Never before has an Irish figurehead for change stood so tall (six-inch heels), had such big hair, been so well dressed and spoken and carried themselves with such dignity as our very own Panti Bliss (aka Rory O’Neill).
When we think about the passing of the marriage referendum we also think about the towering blonde (or brunette, or red-head) who both willingly and accidentally became our leader in rallying the nation behind such a cause for celebration.
Small Town Ballinrobe to the Bight Lights of Japan
Filmed over a number of years The Queen of Ireland directed by Conor Horgan gives us a magical glimpse behind the make up and into Panti’s past. Rory O’Neill grew up in a small town called Ballinrobe in Co. Mayo. As a child he always felt that little bit different to the other boys and home movies and photographs shown in the documentary certainly give us a glimpse of the centre stage star that was in the making.
Marching to the beat of his own drum he said farewell to Ballinrobe and set about forging his own path in the world. Studying graphic design in college for a spell, eventually gave way to a stint in Japan where Panti first cut her heels before returning to Ireland.
Pantigate & Team Panti
Many in Ireland were already familiar with Panti for Alternative Miss Ireland, various drag performances, the popular Panti Bar and being a vocal campaigner for LGBT rights in Ireland. It was an interview with Brendan O’Connor on RTE in 2014 which led to her being catapulted onto a global stage. Appearing as Rory and voicing an opinion on homophobia in Ireland led to RTE making a compensation payment to those offended by the remarks and Rory issued with various solicitors letters.
Within days the term ‘Pantigate’ was sweeping across the country and further a field as an overwhelming amount of people pledged their allegiance to ‘Team Panti’. Supporters wore t-shirts with the slogan emblazoned on it and Team Panti posters adorned shop windows.
Pantigate led to Panti being asked to perform the Noble Call speech in the Abbey Theatre after the final performance of The Risen People by James Plunkett. The speech, eloquent yet forceful, dignified yet demanding, spoke of feeling oppressed and the words echoed through the theatre and into mainstream news across the global. That defining moment became the catalyst that would encourage change, unite the nation and forever change the country. The yes vote prevailed and the marriage referendum was passed.
Return to Home
The passing of the referendum was a defining moment in Irish history and the LGBT community and the world at large will forever remember the incredible contribution that Panti Bliss made to realising the dream of equal rights for so many. In an ironic twist of faith it would be the very difference that made Rory leave Balinrobe, that would have him return to that same small town as Panti and receive a Queen’s welcome.
The Queen of Ireland is thoughtful, poignant, uplifting and emotional. I suspect that anyone outside the knowledge of the LGBT struggle will have their eyes opened in a positive way. Panti comes across as charismatic, intelligent and is dressed head to high heel in nothing but the most inspirational dignity. The documentary is a triumphant celebration of everything that is good about community, change, difference and the grace of those who are brave enough to fight for it. A five star documentary that has cemented its place in history. Take a peek at the trailer below and more importantly go and see it.