Tarlach Mac Niallais (57), the well-known Belfast-born and New York-based Irish community activist, died of complications from Covid-19 in New York on Wednesday, April 1.
A longtime LGBT and social justice activist, Mac Niallais began campaigning on LGBT and Republican prisoners rights issues in Belfast in the early 1980s, in an era when violent attacks against gay men were commonplace.
It's possible to see Mac Niallais's adult life, from his university days in the 1980s to 2020, as one long, successful and notably cheerful march toward justice.
From his LGBT activism in Belfast in the 1980s (and the guts that took) to the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) protests on Fifth Avenue throughout the 1990s and well into the 21 century, to his parade formation role when the Lavender and Green Alliance and other Irish LGBT groups could finally march, to his latest successful Outing the Past LGBT history project, his life was defined by his ethics.
With other Queens University students in 1983, he opposed Ian Paisley's notoriously anti-gay Free Presbyterian Church and Democratic Unionist Party with his own brand of northern gay humor, inverting their famous slogan with a t-shirt that invited his fellow LGBT activists and allies to 'Save Sodomy From Ulster.'
Paisley's DUP had picketed the first-ever NUS Lesbian & Gay Conference, held at Queen's University in October 1983, and so it was here that Mac Niallais really found his bilingual voice.
About an hour ago we received the sad news about the sudden death of our friend Tarlsch MacNeillias as he became one of the victims of CoVid19. This sudden death is devastating to us all. Tarlach u will be missed! April 1st will never be the same. @IrishKateNJ@Dromm25 pic.twitter.com/UrhXvrBea1— Archley J Prudent (@archleyJack) April 2, 2020
Standing six foot one and gifted with a voice you could hear from a city block away, he was Belfast - and kindness - personified. Described by fellow longtime Belfast-born friend and fellow activist Marie Mulholland as a “huge light” she commented on his passing yesterday.
“My old friend, comrade, brother activist, pal from the old neighborhood, leading light in LGBT politics from the '80s in Belfast to the present day in New York City has passed away this evening a victim of Covid-19.”
“Tarlach Mac Niallais, fierce, funny, kind, principled and loving who never forgot where he came from and the streets that made him who he was. My heart is bruised but it is nothing compared to the loss suffered by his husband, Juan and his close, wonderful family of brothers and sisters. My deepest condolences to them. Rest In Peace Tarlach, a huge light with an even bigger heart.”
He is survived by his husband of 18 years Juan Valdez, who is also reportedly fighting Covid-19. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
This photo is only one month old. We lost Tarlach (r) in a matter of days. https://t.co/E3svFQc7Kq— Daniel Dromm (@Dromm25) April 2, 2020
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