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Panti Bliss: Queen of Ireland

Ireland is renowned as a nation of storytellers, a land of rolling fields and 40 shades of green. But that’s only part of the story; there exists another Ireland, too - one where an LGBT activist known as Panti Bliss reigns supreme.

Rory O’Neill – better known as alter ego Panti Bliss - grew up in a small west of Ireland town in County Mayo called Ballinrobe.

The son of a veterinary surgeon, O’Neill calls his upbringing “painfully middle class”.

After attending the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin, O’Neill embarked on his chosen career of “gender discombobulation” and Panti was born.

Quickly becoming one of the most well-known drag queens in the country, Panti Bliss hosted the Alternative Miss Ireland pageant for over a decade and is a prominent fixture in the annual Dublin Pride celebrations.

However, it wasn’t until the Marriage Equality campaign that Rory O’Neill (and Panti Bliss) became a household name. A self-proclaimed “accidental and occasional gay rights activist”, O’Neill shot to national attention when he called out homophobia in the mainstream media, igniting a firestorm of controversy known affectionately as Pantigate.

O’Neill embarked on his chosen career of “gender discombobulation” and Panti Bliss was born.

Panti was subsequently invited by the Abbey Theatre, to join a roll call of Irish artists, writers and activists, who delivered what is known in Ireland as a ‘Noble Call’. This was a direct address to the audience, at the end of a performance of Sean O’Casey’s historic play The Plough and The Stars. Her impassioned description of the hurt caused by casual homophobia garnered over 200,000 YouTube views in two days and has over 845,000 to date.

Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole called it “the most eloquent Irish speech” in almost 200 years. International figures including Madonna, Stephen Fry, Graham Norton, Dan Savage and Ru Paul also declared their support.

In May 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. Released less than six months after the referendum, the documentary film The Queen of Ireland focused on O’Neill’s role in the marriage equality campaign and smashed the record for the highest grossing opening weekend of an Irish documentary.

Panti continues to tour and perform her distinct blend of charismatic storytelling, sharp social commentary and hilarious pop culture mash-ups with longtime collaborators This is Pop Baby.