|Vanessa Monaghan Chair of The London Irish LGBT Network, Radio Presenter, Podcast Producer, took time out of her extremely busy schedule to share her experiences of living in and leaving Ireland and making London her new home.|
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Vanessa Monaghan, originally from outside Kells in Co. Meath. I lived in Dublin for years before moving to London.
It’s the second time I’ve lived in London. I moved here first in 2001 and stayed about a year. I absolutely hated it! It was before the internet and emails were everywhere really. It was extremely difficult to keep up to date with family and friends and long-distance phone calls were still expensive.
London felt like a very big place. You had to pick up Time Out magazine to find out what was going on, or where you could meet like minded people.
The internet has definitely made living away from home a lot easier, however during Covid, you might as well be in Australia as in London. Ireland feels a long way away.
After a while back in Dublin, I decided I would do a degree so went to DCU as a mature student. I loved every minute, but it was a tough time. The crash had happened, and it was hard to even survive financially. Everything seemed a bit gloomy. When I finished my degree, I spent about 9 months applying for jobs. I got 2 interviews; one was a part time job. Didn’t get either. I decided that, as a recent mature student, I had to do something, or I would need to then look about doing a masters in Ireland. I couldn’t afford to do that, so I started applying for jobs outside Ireland.
Pretty quickly, I got a job in a national media company here in London. The move was really decided for me.
Tell us about The London Irish LGBT Network and when you became a member/chair?
I got involved with the London Irish LGBT Network a couple of years ago when then Chair, now our Treasurer, Joseph Healy asked me if I would be interested in making some podcasts for the group.
To be honest, before this I was happy just being a queer person and getting on with my life. Listening to the stories from the people I was interviewing opened my eyes. The Irish LGBTQ+ community is now so lucky that Ireland, as a nation, is becoming more accepting of our community. It wasn’t always like that though. Many Irish had to leave the country as they couldn’t be themselves. Their jobs and lives were shrouded in secrecy. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993. These stories along with learning of how many Gay Irish HIV+ people, predominately men had to come to London in the 1980s for treatment, as none was available in Ireland, really struck a chord with me.
Many of these people died in London and never got to go home. Many of their families never knew they were gay or that they died of HIV/AIDS related illnesses. They deserve recognition. Their stories and memory cannot be forgotten.
The group was formed in 2014 by a group of Irish LGBTQ people living here in London who wanted to meet up and share their Irish culture and identities. Pride and St Patrick’s Day are major highlights of our year, but we’ve also had lots of other really interesting historical and cultural events take place. Talks on Roger Casement by Dr. Joseph Healy, Eva Gore Booth by Sonja Tiernan and the LGBT Movement in Ireland by Dr. Maurice Casey. When we can, we also team up with other organisations. In 2019, we held staged readings and a professional performance of Colm Clifford’s ‘Friends of Rio Rita’s’ in Lewisham Irish Centre. We also teamed up with Irish in Britain, who are the umbrella group for Irish groups here, to host a conference focused on Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland. This was a brilliantly received event and was attended by many community groups as well as MPs.
I took over as Chair in May 2020. Yup, in the middle of a pandemic. It did take a little while to figure out what direction we were going to take and to ensure that the group remained relevant.
We now run monthly virtual meet ups. These have ranged from speaking to musicians, artists, filmmakers to having Trans Awareness night and a night on Housing for Older LGBTQ people. We were delighted to also have Celebrity MasterChef Champ, Riyadh Khalaf, be our guest at our AGM. We also co-hosted a ‘Rainbow Crossings’ event with the Embassy of Ireland, looking at the impact that Irish Immigrants had on LGBTQ politics in the 1980’s in London.
These meetups have been a brilliant safe space for people and it’s something we wouldn’t have thought of doing before Covid. They have made the group more inclusive. People who have different work hours or have disabilities or mobility issues may not always be able to get to a physical event. We’ve had people join us from all over the world and we’re busy planning our next events.
Tell us about London Pride this year and how you marked it?
Pride has obviously been a little bit different this year. Pride in London festivities will take place in September 2021. London Irish LGBT is committed to ensuring the safety of our members. So, we’ll continue to keep an eye on how everything is going.
Pride Month takes place every June and this year, we decided to ask some of our members to share their stories and tell us what makes them Proud, which got fantastic reactions.
The group also contributed to the ‘Out in The World’ exhibition being held at the EPIC Museum in Dublin, and I was asked to represent the group with a video at the opening of the event.
As Proud Irish people, we were also delighted to show our support for the new Bród postage stamp issued by An Post.
We finished off the month with a special virtual meetup and chat with Irish LGBTQ+ journalist, archivist and activist Tonie Walsh.
Can you tell us about your other work?
Radio, music and audio production have always been a major love of mine. I’ve been very lucky to work within these areas. I’ve also been making radio for RTE for 10 years now. Before moving to London, I presented Culture Café, looking at music, arts and cultural events in Ireland.
The show became The London Ear when I moved here. It has a predominately Irish community slant and I try to feature as much new Irish music as possible. When I can, I also try to include other fellow Global Irish. Guests have been living in Australia. Norway, USA, Spain, all over the world. I’ve also had the opportunity to interview some amazing people such as Alan McGee, Simon Napier-Bell, actor Demain Bichir and even Melanie C!
You can tune in every Saturday at 1pm London Time on RTE 2XM. 2xm.rte.ie
Do you miss Ireland and when were you last home?
How could I not miss Ireland?! That’s where my family are and lots of my friends are still there. I miss the fresh air and love that there’s less people around, even in Dublin in comparison to London.
I haven’t been home since December 2019. I am delighted that WhatsApp and video calls exist. I’ve met my little nephew only a handful of times but thanks to video we got to know each other. It’s amazing how much you can miss in almost two years. Can’t wait for hugs from everyone!
Do you think has Ireland changed since you left .. for the better or otherwise?
This is a weird one. Yes, it has changed. But everywhere changes.
The homelessness crisis is deeply upsetting, and something needs to be done about the housing situation. It’s not fair that people work their asses off, pay rent every week and still can’t afford to own a home, according to the banks. How are they paying rent then?
There are lots of things that I would love to change but I don’t live there anymore. Obviously, it’s home and I want the best for the country and its people. Yes, I complain about things I see happening at home but at the end of the day, I don’t live there and sometimes don’t feel qualified to speak about things anymore.
I think this also ties in with your last question. Every time I go home, I see something different. A new restaurant, a new expensive office building or apartment block, cultural and music venues closing. The Dublin I knew is fading quickly. I do miss Dublin, but I think the Dublin I miss doesn’t exist anymore.
What do you like to do in your spare (if any!) time?
Well, I love my vinyl and since the first lockdown I’ve got into growing vegetables on our London balcony. I’m currently also trying to perfect the art of Kombucha making. When I can I also do a bit of blogging on nessymon.com
A random fact about yourself or one of your likes/dislikes or anything else you would like to share
Random Fact: I once crawled my way out of a burning building.
Dislikes: I think turnips are the most vile foodstuff ever. Why do they even exist?