'One Of Our Proudest Moments': Sydney Queer Irish On Taking The Mardi Gras By Storm

The fabulous team even had the Queen of Ireland herself, Panti Bliss, leading their dazzling display.

The Sydney Queer Irish Mardi Gras team dance dressed in tight illumines clothes while holding umbrellas
Image: Photo by Kate Rawlins

Following their stunning display of fabulosity at this year’s Mardi Gras, Casey McDonagh of the Sydney Queer Irish group gave GCN the lowdown on the hard work behind the sparkle.

So Casey, how did the Sydney Queer Irish group come together?

The SQI was formed due to a need for visibility and a voice for Sydney’s Gay Irish community. We support those who identify as LGBT+ within and connected to the Irish and Irish Australian community in Sydney and NSW. We hold a number of events throughout the year from boat parties, picnics to trips and much much more. We will be 10 years old in 2020!

Who designs the float – is it a group thing?

Yes, it certainly is! We come together as a committee and each of us can submit an idea along the lines of what the theme represents for each respective year. We have a presentation of ideas where we bring along costume ideas, storyboards and whatever else needed for the imagination to run riot. We then vote as a committee on our favourite idea and off we go.

Then, we divide up the tasks so a few are in charge of ordering costumes, props, scheduling, choreography and much more. Finally, all marchers and committee build everything together over a weekend at our Working Bees (usually in our lovely President’s back garden, God love Loretta and her doggy Jindy!) We have a great time building everything, usually a BBQ and plenty of beer and chats. It’s a real group effort with glitter stations, painting, drilling, laughing, crying, the works.

This year Sydney Queer Irish celebrate a history of fearlessness in the Irish people that has led us to a more inclusive Ireland. In recent years, Ireland has been daring to light the way in the world in terms of LGBT+ equality and other human rights issues. SOLAS was the name we went with, which was perfectly matched with the neon green and pink colours of the SQI. 

The Sydney Queer Irish Mardi Gras team with giant light up puppets

How much rehearsals are involved and what do they entail?

Usually we do a month of rehearsals each Wednesday before the big day. The first one is a ‘getting-to-know-you’ equipped with name badges and mingling. This is where all marchers are told about the theme and the costumes and we start learning our dance. Each week we add a little more to the dance and we have a final dress rehearsal the night before the parade. Each week is done as a step-by-step process and we post videos in our Facebook group so people can rehearse in their spare time.

How did the parade go? 

It went without a hitch! Honestly, this year must have been one of our proudest moments. We just have such a solid team of people who work tirelessly and have such passion for the SQI and the wider Irish community in Sydney and all over. The sense of pride and energy is just amazing.

This year the amazing Panti Bliss marched with us again. She is truly the Queen of Ireland and a wonderful ambassador. The Irish Consulate also marched, which was such a lovely moment for us. It’s not every day you march with the Consul General of Ireland to Sydney!

The air was electric as we strutted our stuff with humongous cheers all sides. The reaction on social media since then as well as people personally writing to us and calling us to congratulate us is really touching.

Panto leads the Sydney Queer Irish Mardi Gras team all holding umbrellas

Do you get big support from queer Irish people?

We have been inundated with support throughout the years from a number of amazing Irish organisations across Ireland and Australia as well as queer Irish people. Panti Bliss has always been an incredible supporter of the SQI and we love her dearly. The Irish Consulate here in Sydney and various other Irish groups have always been a rock. SQI have always been very vocal on social media so our supporters reach a global and very multi-cultural audience.

What have Sydney Queer Irish got in store for next time?

We had our committee meeting just last night where we had a Mardi Gras debrief. Next year will be our tenth year as a committee so we’ve already been throwing around ideas.  

For now, we set our sights on St Patricks GAY which takes place next week. It was such a success last year that we had to come back again. It’s not to be missed! You can find out more about this and our other annual events on the Sydney Queer Irish Facebook page.

Stay tuned!

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