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Ballinrobe to silver screen


LEADING THE WAY A promotional poster for the upcoming documentary film ‘The Queen of Ireland’.

A documentary about Ballinrobe man Rory O’Neill is about to hit the silver screen

Ciara Galvin

HE takes to the stage most nights in Dublin’s PantiBar as the formidable and articulate drag queen Panti Bliss, but now Rory O’Neill’s remarkable story is going global.
The Ballinrobe native and accidental activist is now ready for the release of ‘The Queen of Ireland’. The documentary, shot over the last five years, not only gives a glimpse into Rory’s life in the south Mayo town, but also looks at how Ireland has changed over the last four decades.
Since June 2010, Director Conor Horgan and his team have followed Rory and Panti around intermittently and talked to those who know him best.
With just over a week to go until the world premiere of the film, Rory says he hasn’t exactly seen the finished product just yet.
“All I have seen is a rough cut. They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to freak out about it. They would show me the whole thing now but I don’t want to see it until the premiere,” he says.
Rory will be joined at the premiere on Wednesday, October 21, by his mother and father Fin and Rory Senior, along with his siblings and O’Neill says they will be in their ‘Sunday best’.
“It will be a weird experience watching it with the family involved, and mother worrying about how the hair looks,” he laughs. Asked how his family dealt with being featured and interviewed for the documentary, Rory says ‘they were a little out of their comfort zone’, but added that they were happy to take part.
And how has he adjusted to not being followed around by a camera crew anymore?
Well, Rory explains that shooting for it wasn’t constant.
“Months would go by when I wouldn’t see them, or they ran out of money. And a lot of stuff I wasn’t there for, they would go off and interview other people. They could hang around for a week and then I wouldn’t see them for a month.”
Outside support
A crowdfunding campaign to help raise money to support the production of the documentary reached more than its targeted €50,000.
Having followed Rory and Panti over the past five years, the ‘Pantigate’ and ‘Marriage Equality Referendum’ are both documented in the feature.
Rory and his alter ego shot to international prominence following Panti’s rallying ‘Noble Call’ at the Abbey Theatre in February, 2014.
When O’Neill came out after finishing boarding school in Meath in the 1980s, he never envisaged becoming a gay rights campaigner, but the rousing speech was delivered by Panti after members of the Iona Institute and columnist JohnWaters claimed they were defamed by him.
Panti became one of the main figureheads for the ‘Yes campaign’ ahead of the referendum last May.
The documentary followed O’Neill to his home town last June for his ‘homecoming’ show, just one week after the Marriage Referendum had been successfully passed.
In the recently released trailer for the feature documentary O’Neill is seen walking to the function tent in the town for his show, flanked by his parents.
Having previously said that the show was going to be one of the most ‘terrifying’ shows of his life, O’Neill later described it as ‘amazing’.

Billboard campaign
Commenting on the large billboard advertising the documentary which now takes pride of place outside Westport Train Station, Rory says it is rather ‘surreal’.
“That’s the fun part. If you had told me that a picture of a drag queen, little only me, would be on a billboard outside a train station in Westport, Co Mayo...that’s fun. When you see a bus going passed you down O’Connell Street with Panti on the side of it, it’s great, I imagine it’s great for someone who is in films and experiences that.”
Asked how he would describe the film, O’Neill says he sees the documentary as archiving Ireland’s changing attitudes.
“On the surface, it’s about me and Panti, but not really. It’s really about Ireland and how it has changed since the 1970s and the LGBT community in particular.”
He adds, “I hope people see it as a record on how Ireland has changed, and that they feel good about that change. And that if you keep to something even if it’s a weird thing like drag, it can work out for you.”
‘The Queen of Ireland goes on general release from October 23, but tickets for the Castlebar screening for Wednesday, October 21 are on sale now.