New exhibition celebrates LGBTQ+ families in Ireland

 1 January 2024 14 July 2023
14 July 2023

A new online exhibition highlighting the diversity of family life in Ireland launches today. The exhibition ‘ReCollecting the Irish Family’ shares the experiences of five LGBTQ+ families.

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire and University College Cork found that a traditional, narrow definition of family excludes a wide variety of families living and loving in Ireland today. Through a series of interviews, the exhibition explores and celebrates what family means in Ireland, through a rich variety of diverse experiences.

Co-led by Dr Leanne Calvert at the University of Hertfordshire and Dr Maeve O’Riordan at the University College Cork, the researchers conducted interviews and collected objects as part of ‘RIFNET’ a cross-border research consortium funded by the Irish Research Council in Ireland and the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK. The interviews and objects were collected at an event at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks as a means of placing LGBTQ+ experiences into the home of Irish history.

The exhibition features family stories told through personal objects, including a sash worn by the winner of ‘Mr Wonderbar’ beauty contest in The George Pub; a Star Trek Fanzine; a photograph of the AIDS’ Memorial Quilt Tour, which highlighted the plight of young men suffering and dying from AIDS in the 1990s; and civil partnership and wedding photos made possible by recent legislation.

Dr Leanne Calvert, UK project lead and senior lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “We wanted to capture the ‘messy realities’ of family life in Ireland. The idea of the ‘traditional’ being defined by a married heterosexual couple and their children hides the diverse range of experiences from step-families and blended families, to LGBTQ+ families and everything in between. The collection brings to light some of these rich and varied experiences.”

Dr Maeve O’Riordan, Irish lead on the project and UCC lecturer in Women's and Cultural History, said: “Despite the great diversity of families in our society, we often see the same traditional representation of what a "family" looks like on TV and film and in our communities. This exhibition is a timely reminder that families come in all shapes and sizes, and care and love can be practised in many ways. It is essential to record the history of LGBTQ+ families so that future generations will know that they too have a history, and that LGBTQ+ experiences are part of Irish history, and the history of the Irish family.”

The entire collection of objects and interviews has been deposited with the Digitial Repository of Ireland for permanent safe keeping.

Welcoming the launch of the online exhibition, Coral Black, Head of UCC Library, said: “Access to the Digital Repository of Ireland continues to be a vital tool for our research community. We see the work that goes into preparing a dataset for ingest as FAIR and Open, and are delighted at the results of that effort, an invaluable, accessible and reusable collection preserved long term for future use. Congratulations to Maeve and RIFNET project.”

The exhibition ‘ReCollecting the Irish Family’ can now be viewed online.

Pictured is Cathal Kerrigan who tells his story of family with a photograph taken at the ‘Irish Quilt Tour: An AIDS Memorial’ in 1991. The photograph shows Cathal, his mother, Margaret, and Áine Casey, in Cork City Hall, at the event. Image credit: George A. Healy.


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