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Bona Palooza

Exploring the experiences of rural LGBTQ+ communities

Art on display above fireplace inside exhibition house at Ulster Folk Museum
Date published

Bona Palooza is a new micro festival for the Ulster Folk Museum, exploring the stories and experiences of members of the LGBTQ+ community in rural Northern Ireland.

Bona Palooza translates as ‘good gathering’ with bona deriving from Polari to mean ‘good’ and palooza being associated with a type of event.

On November 5th, we brought together historians, artists and storytellers to provide attendees with a variety of screenings, workshops and talks that reveal rural Ulster’s relationship with gender and sexual minorities from the early 20th century to today.

It is part of a wider programme for the museum, ‘Broad Voices and Baler Twine’, that explores hidden and alternative narratives of rural life in Ulster past and present and throughout the day, visitors got to listen, learn and talk to people within the LGBTQ+ community in NI and listen to their experiences. 

Thomas Wells, Creative Programmer at National Museums NI (pictured below) played a leading role in planning the festival.

Group of people walking at Ulster Folk Museum, as part of Bona Palooza

“This is significant milestone for the Ulster Folk Museum and demonstrates National Museums NI’s wider commitment in making museums inclusive spaces which represents diverse perspectives. Giving marginalised communities a platform is incredibly important in order to understand their experiences and empathise and enrich their lives.”

Ulster Folk Museum puts the spotlight on life as it was hundreds of years ago to help inspire and shape how we live today. Its authentic 1900s backdrop will transport attendees to the past with events taking place at various locations across the site from the Picture House to the Courthouse.

Dr. Maurice Casey, a research fellow at the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast led an hour-long workshop using letters, photographs and genealogical sources to reconstruct the hidden histories of gay men and women in early 20th century Ulster. 

People gathered around a table with photos and paper spread on top and someone leading the conversation

Dr Casey said:

“I am delighted to play an active role in this festival which offers the opportunity for our members to share their experiences with people who may not know much about sexual and gender minorities living here.

“Rural Northern Ireland has always been home to people from the LGBTQ+ community, but sadly, over centuries we have been forgotten due to discrimination and even criminalisation. These stories will be brought to life throughout the festival’s programme for everyone to listen to and learn from.  I look forward to welcoming anyone who wants to participate in my workshop on the day.”


Other events that took place as part of Bona Palooza include:

  • A craft workshop from Peter Lee Surginor of Preaching House Pottery in Killough which aims to deliver meaningful experiences to rural communities, with dumplings provided by David Lee and Killough-based kitchen FIRED.
  • A screening of a new film entitled 'The Troubles I’ve Seen' – which is an emotive documentary highlighting the fearlessness of those involved in the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement by the LGBT NI Heritage Project.
  • Storytelling with master storyteller Richard O’Leary who brilliantly weaves modern gay experience with Irish folklore. Richard uses the tradition of storytelling as a space for activism and archive, retelling the experience of a fairy in the north of Ireland.