30 Irish lesbian trailblazers who have paved the way for a better Ireland

Get to know some of Ireland's most prominent lesbian figures making a difference throughout history.

A split screen of three Irish lesbian trailblazers. Left is Anna Nolan, middle is Izzy Kamikaze and right is Jackie McCarthy O'Brien.

Ireland is a small but mighty island, famous for its people. We are lucky to boast an array of incredible trailblazers who have done instrumental work to improve queer lives the world over both historically and currently. Among them are countless Irish lesbians who have paved the way, and this list, which is by no means exhaustive, aims to highlight and celebrate a few of those game-changers.

Ailbhe Smyth

Women of Irish Herstory: Ailbhe Smyth

First up in our list of Irish lesbian trailblazers is the feminist and activist, Ailbhe Smyth.

Involved in radical politics in Ireland for over four decades, the indomitable Smyth was a spokeswoman and convenor for the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. She is also a founding member of Marriage Equality and is the former Chair of the National LGBT Federation. She is currently the Chair of Ballyfermot STAR Addiction Services and Women’s Aid, and is a board member of Age Action Ireland and Women’s Global Health Network (Ireland). Smyth is also on the steering group of Le Cheile: Diversity Not Division.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Smyth also received the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award at the GALAS 2015, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from NUI Galway.

Orla Egan

Orla Egan standing in front of a river in Cork Source: Orla Egan, Cork LGBT Archive

Orla Egan is known as one of the country’s most prominent lesbian trailblazers, particularly for her work in Cork. Author of Diary of An Activist, and director of I’m Here, I’m Home, I’m Happy and Loafers, she has continuously highlighted the significance of the rebel county’s queer history by founding and exhibiting the Cork LGBT Archive.

Egan is the perfect person to spearhead this essential project, as not only is she passionate about history, but she also lived much of it. Having been involved in the queer Cork scene since the ’80s, she experienced life in the Quay Co-op, Loafers Bar, the Women’s Place and the Other Place, all the while becoming a crucial figure in achieving vital rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

The Cork LGBT Archive can be explored in multiple ways: through the physical collection housed in the Cork Public Museum, digitally through corklgbtarchive.com, and through more alternative means such as the ‘Queer Republic of Cork’ exhibition which travelled to Belfast and Berlin, a book published by the same name, a theatre piece called Leeside Lezzies and more.

Katie McCabe

Footballer Katie McCabe in the field, who recently spoke of how her LGBTQ+ teammates helped her being confident with who she is.

While Ireland has a whole host of inspiring LGBTQ+ athletes, Katie McCabe has emerged as one of the most prominent in recent years. As captain of the Republic of Ireland women’s soccer team, she helped the squad make history by securing qualification for its first-ever major senior tournament, the 2023 FIFA World Cup.

The Tallaght-born star is also a key player for Arsenal in the Women’s Super League (WSL), England’s top football league. She made history in 2023 by becoming the first Irish woman to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or Féminin, one of the most sought-after individual trophies in football.

In an episode of GCN’s In & Out series in 2021, Katie detailed her coming out story and shared some of her experiences as an LGBTQ+ athlete.

Una Mullally

Women of Irish Herstory: Una Mullally

The intrepid Una Mullally is an award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster. She writes columns for The Irish Times covering areas such as politics, social justice, LGBTQ+ rights, feminism and technology. She was named Journalist of the Year (2015) at the Irish LGBTQ+ GALAS Awards, and the Foy-Zappone Award (2016) from University College Dublin.

Her first book, In The Name Of Love, was a critically acclaimed oral history of the movement for marriage equality in Ireland. She was also the editor of Repeal the 8th – an anthology of writings about reproductive rights in the country. On the podcast front, Una co-founded the award-winning Irish Times Women’s Podcast and was the co-host of the hugely popular United Ireland podcast.

Izzy Kamikaze

No list of Irish lesbian trailblazers would be respectable without the inclusion of Izzy Kamikaze. A veteran LGBTQ+ activist working tirelessly for the community across four decades, she was profiled in the 2019 Dublin Pride Guide. Celebrating the theme ‘Rainbow Revolution’, the guide revisited 50 moments of LGBTQ+ change and progress since Stonewall.

Izzy Kamikaze is that rare breed of political animal: a fierce lesbian and civil rights activist who came of age in the turbulent 1980’s, embracing intersectionality in her political ideology decades before it became a post-millennial thing. More pertinently, she’s lived to tell the tale and still has fire in her belly.

“One came out of the other,” explains Izzy when describing how Dublin Pride reinvented itself in the early 1990’s by piggybacking on the energies and connectedness of Act Up Dublin.

