Self-proclaimed ‘homoseanchai’ Richard O’Leary is bringing his sensational one-man show Border Fairies to Dublin as part of this year’s Pride festival. He spoke to GCN about what audiences can expect.
Can you tell us a bit about Border Fairies?
It’s about how as a gay man, a fairy, my life has been shaped by the Irish border. Although I grew up in Cork, I crossed the border to Belfast in the late 1980s to come out and fell madly in love with an Ulsterman, which led to a lot of very interesting and often strange situations.
It’s a lesser-known history of underground love, faith, bandits and Protestant cars across four decades of my cross-border fairy history. But it’s also an exploration of belonging, and about who gets to decide what the main narratives of history are.
You describe yourself as a ‘homoseanchai’; where did the term originate?
I’m a particular kind of Irish storyteller or seanchai. Unlike the traditional storyteller who focused on life in Ireland’s rural past, my stories revolve around my experiences as a gay man, what was in Ireland once called a “homo”. So I came up with the term ‘homoseanchai’.
It also connects LGBTQ+ people with our wider heritage, which we are often seen as separate from. I come from a long line of storytellers. Both my great-grandfather and my father were from Blarney and were storytellers, so I am the fourth generation of seanchai in my family.
I’m also a recovering academic, and I used to manage the LGBTQ+ Heritage Project in Northern Ireland, but seven years ago, I reconnected to storytelling as a form and have since created three full shows and frequently perform in Belfast, at festivals and for radio. It’s a way of exploring hidden queer histories that audiences really connect with.
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You use personal objects on stage to tell your stories, can you tell us about that?
I say I’m not a hoarder but a collector. I’ve held on to the physical souvenirs of four decades of my gay life. Everything from my school essays and love letters I wrote in the 1980s, to old copies of gay magazines and activist materials.
They all retain emotional and political resonance for me and evoke memories which I use on stage to connect people with the personal, with something beyond anonymous histories. Objects hold a certain magic, which of course, is perfect for my fairy world.
Border Fairies will have two performances during Dublin Pride, on Monday 19 and Tuesday June 20, 2023, at 7pm at Outhouse, Capel Street.
Tickets start at €12 and are available from Outburst Arts.
Border Fairies is produced by Outburst Arts, originally commissioned for Outburst Queer Arts Festival 2022 through the Shared History Fund exploring the impacts of the partition of Ireland.
The tour is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs Reconciliation Fund.
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