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On 23 May 2015 the people of Ireland made history by becoming the first nation in the world to introduce marriage equality by popular vote. As the historic vote was declared, the joyous scenes from Dublin Castle and across Ireland made headlines around the world. Yet, the referendum outcome was about more than the votes cast in its favour; the result was about changing the ‘real lives’ of the largest minority in Ireland, the LBGTI community.

“…these stories collected by Charlie Bird, filled with bracing honesty and heart-breaking personal revelation, make clear that being gay in Ireland was perhaps a more essential aspect of Irish history and Irish reality than anyone was aware.”

Colm Tóibín

Charlie Bird, inspired by the extraordinary ‘Yes Equality’ campaign, travelled the length and breadth of Ireland to meet some of the people most deeply affected by the referendum results. Their stories bring to life the reality of living in the shadow of inequality and oppression. A Day in May is a poignant record of their lives – of the pain, terror, confusion, the love and laughter – beautifully captured by Charlie Bird. Stunning portrait photography complement the voices on paper to powerful effect, amplifying the life- affirming impact of that day in May 2015 when Ireland said ‘Yes’ to marriage equality.

“Gay history is a set of lonely shadows, dotted lines, stories not told, isolated suffering, silences and marginalisations. Thus the idea of individual witness and the idea of each gay person having a story to tell go beyond the personal into the political. It moves our lives from shadow into substance. It creates a sense of community and joins the dotted lines of history. It offers us not only an image of others, but of ourselves.

As with all stories of slow, gradual liberation, there have been some unlikely enabling spirits and some odd and ambiguous heroes on the road towards acceptance of gay people in Ireland. In the early 1980s, it would have seemed absurd to claim that gay people in Ireland would move into the light courtesy of the Irish Constitution of 1937, since it was that very document that allowed the Supreme Court, in a three-two judgment, to dismiss the case which David Norris brought as an Irish citizen and a gay man who sought to have his rights vindicated.

Yet these stories collected by Charlie Bird, filled with bracing honesty and heart-breaking personal revelation, make clear that being gay in Ireland was perhaps a more essential aspect of Irish history and Irish reality than anyone was aware. These stories tell of an anguish that arises from silence and intolerance and fear. This was a feeling experienced also by many women in Ireland, and indeed by children. It was a feeling shared by those who belonged to the travelling community, by immigrants and by other who were treated as an underclass or outcasts.”

Colm Toibín (Photograph: Steve Pyke)