Although Dublin Pride has been celebrated every year since 1979, the marches had ground to a halt by 1986, victim to massive emigration, burnout, despondency and the devastation of AIDS.

Dublin Pride Guide – Mapping Pride

Sara R Phillips

Irish trans non binary

Sara R Phillips has been devoted to the trans community for over 20 years and served as Chair of TENI for 10 of those. She also founded the Irish Trans Archive.

Phillips, who appeared on the cover of GCN in 2015 to celebrate the passing of the Gender Recognition Bill, is a role model for many in the LGBTQ+ community and was recognised as such with an award at the 2020 GALAS.

Upon receiving her award, she explained the importance of her work, saying, “Everything I do is for our trans community, everything I do is for the people who have gone before me but also those who are coming after me, because currently life as a trans person in Ireland still is not good enough. (There) is still a lot more to do.”

Zainab Boladale

Zainab Boladale poses outdoors on a sunny day in a yellow dress.

Zainab is a rising star in the world of Irish journalism. Currently working with RTÉ on the longstanding popular program Nationwide, her strengths include her ability to connect with people and make them feel comfortable enough to share their important moments, views and emotions. She is passionate about work surrounding the right to education, gender inequalities, racism and LGBTQ+ issues, and she has a young and ambitious mind capable of influencing change through her fascinating work.

Zainab is also the writer and director of the Worthy short film, and is releasing her first book Braids Take A Day in August 2024.



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Denise Charlton

woman poses for a picture by a wall

The inspirational Denise Charlton is a force for positive change. In 2020, Denise was announced as the new CEO of the Community Foundation of Ireland, a role which she still maintains.

Denise was the former Co-Chair of Marriage Equality and was represented on the strategy advisory group of Yes Equality and Together for Yes, of which she was also head of fundraising.

A former Vice-Chair of the Children’s Rights Alliance, she also worked on a range of government and NGO committees, including the Irish Government Working Group on Trafficking of Human Beings, the National Steering Committee on Violence against Women, and the National Crime Council and the Women’s Health Council.

Anna Cosgrave

anna cosgrave wearing her infamous repeal jumper

Affected by the death of Savita Halappanavar, Anna Cosgrave set up Repeal Project – the organisation behind the iconic black jumpers that have become synonymous with the movement to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

As well as spreading the message, the Repeal Project helped raise hundreds of thousands for volunteer organisations working on the campaign, such as the Abortion Rights Campaign, Not At Home, Coalition To Repeal The Eighth and Together For Yes. Anna was nominated as one of 10 Ashoka Changemakers in 2017, won U Magazine Campaign of the Year 2017 and represented Ireland in Brussels at the FI gathering of feminist political activists.

Katherine Zappone

Minister Katherine Zappone, who has launched the questionnaire for her LGBT youth strategy

Katherine Zappone has a distinguished career in human rights, public policy, government, international relations and non-profit leadership.

Alongside her wife Ann-Louise Gilligan, she campaigned fiercely for years to achieve marriage equality in Ireland. Zappone made headlines when she popped the question live on RTÉ to Ann-Louise, saying she was “feeling emotional from the top all the way down to my toes”.

The couple were also co-founders of An Cosán, an organisation in Tallaght which offers adult education, among other services, to women from disadvantaged areas.

In a historic first, Minister Zappone became the first openly lesbian member of the Irish Cabinet in 2016.

Dil Wickremasinghe

Born in Rome to Sri Lankan parents, Wickremasinghe was left homeless after she came out as gay. After years of travelling, she moved to Ireland in 2000 and decided to stay. Since then, she has gone on to become an award-winning broadcaster and journalist, known for hosting FM104’s Come In, and previously, the podcast Sparking Change which ran for 58 episodes and highlighted the latest social justice and mental health stories.

Dil is also a co-founder (alongside their wife) of Insight Matters, a counselling and psychotherapy service. With their team of therapists, they provide essential, inclusive, affordable and accessible mental health support services to hundreds of clients per week.

Dil has faced a lot of adversity and injustices throughout their life, which fuels them in their work to make things better for others in similar circumstances – a very noble feat, to say the least.

Lilith Ferreyra-Carroll

a portrait of Lilith Ferrerya Carroll

Lilith is a fearless and inspiring trans and lesbian trailblazer who works with TENI as its National Community Development Officer. Her online activism particularly has centred on exposing the catastrophic state of affairs for trans folks trying to access healthcare in Ireland.

Lilith gave a most powerful speech at the 2021 Dublin Pride digital festival and wrote eloquently in a previous issue of GCN about ‘A state of collapse: Trans healthcare in Ireland is a national emergency.’

