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May 18, 2015Feature

Hannah O’Connell chats to James McLoughlin and Barry Jeffers, the faces behind Dublin’s Marriage Equality mural

By now we have all seen the pro-equality mural that appeared on the corner of Dame St and South Great George’s St on the April 11 2015.


The piece was created by illustrator and street artist Joe Caslin from a photograph taken by professional photographer, Sean Jackson.

Understandably, news of the mural quickly went viral with global sites like BuzzFeed and i-D picking up the story. Joe Caslin was heavily covered in most articles however the two men in the photograph were given just a line or two.

I talked to the faces behind the mural, James McLoughlin and Barry Jeffers.

James is 24, originally from Roscommon and now lives and works in Dublin. Barry has been living in Dublin for four years since moving from Galway. The pair met through mutual friends and naturally gravitated towards each other because as James puts it,

“We’re both bogger gay lads that had moved to Dublin.”

"All we are asking for is equality and to be treated the same as everyone else."

So, starting from the beginning how did a photograph of James and Barry end up on the side of Rick’s Burgers?

“It was all a pretty quick process,” explains James. “From the time we were asked to take part in the project to it actually being erected was only something like a month or so. Colm O’Corrigan was styling the shoot and asked Barry and someone else originally, but the other guy couldn’t do it, so that’s where I came in. We met at a studio a week or so later where Sean Jackson photographed us and then after that the main man behind it all, Joe Caslin, started to do his sketches.”

Joe Caslin is originally from Roscommon and is, coincidently, a friend of James’ sister so James was aware of his style prior to being approached.

“His previous work had dealt with young men and mental health so I guess it was a natural progression to do a piece for the Marriage Equality Campaign.”

The mural is officially titled ‘The Claddagh Embrace’ and Barry supplied the back story to this.

“I don’t think the title of the mural came until after I told Joe the story of my Claddagh ring and how much it meant to me to see it on such a large scale,” says Barry. “My father sadly passed away last year after a short battle with cancer and his Claddagh ring, that my mum bought for him twenty-six years ago, was passed onto me. So it makes me feel like he has had a part to play in all of this, which is really heart-warming.”

In the mural, Barry wears the ring on the middle finger of his right hand. “Showing it to my mum and sister for the first time was pretty special!”

James follows, “It was quite a lovely affirmation to see my family and all of my friends posting about it on their Facebooks.”

The positive reactions didn’t stop at family and friends. On Tuesday 21st April 2015 a warning letter was sent by Dublin City Council to Joe Caslin calling for the removal of the mural. Councillor Mannix Flynn stated to that the issue was one of planning permission and was not concerned with the message of the mural.

Yes supporters responded with a petition titled ‘DO NOT REMOVE THE MARRIAGE EQUALITY MURAL!’ At the time of writing this the petition stands at over forty-four thousand signatures.

Unfortunately the letter was not the only concern the mural had to contend with. Made from biodegradable paper, a few days after the warning was issued heavy rain washed away a large section of it.

“I like how it’s going to come to an end naturally rather than because of a court case or something,” says James. “It’s nice to know it’s soon going to be gone in a good way and hopefully so should this entire referendum.”

Barry adds, “I think the sentiment it represents won’t be going anywhere soon, that’s the most important thing.”

On Friday 22nd of May 2015 the nation will take to the polling stations to vote to amend the constitution to include the following article:

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

"It's hard to put into words how much it would mean to be deemed equal and accepted by my fellow citizens"

If the Yes vote wins, what will this mean to James and Barry?

“Equality.” says James. “Essentially, all we are asking for is equality and to be treated the same as everyone else. It’s incredible how many of the No voters are voting No because of a reason that has nothing to do with the referendum whatsoever. If gay people are granted the right to get married, the only thing that is going to happen is…gay people will get married. End of.

“It’s hard to put into words how much it would mean to be deemed equal and accepted by my fellow citizens,” follows Barry. “This referendum has made me feel less accepted in society than I ever have. It’s not easy to get on with your everyday life when every second lamppost in your city makes you feel unequal to everyone else. A Yes vote will be an assurance of love and acceptance for the gay children and future gay children growing up in Ireland.”

Barry continues, “I ask anyone considering a No vote to not be misinformed on what this referendum is truly about. A No vote will not stop gay couples having children. They already do, and continue to do so. A Yes vote will ensure that these children will have the same protections and rights as children from heterosexual couples.”

He goes on, “I want to have children of my own someday and I hope they grow up in a loving, accepting society. I want to get married and have full access to the institution of Marriage.”

Three polls, due to appear in Monday’s newspapers,  show a majority Yes vote. If passed, Ireland will be the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry as the result of a popular vote.

“It’s going to be an incredibly emotional day and I’m hoping for all the right reasons,” tells James. “It would be an amazing thing to say we were the first country to vote on this in the entire world and that we made the right decision.”

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