Ireland has changed fast, and the 2015 legalisation of same-sex marriage by popular vote plus ground-breaking gender recognition laws mean Dublin is now one of the most inclusive destinations on the map. It's easy to see why; intolerance is hard to keep up with a small, friendly population where almost everyone knows someone in the LGBT community. The only judgement you can expect here is about how much craic you are.
The city’s compact size means it’s easy to bop from place to place and LGBT travellers shouldn’t feel they’re limited to ‘official’ gay-friendly venues; it would be difficult to find a venue in Dublin city centre you won’t be welcome in. If you want to dive head-first into the gay scene though, these are the places to start.
Put your glad rags on: partying and performance
As in many Western cities, gay bars are more likely to be closing down than opening up in Dublin, as homosexuality becomes more accepted across all venues. However, the institution that is the George parties just as hard as ever – it’s been a cornerstone of Irish LGBT life for 25 years.
North of the Liffey, Pantibar continues to draw crowds, thanks in part to being owned by the unofficial queen of Ireland, Panti Bliss, bonafide drag royalty and one of the country’s leading gay rights activists. For more relaxed socialising, head to the Outhouse during the day to relax in the cafe and library or check out a regular rota of evening arts events, including drama lessons, film clubs and spoken word events.
Club nights and performance parties make up for the lack of specialist venues. Mother continues to reign supreme with a banging mix of synth-pop, electro and disco in the basement of Temple Bar’s the Hub every Saturday night. Spinster’s monthly rooftop party boasts an all-female DJ lineup with some of the best playlists in town. The world’s most renowned drag queens come to take part in Dragged Up at venues around Dublin; for something more homegrown, veteran performer Shirley Temple Bar hosts her famous bingo night in the George every Sunday night.
Closer to the cutting edge of the performance scene, Glitter Hole aims to provide a queer feminist performance space for cabaret, drag, comedy and everything in between, while newcomer Spicebag combines LGBTQ+ performances with a Bring Your Own Beer dance party for a fantastic night out on a budget.
From darkness to light; exploring Ireland’s LGBT history
Library lovers can spend a peaceful afternoon trawling through the Queer Archive at the National Library. To save time, order what you’re looking for online to have it ready for consultation in the airy, domed reading room. When you’re finished in the archive, visit the cobblestoned grounds of Dublin Castle, where the results of the 2015 marriage referendum were announced and jubilant crowds gathered to hear and celebrate the results – it was the scene of more than one marriage proposal that day! Swing by Merrion Square to pay a visit to the reclining statue of Oscar Wilde sitting opposite his childhood home dressed in a green smoking jacket with a glorious smirk on his face.
For a more sombre recollection of how far Irish society is come, take a stroll through the leafy lanes of Fairview Park. With colourful flowers and plenty of cycle lanes, it makes for a nice sojourn and has a wider significance: the tragic murder of a local gay man called Declan Flynn in the park in 1982 is widely considered the catalyst for the Irish gay rights movement. His attackers were given suspended sentences, and the outcry from the verdict resulted in Ireland’s first Pride March from Liberty Hall to the park. The bench he sat on before he died is regularly decorated with flowers and rainbows.
LGBT-friendly venues existed long before homosexuality was legalised in 1993. Many have since been demolished but others can be explored. Break for the Border stands in place of Bartley Dunne’s, probably the country’s first gay-friendly venue, which prided itself on allowing punks and ‘alternative’ people in, while the Viking holds the title of being Ireland’s first exclusively gay bar – it’s now under new management and has been renamed Brogan’s. JJ Smyth’s is still going strong and is now famous for its buzzing live music line-up, but in the 1980s it made a name for itself hosting underground lesbian discos.
Mark these dates in your diary
The biggest party of them all is, of course, the Dublin LGBTQ Pride festival in June. It’s grown to a ten-day programme packed full of arts, education and social events with the highlight the Pride Parade through the length of the city. Like most parades, it’s become less transgressive as the years have gone by, but the tunes, carnival atmosphere and the fabulously family-friendly party at Pride Village in Merrion Square still makes this an essential date for your calendar. For something more hedonistic, there’s always a wealth of after-parties to choose from throughout the weekend.
The GAZE Film Festival in July has been celebrating LGBT storytelling for 25 years, while the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival takes place in smaller venues across the city in May. March’s Béar Féile celebrates the love of everything hairy with trad music, DJs and even a spot of bingo to break the ice with fellow bears and the men who love them.
Swap your dancing shoes for hiking boots
If you like to stay active while in Dublin, there are some inclusive activity groups you could make contact with. Out and About organise weekly walks in the stunning Wicklow mountains with no booking required. Dublin Front Runners have weekly runs in the Phoenix Park with a sociable brunch afterwards, while to practice your serve, get in touch with Out 2 Tennis for information on upcoming tournaments or social games.
Like all cities, homophobic incidents are not unheard of but are few and far between, and public displays of affections between same-sex couples are quite commonplace. However, if you feel you need support while you’re in Dublin, the LGBT Helpline has a full list of local peer support groups and helplines to assist you.