Lisa Connell

The photograph is a headshot of Lisa Connell, co-founder of Mother queer space. In the image she is looking directly into the camera smiling with her mouth closed. She has long sandy coloured hair worn loose with a fringe.

A former Group Manager of GCN, Lisa has been a prominent activist within the LGBTQ+ community for over 15 years. The Co-Founder and Organiser of Mother, Lisa regularly discusses the transformative power of the dancefloor, and the importance of creating safe spaces for queer folks to experience joy and connection.

Dr Gráinne Healy

Women of Irish Herstory: Grainne Healy

In 2015, Gráinne took home the GALAS Award for Volunteer of the Year, and for good reason! Longtime feminist and LGBTQ+ activist, former chairwoman of Marriage Equality and Co-Director of the Yes Equality campaign, Gráinne Healy was instrumental in securing a Yes vote in May 2015.

Along with progressing the LGBTQ+ movement, she has dedicated her life to campaigning for women’s rights in Ireland.

Joni Crone

One of the first Irish lesbian trailblazers to come to national attention, Joni Crone came out on The Late Late Show in 1980 – two years before Declan Flynn was murdered in Fairview Park and 13 years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland. She was there to talk about the need for law reform and give insight into the horror stories she heard on the Lesbian Line.

Joni returned from London in the 1970s and began the fight for civil rights for LGBTQ+ people in Ireland. Her play, Anna Livia Lesbia, was written in response to the erasure of the gay rights movement in Ireland in the ’70s and ’80s in the Marriage Referendum narrative.

GCN interviewed Joni for the 2017 Annual Pride issue and it’s a cracker. Find it below.

Queer Notions

Nuala Ward

A tireless activist for LGBTQ+ rights, amongst her myriad incredible work for the community, Nuala was the founder of Galway Pride and was fittingly honoured by leading the Galway Pride Parade as its Grand Marshal in 2019.

Nuala was also honoured by NUI Galway “in recognition of her dedication to human rights issues, in particular, LGBT+ issues, her work in advocacy, activism, awareness-raising and outgoing community service spanning over three decades.”

Dublin Lesbian Line

DLL wins Community Org of the Year- Voluntary Staff at the 2020 GALAS

Set up in 1979, Dublin Lesbian Line is one of the oldest LGBTQ+ helplines in the world, with a team of highly trained volunteers who have diligently offered support for the community. As stated on its website, “Our goal is to provide a supportive, confidential, non-judgmental helpline to those in need and expand our service accordingly.” DLL celebrated 40 years in 2019 and marked the occasion with a fabulous event, 40 Years Fearless.

Having been forced to temporarily close during the Covid-19 pandemic, DLL joined forces with The Switchboard to reopen its helpline in 2023. It also hosts a series of social events, including pub quizzes and Dyke Nights.

Mary Dorcey

The one-and-only Mary Dorcey is a beloved addition to our examples of Irish lesbian trailblazers. In the 1970s, she advocated both in Ireland and internationally for LGBTQ+ rights. She was a founding member of Irish Women United, Women for Radical Change and The Movement for Sexual Liberation.

Mary has published several collections of poetry alongside her other books. A member by peer election of the Irish Academy of Arts and Literature, Aosdána, she won the Rooney Prize in 1990 for her short story collection – A Noise from the Woodshed.

Dr Mary McAuliffe

The fabulous Dr Mary McAuliffe is a historian, lecturer and Director of Gender Studies at UCD, specialising in Irish women’s/gender history. Mary has written the books We were there; 77 women of the Easter Rising (co-written with Liz Gillis), and Sexual Politics In Modern Ireland.

She has also published two books with UCD Press on revolutionary lesbians: Margaret Skinnider and The Diaries of Kathleen Lynn (co-edited with Harriet Wheelock).

Mary is a devoted member of the board of the National LGBT Federation – the publishers of yours truly, GCN.

Moninne Griffith

Moninne Griffith from Belong To who talks about homophobic bullying

The wonderful Moninne Griffith is the CEO of the essential Belong To – the national organisation that advocates for queer youth in Ireland. The work that Belong To carries out with heart and passion has saved and improved the lives of countless young LGBTQ+ folk – its worth cannot be underestimated.

Moninne was also the Chair of the Gender Recognition Act and was heavily involved in the campaign for same-sex marriage in Ireland, acting as Director of Marriage Equality.

Paula Fagan

Paula Fagan

Paula Fagan is a force to be reckoned with. She has been striving for greater LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion for many years. She was a founding board member of Marriage Equality and has published a number of seminal research reports into the experiences and needs of LGBTQ+ people and their family members.

