony. Ideologically, Fine Gael are the pits, and although I wouldn’t give Fianna Fáil even the benefit of an assumption of having any kind of ideology beyond populism aimed at an Ireland that no longer exists, they are also intellectually bankrupt. 

 

We exist in a patriarchy that denies women the basic rights of bodily autonomy. It makes me sick. Fair play to the politicians who are actually trying to change that but, as ever, the grey-haired, ill-fitting-suit masses of Irish politics will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to even acknowledge the international scandal that is denying women their reproductive rights. The fact that abortion is illegal here – we’re the only democratic country in the western world with a constitutional ban on abortion – and that we export a dozen Irish women a day to the UK to access medical care is horrific. I’m ashamed of my country because of this, and I’m so beyond angry at the craven, cowardly, useless conveyor belt of politicians that has presided over this global scandal of human rights. UGH! 

"I’VE GOT TO A POINT IN MY LIFE WHERE I CAN’T DEAL WITH ANTI-INTELLECTUAL, MALE, MIDDLE-AGED, CONSERVATIVE POLITICIANS TALKING ABSOLUTE PONY."

Are things more liberal in Dublin, as with most major cities?
Yes, probably, although like anywhere, richer people are always more conservative than those less well off in Ireland, in my experience. Canvassing for the marriage equality referendum, nearly everyone in working class areas were always so supportive, but less so in the big gaffs in the suburbs. People call Dublin a “bubble” when it comes to Ireland, but I’m not so sure that’s true. It’s not like there aren’t extraordinarily sophisticated and smart and cultured people living outside of the capital. 

Who are the best bands out of Dublin right now?
There’s always so much good stuff coming out of the city, but for me, the most exciting stuff recently has been coming from Bad Bones in terms of her artistic voice and production, and Bitch Falcon in terms of making me excited about live rock music again. There’s a pretty decent hip-hop scene as well, and like anything some of it is great and some of it isn’t. I love the likes of Lethal Dialect, Kojaque, Temper-Mental MissElayneous, and there’s an excellent young MC I saw recently called Dyramid. 

After the singer-songwriter boom in late 90s and early 00s, Dublin operated almost under the radar in terms of label attention, and that fostered quite a DIY vibe that meant a lot music was being created almost in a vacuum, or at least without commercial pressure. When you don’t have that pressure, creativity tends to thrive. Collaboration, not competitiveness, becomes the default, and from an audience point of view, fans have a lot of respect for local acts. What that environment has resulted in are acts that sound hugely polished and musically accomplished because they did their 10,000 hours while no one was watching. That’s why you have major labels throwing their eye on Dublin over the past few years and scooping up acts because the quality is so high.

What are the best clubs in Dublin?
The biggest issue in Dublin’s nightlife is the lack of actual club spaces. I’ve a lot of respect for how Hidden Agenda has evolved, Lumo is a great new kid on the block, Colin Perkins does great work with bookings in PYG and  Mother is going strong after six years. I love that District8 is making use of the Tivoli because it’s one of my favourite rooms in town, and I like big open rooms like Hangar. 

But generally I prefer more off-kilter spaces, and nights that offer something more eclectic. This has been compounded by my participation and observation as a fan in the spoken word scene. The best creative space in Dublin by some distance is the squat in Grangegorman. There’s nowhere else like it in the country – and maybe beyond – from its scale, to the community it has built around it, the people who live and organise events there, the diversity of the people who hang out there, and the space itself. Every time I go, I feel like my soul is fed. But I’m old: my favourite clubs were POD and the Red Box and Spy and the old Kitchen and they’re all gone. Big up everyone trying to run any kind of nights in a town with crap licensing laws.

What are your favourite Dublin restaurants and why?
Luna and Forest Avenue for excellent food and service in two beautiful but very different rooms. Fumbally for hanging out and long lunches. Skinflint for consistency and good music. La Dolce Vita for a cheap and cheerful, slightly chaotic but authentic Italian vibe. Meet Me In The Morning for chai, Brother Hubbard and Sister Sadie for Moroccan iced tea. Super Miss Sue for brunch. Taco Taco for their poutine. 

And the bars?
I really can’t deal with phoney bars popping up whose sole purpose seems to be creating a space that looks dinky on people’s Instagram feeds. I don’t think you make a good bar by throwing a load of faux-oil paintings on the walls, charging people €14 for a cocktail and having your staff dress like chimney sweeps, but that seems to be a trend, much as it was in London a few years ago. Hopefully we’ll snap out of that soon. Anseo is right beside my house, and that’s always a decent shout. The Bernard Shaw is one of my favourites in town for its outdoor space, art and the music they play. Pantibar is a perfect neighbourhood gay bar. I like the back of Drury Buildings too. I wish we had more rooftop bars though. My favourite pub is The Hacienda. It’s everything you want in a pub, completely random, pool tables, and an enigmatic owner.

Follow Una on Instagram and Twitter.