Behind the scenes with Sydney Queer Irish at Mardi Gras 2021

Ruth Goodwin captures preparations for the big day and joins the crew as they march in a unique version of Mardi Gras.

A group of people wave flags the colour of the Irish flag
Image: Ruth Goodwin

The iconic Sydney Mardi Gras took place on Saturday 6 March and the Sydney Queer Irish group marched with a message of pride, strength and unity. While the coronavirus has put a damper on Mardi Gras celebrations globally, over in Australia, the country’s success in keeping community transmission of the virus very low meant that a modified event was able to go ahead.

This success has come at a cost to residents from overseas who have been unable to visit home due to Australia’s strict (but necessary) international border control policy. They have had to watch virtually from afar as loved ones experienced the highs and lows of a tumultuous year. But during this time, the Sydney Queer Irish community have stuck together, looking out for one another and creating a home away from home for its members.

Fortunately, what the Irish have always been good at is bringing the Irish Spirit to whatever country they find themselves in and inviting everyone to the party. It’s no surprise the Sydney Queer Irish crew embraces all nationalities; within a couple of hours with them, you’re honorary Irish for life. We go on a visual journey with Sydney Queer Irish during Mardi Gras, as they pay tribute to their Irish homeland and remind us that wherever you find yourself during 2021, while there is no place like home, the power of love, the human spirit, inclusion and community transcends borders.


Ryan Bunker led the creative vision for Sydney Queer Irish at Mardi Gras in 2021 and the group met for a working bee the week before the event to create the decorations and costumes. With Mardi Gras taking place in the stadium at the Sydney Cricket Ground this year, instead of the historic parade route along Oxford Street, the group decided to go with bold colours that would be easily recognisable as Irish from a distance.


Owen Feeney the Consul General of Ireland in Australia talks to the group at the dress rehearsal the evening before the parade. The government of Ireland provides the group with a small amount of funding as part of the Emigrant Support Programme.


Claire Mannion has her make up done at The Gaelic Club in Surry Hills in preparation.


The group do a quick gift presentation before they make their way to Sydney Cricket Ground for the parade. With a limited number of participants able to march this year, Sydney Queer Irish organised a parade viewing party for the rest of its members at the Gaelic Club, complete with live performances by drag artists Peaches Queen and Cockington Black.


The Sydney Queer Irish group assemble. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they have been limited to 40 members marching this year. Flags of Colour was the theme for 2021 with 32 flag bearers, each representing one of the counties of Ireland.


Peadar Dunnion helps Glaswegian Claire Mannion, with her flag outside the Sydney Cricket Ground. Peader from Donegal has been in Australia since 2012 and became an Australian citizen two years ago, celebrating by climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the day.


All participants in Mardi Gras this year were required to undergo temperature checks and health screening to limit the coronavirus risk before entering the waiting area.


Casey McDonagh, from Galway has lived in Australia for six years. He’s found being a part of the group really helpful when he’s felt far from home, especially recently with it being three years since he was last able to visit Ireland.


Brian Murphy, President of Sydney Queer Irish with founder Loretta Cosgrove. Loretta was recently awarded the Irish Presidential Distinguished Service Award for her work championing diversity and inclusion, an incredible achievement.


As each group marching was isolated in a separate bubble away from other participants, facemasks were not mandatory but became another opportunity for creative expression.


Claire Mannion runs through a rehearsal of the dance routine with the group in the participant waiting area.


The group wait in the line up outside at the Sydney Cricket Ground for their turn.


Friends Kate and TJ have a cheeky kiss as the excitement builds before the group steps out onto the pitch to march. TJ has Irish parents and joined Sydney Queer Irish three years ago to connect with her roots and honour her heritage.


Wadie Ramdani moved to Australia in 2013 from France and has been marching with the Sydney Queer Irish crew for the last five years. Wadie moved to South Australia at the end of 2020 after losing his job in Sydney due to pandemic redundancies, but didn’t think twice about returning to Sydney to be a part of Mardi Gras. “Trust me, it’s been amazing,” he said.


Professional dancer Joseph Cardona is First Nations Australian from Darwin and choreographed the routine for the parade performance that had the crowd cheering.


Trevor Weafer cheers to the crowd as Sydney Queer Irish take their lap around the packed stadium. From Monkstown in Dublin, he celebrated his nine year anniversary of moving to Australia on 8 March. Trevor had a difficult year last year after splitting up with his partner after 17 years and stayed connected with the SQI crew over zoom during lockdown. He reckons he came out of 2020 all the better for the curve balls.


Although the march was shorter in duration than previous years, the stadium atmosphere made up for the necessary departure from tradition that the global conditions in 2021 brings.


In true Mardi Gras style, when the parade ends the night is only just beginning. Two members of the crew call into a house party on their walk back to the Gaelic Club.

Ruth Goodwin in a photojournalist based in Sydney, Australia. For more of her work, you can visit her website here or follow her on Instagram on @ruthgoodwinphoto

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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