Colm Tóibín Gives Public Talk on Same-Sex Relationships and Literature

Posted on: 14 May 2015

Multi-award-winning Irish author Colm Tóibín gave a public talk focusing on same-sex relationships and literature on Thursday May 14th in Trinity College Dublin. The talk, entitled The Embrace of Love: Being Gay in Ireland Now, focused on the representation of same-sex relationships in Irish and international literature, his experience of being a gay man and gay writer in Ireland and recent social, cultural and legal changes relating to same-sex relationships in Ireland.

In his lecture, Tóibín discussed E.M. Forster, Roger Casement’s diaries and the work of Oscar Wilde. He also discussed Senator David Norris’s battles in the Irish courts in the 1980s. He gave particular attention to two Irish writers –  Kate O’Brien and John Broderick – whom he said “both did their best by trying to stay in Ireland and deal with their own homosexuality in their novels”.


On the experience of being a gay man in Ireland he said: “In Ireland until recently gay people had a way of living in the shadows, not declaring ourselves. We had a sort of secret city – bars and discos, bath houses, websites, places of assignation – and some of us had become skilled at moving between these places as though we were invisible. Invisibility became part of a survival mechanism. Its downside was that people simply did not know about us, and more importantly, did not know that our way of loving has the same contours and textures as anyone else, the same fears and intensities, the same needs and comforts. One of those needs includes the need for the same rituals and the same constitutional protection as other people.”

“Other communities who have been oppressed – Jewish people, say, or Catholics in Northern Ireland – have every opportunity to work out the implications of their oppression in their early lives. They hear the stories; they have the books around them. As gay people, on the other hand, we grow up alone; there is no history. There are no ballads about the wrongs of the past, the martyrs are all forgotten. It is as though, in Adrienne Rich’s phrase when you were gay ‘you looked into the mirror and saw nothing.’ Thus the discovery of a history and a tradition and a sense of heritage must be done by each individual, as though alone, as part of the road to freedom, or at least knowledge. ”

Colm Tóibín’s talk was followed by a panel discussion featuring academics who responded to the lecture and discussed the representation of same-sex relationships in literature. This discussion, chaired by Professor of English Nicholas Grene, featured Dr Paul Delaney, Assistant Professor in English, Trinity, Dr Heather Ingman, Adjunct Professor in English, Trinity, and Professor Danielle Clarke, School of English, Drama, and Film, UCD.

The event was organised by Dr Brendan O’Connell Assistant Professor in English, and Dr Pádraic Whyte, Assistant Professor in English, from the School of English as part of Trinity Long Room Hub’s ‘Behind the Headlines’ discussion series.

Speaking at the event Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Professor Darryl Jones, said: “Tonight Trinity College Dublin is proud to be welcoming Colm Toibin and to be hosting an event dedicated to exploring, discussing and thinking about the importance of same-sex relationships in literature and culture throughout the ages.”

“The forthcoming referendum has all kinds of issues about the significance of same sex relationships and the status they should be afforded and their place within culture and society. As a university these are exactly the kinds of questions that we should be addressing. Universities are public institutions, which perform a public service and are embedded within society. Universities both respond to and in some way help to shape events and the social world.”

Irish author Colm Tóibín gave a public talk focusing on same-sex relationships and literature in Trinity

To coincide with Tóibín’s lecture, the School of English has created a visual display on the subject of same-sex relationships in literature. From Chaucer to Children’s Literature, the slideshow illustrates the manner in which some staff members at the School of English engage with the subject of same-sex relationships in their teaching and research. The display can be seen on the screen in the Arts Building tunnel at the Nassau Street entrance of College and also accessed online.

Trinity Long Room Hub’s new ‘Behind the Headlines’ discussion series offers background analyses to current issues by experts drawing on the long-term perspectives of arts and humanities research. It aims to provide a forum that deepens understanding, combats simplification and polarisation, creating a space for informed and respectful public discourse.

Dr Heather Ingman, Prof Nicholas Grene, Professor Danielle Clarke, Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Prof Darryl Jones, Dr Paul Delaney, Colm To?ibi?n, Dr Brendan O'Connell and Dr Pádraic Whyte.

Professor Jürgen Barkhoff, Director of Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute added: “We are delighted to include Colm Toibin’s talk, and the panel discussion of same sex relationships in literature, in our ‘Behind the headlines series’. Literature is a uniquely powerful medium to make the human side of any issue in all its complexity visible and to show what effect political or legal discussions, decisions and actions have on the experiences and life stories of individuals.”

Colm Tóibín is the author of eight novels, three of which – The Blackwater Lightship, The Master and The Testament of Mary – were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His most recent novels include Brooklyn and Nora Webster. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, a contributor to the New York Review of Books, and a contributing editor at the London Review of Books. His book On Elizabeth Bishop was published in April 2015. Colm Tóibín is President of Listowel Writers Week and chair of Pen World Voices in New York.

Media Links:



Media Contact:

Fiona Tyrrell, Media Relations Officer | | +353 1 896 3551