Noel Cunningham says many Irish celebrities still fear coming out

Noel Cunningham has been awarded Donegal Person of the Year for 2019 and spoke about growing up gay in 1950s Ireland in his acceptance speech.

Noel Cunningham

Noel Cunningham opened up about growing up gay in 1950s Kilcar, Donegal. Cunningham was speaking having been named Donegal Person of the Year 2019.

The hotelier said that it was tough growing up in a time where life for LGBT+ people was less tolerable and that there is still a stigma attached to coming out in Ireland today.

“I alluded to a different and less tolerant Ireland. I realised from very young that I was gay and true to the times, I lived a lie. My sensitivity and I suppose gentle nature led to bullying and a fairly unhappy life in general.

“This bullying and victimisation extended to all aspects of my life and it was not a happy time,” he said while accepting his award.

“It’s not that I want to go on a crusade or ask people to come out and open their heart and tell people they are gay because – even in Ireland today – for some it is impossible. It is not worth the hassle and abuse,” he later recounted to the Irish Independent.

Cunningham said he had to look at the lack of tolerance in the “cold light of day, knowing the situation.

“Being someone who is involved in all sorts of societal aspects of life, socially, workwise and other, I meet sports stars, I meet people who are well-known and I know instinctively that some of them are gay,” he said.

“Some of them will hint at it or that they are trying to somehow square the fact that they don’t want to be an object of [derision] and yet they are living this lie – like we did in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.”

He ended his acceptance speech saying “I want to be remembered as someone who championed and encouraged our great young people to live better lives and to live that life with a better acceptance for all.”

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