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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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Journeys with TheJournal.ie: Ireland's oldest gay sports club encourages people to get Out and About

A community group that was a safe space for gay people in 1980s Ireland is the third winner of our Irish Rail free trips partnership.

O&A03 Source: Out & About

EVERY SUNDAY MORNING at 10 o’clock, members of the Out and About club, the oldest gay sporting club in the country, meet at Earlsford Terrace to set out on a hiking activity.

During the winter they stick to the Wicklow Mountains for their weekly hikes – but during the summer, they take on the Cooley, Mourne, Slieve Bloom, and Blackstairs Mountains, as well as embarking on international hiking trips.

The idea fuelling the club’s activities is that this is a place for people of all backgrounds, of all ages, nationalities, and genders to be themselves – and to get ‘out and about’ while doing so.

Their members are as young as 20, and their oldest member, who has been a part of the club since its foundation, is celebrating his 75th birthday today.

Support at a time when being gay was a crime

When it was founded in December 1989, the club was named the Hirschfeld Outdoors Group but slowly drifted into a hiking-focused club. In a time when being gay was a crime, the group became “a community of support where people could be themselves” and didn’t have to hide who they were.

Dermot Reilly has been leading the group for over ten years. He says that their group of 100 members has grown more confident in the time since the gay marriage referendum, and there is an additional visibility to the group.

“During the boom we saw a big increase in our membership, in particular members from eastern Europe which added to the vibrancy and visibility of the club.”

The club’s confidence and visibility has grown in step with the Gay Pride Parade – it began as a form of protest, looking for decriminalisation and marriage equality; and changing to a celebratory event.

“You do have to bear in mind that sexuality is an individual approach for so many people. Out & About is about being friendly, warm, and open – get out and have a hike, be yourself and be part of a club.”

He also emphasised the importance of the club’s rural visits:

We’ve been everywhere where there are decent hills, which tend to be isolated areas. Often when we travel we meet with local groups and clubs. I often forget the loneliness of people living in the countryside where there are little social outlets, and I think engaging with a club from other areas [such as ours] helps massively.

On the changeable Irish weather, Dermot says that there is no such thing as inappropriate weather – just inappropriate clothing: “We’ve hiked in all kinds of weather – in fact, snow is an excuse to go hiking!”

The 100-peaks challenge

Of all the journeys they have gone on, Dermot remembers the occasion where they celebrated their 20th anniversary by taking part in the 100-peaks challenge, which involved climbing Ireland’s top 100 highest mountains.

“I was relatively new at making decisions, and anyone who’s lead a team knows what that’s like, and I was using a map when I stepped off onto a knife-edged ridge on the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks in Kerry.”

I remember leaping into the unknown, but felt the support of my club with me.

Dermot says that one of the club’s members suggested the Journeys with TheJournal.ie competition and though he thought they wouldn’t win, he said they’d “give it a spin”:

“I thought we’d give it a go and we’re pleasantly surprised that this has happened – we feel so privileged to win it.”

He added: “I’ll have to talk to our members about how we’ll use the tickets – you can be sure there will be no shortage of ideas about what we’ll do with it!”

  • TheJournal.ie will be announcing one winner a week, over the next four weeks, but there are 100 round trips to be won – for up to 50 people in a group at a time, so a whopping 5,000 tickets – and you can apply until 28 October 2016.

Read: Journeys with TheJournal.ie: Honouring the veterans of Jadotville

Read: Journeys with TheJournal.ie: Waterford project for underprivileged teens proves Blooming brilliant

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