In her current role as the CEO of LGBT Ireland, she has overseen the expansion of the organisation and the services it provides, offering a comprehensive range of supports and information on issues relating to sexuality and gender identity.

Paula has been fighting the good fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ parents and their families for many years and the community is lucky to have her!

Anna Nolan

Photo of Anna Nolan, who has been appointed as the new NXF's Chairperson.

Anna Nolan is the chair of the National LGBT Federation and the Head of Development of COCO Television, one of Ireland’s leading TV production companies. She was a runner-up in the first season of Big Brother in 2000, with her life as a lesbian ex-nun a prominent topic of conversation throughout the episodes.

Kate Moynihan

Five women in black tshirts pose happily outside a building
Kate (Far Left) with Team LINC

For over 20 years, LINC has been the only community development organisation working exclusively with lesbian and bisexual women+ in the Republic of Ireland. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of people have been supported and assisted during that time, and thousands more have found friends, family, a safe space, a lifeline and a home.

Kate Moynihan is the Chief Executive of LINC, and those who know her rightfully recognise her as one of the most devoted Irish lesbian trailblazers in our history.

Bernie Quinn

One of the founding members of the national LGBT Helpline and Dundalk Outcomers, amongst many other things, the invaluable Bernie Quinn has long been a tireless supporter of our LGBTQ+ family.

Bernie is the Social Inclusion Officer for Outcomers, a social and befriending support group for all members of the rainbow spectrum operating in the centre of Dundalk town since 1997.

If you want to read something truly inspiring, you can check out an interview we did with Bernie in one of our 2019 issues here.

Ranae von Meding

Ranae at ‘Equality for Children’ demo
Ranae Von Meding at the ‘Equality for Children’ demonstration

An activist campaigning on behalf of LGBTQ+ parents in Ireland, Ranae von Meding has written many wonderful, informative and empowering articles for GCN, sharing with the community the struggles rainbow families face.

She is a founder of Equality for Children – a campaign for equality for children of LGBTQ+ families in Ireland. The campaign shares how children of same-sex parents in Ireland are denied the right to have a legally recognised relationship with both of their parents. Equality for Children, and Ranae, will not rest until it is achieved.

Jackie McCarthy O’Brien

Jackie McCarthy O'Brien playing football for the Republic of Ireland. The black and white image shows a young Jackie from the chest up, wearing an Ireland jersey and running. She has a slightly frowning expression and her mouth is slightly open. She has short black hair.

Jackie McCarthy O’Brien made history as the first Black woman to play football for the Republic of Ireland. She recorded a total of 13 caps in international soccer, but not only that, she also earned herself a place on the Irish women’s rugby team, being their first mixed-race player and making a similar number of appearances.

Jackie is an incredible role model for people of colour in Ireland, LGBTQ+ people and young athletes. In 2023, she was the Grand Marshal of Limerick Pride, and spoke openly about her life and experiences of coming out with GCN.

Maeve Delargy

The impressive Maeve is the founder of the Lesbian Lawyers Network. She accepted the GALAS 2020 Award for Outstanding Company on behalf of Arthur Cox, which was recognised for its work in promoting LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion both in the firm and the wider community.

Maeve now works as an environment and planning lawyer, and is a Law Soc council member, board member of the European Women Lawyers Association, and a committee founding member of OUTLaw.

Nell McCafferty

McCafferty was a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. The author’s journalistic writing on women and their rights reflected her beliefs on the status of women in Irish society.

In 1971, she travelled to Belfast with other members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in order to protest the prohibition of the importation and sale of contraceptives in the Republic of Ireland.

McCafferty received an honorary doctorate of literature from University College Cork on November 2, 2016, for “her unparalleled contribution to Irish public life over many decades and her powerful voice in movements that have had a transformative impact in Irish society, including the feminist movement, campaigns for civil rights and for the marginalised and victims of injustice”.

Pillow Queens

Pillow Queens Cover Shoot GCN

Music sensations and two-time GCN cover stars, Pillow Queens, also deserve a place on this list of Irish lesbian trailblazers. With the release of their three highly-acclaimed albums In Waiting, Leave the Light On, and most recently, Name Your Sorrow, the queer rock group is putting our little country on the musical map.

Unapologetically queer and Irish, both in their personal and professional lives, the band proves that being LGBTQ+ can be a catalyst for success and not a hindrance. Read more about the latest release from the Pillow Queens in GCN Issue 383, and get to know the band (including their drag names) a little bit better below!


This list of Irish lesbian trailblazers is merely a tiny selection out of all the incredible members of our community. To every single lesbian in our community, during this – we love you, we see you, we’ve got your back. x



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