Initially a fortuitous meeting between “the only two gays in IADT”, Niall Sweeney and Rory O’Neill (aka Panti Bliss) stayed in touch after college through detailed letters (sent by fax!). We went along to the Science Gallery to hear how their connection led to creative projects and a collaborative family. 

What was very apparent from the beginning of the talk was the strong friendship between Rory and Niall. They are extremely passionate individuals and creative entrepreneurs. The talk was informative, fun and deeply insightful in telling the story of LGBT community and culture in Ireland. Some of the most important takeaways from their talk were:

  1. Travel. It will help you find yourself and it will inspire you as well as others around you. Rory’s trip to Japan was a huge influence on Niall’s early design work and would often feature Panti.
  2. Collaboration is Key. Finding others who are just as passionate and dedicated to your ideas as you are can produce some truly amazing things and really make a difference in your world.
  3. Make it Happen! I believe both Rory and Niall encompass this “do it yourself” mentality, they campaigned the fact that if you feel there is something missing or you want to make something happen. Do it, there’s nothing stopping you, in Niall’s words “create your own stage to dance on”.

It’s our mainstream. We created it.

Niall Sweeney

As we learned during their talk, “nearly every visualisation of Panti was Niall’s work”. She became a symbol – and still is – for equal rights in Ireland, but also for following your dreams. Eventually Panti moved on to theatre and performance lectures, one of which, her talk at the Abbey Theatre, went viral. And with it, Rory propelled Panti into the centre of an important cultural conversation.

So does this mean they’ve gone from alternative to mainstream? Yes, in a sense. As Niall said, “we’re coming full circle. But it’s our mainstream. We created it.” Theirs is a story of two friends creating, collaborating and taking charge of their surroundings to bring about the change they wanted to see in their city.

‘First Up’ is part of a series of lunchtime talks from the creative minds at the forefront of Irish culture. The illustration above was inspired by the Rory O'Neill and Niall Sweeney 'First Up' talk and created by DDFH&B Art Director Aisling Dowling.

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