Sydney’s Loretta Cosgrove has become one of only one of 14 recipients of the Presidential Distinguised Service Awards For The Irish Abroad in 2020.

Established in 2011 following the Global Irish Economic Forum the awards recognise the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora, with Cosgrove being recognised for her work and service to Irish LGBTQI communities in Sydney. Having founded Sydney Queer Irish (SQI) in 2010 with a group of friends who had gravitated together’. Until recently Cosgrove served as President of the group for 10 years.

The Irish diaspora (Diaspóra na nGael) is one of the world’s proudest and most travelled ethnic groups. We have been emigrating since the early middle ages, taking a social and cultural connection across the world. Everyone knows and loves someone who’s Irish, and many Australians have Irish ancestry.

There’s also a natural affinity between the Irish and Australians, with our shared sense of fun, laughter and comradery. After first relocating to Australia as a child, my connection to Ireland was fostered by the Irish community in Sydney, particularly with the Penrith Gaels Irish Athletic Association and Central Coast Irish Association.

My Irish heritage defines who I am today – it’s in my blood, the way I think and how I approach my everyday life.

This connection has helped me stay true to my Irish heritage and has also provided an opportunity to support our local queer Irish community, many of whom can feel a sense of isolation.” Cosgrove explained.

Over the past decade, SQI has grown into a vibrant community that is passionate, colourful and is well respected in both the LGBTQI community and broader Irish community. SQI supports the LGBTQI people (and their allies) within the Irish and Irish Australian communities in Sydney and NSW. We are a ‘community within a community.’”

Of the many achievements of SQI, there is one which is particularly pertinent, given the recent three-year anniversary of marriage equality being achieved in Australia.

SQI actively campaigned for marriage equality in Ireland from our base in Sydney and celebrated marriage equality in Ireland in 2015. The Irish campaign was so well-respected by activists in Australia, that Australian Marriage Equality invited Irish campaigner Tiernan Brady to help steer Australia’s marriage equality campaign in 2017. 

In its current form, SQI hold monthly gatherings for our members. We also volunteer at various events including the Darkness Into Light Walk, helping to fundraise and support charities in the fight against suicide and self-harm.

Since 2015, SQI has proudly entered the annual Mardi Gras parade, and over the past 10 years we have hosted various social meets ups, picnics, quiz nights, our summer boat party, Irish Christmas in July and Paddy’s Gay parties with Irish inspired drag acts and entertainment.

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 Receiving the award in a year which has seen Australia close its borders to international travellers in March, and with countries the world over also following suit, is something not lost on Cosgrove. 

The challenge for many SQI members and also for any person that has family abroad is the restrictions on returning to your family in a hurry. For most Irish people living in Australia at the moment, Ireland feels even further away than it usually does. This will be the first year in over 12 years that I have not made the annual pilgrimage and for my parents the first time in over 36 years they have not visited Ireland,” Cosgrove said. 

I’m sure a lot of community groups have found it really difficult to stay engaged during these times, particularly for groups such as ours that place so much emphasis on the personal connection and the value of ‘coming together’. Our committee has focused on how we can adapt, maintain our membership base, and still be visible and supportive.

Worryingly, we do know that many of our members are sorely missing Ireland and their family, are unable to travel home and can have growing feelings of isolation and dislocation. Now, more than ever, we need to look out for each other.

Talking with friends and family in Ireland as they enter level 5 restrictions for the second time, we are very lucky to be able to live and work in Sydney right now.

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 Returning our attentions once more to the awards, Cosgrove explained that “the Presidential Distinguished Service Award For The Irish Abroad is presented by the President every year in Ireland. It recognises the service given to Ireland or to Irish communities abroad by those who live outside Ireland. 

Nominations for the award are made through the embassy network. In my case, the Consul General of Ireland Sydney and the Irish Embassy in Canberra nominated me for the award, which was endorsed by a number of members of the Irish Community both in Sydney and Ireland. The award is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an Irish citizen living abroad and has only been awarded to four other Australians since its inception in 2011, including Jim Stynes and Thomas Kenneally. 

I am absolutely honoured and brimming with Irish pride to be awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 2020. So many people around the world work tirelessly to promote Ireland and support many causes, so to be recognised as a champion of Irish LGBTQI in both Ireland and Sydney is an honour.

This award is dedicated to all the members of SQI over the past 10 years who have created a sense of home in Sydney for the Irish and Irish Australian LGBTQI community and to the greater Irish Community Groups who all work tirelessly to support and foster Irish culture in Sydney and Australia.

After the year that has been, Cosgrove concluded our interview by looking toward the future and what she hopes it may have in store for herself and her community.

“I’m looking forward to seeing SQI grow and cement itself further in the fabric of the Sydney LGBTQI community and also Irish diaspora. In 2023, SQI hopes to be joined by Queer Irish from all over the world to celebrate World Pride in Sydney and to march proudly behind the Irish Tricolour. 

SQI has an incredibly hard working and passionate committee, which ensures our foundation is strong. It’s this passion and commitment for SQI that means we will be around for a long time to come. I’m extremely proud to have been there from the beginning and I can’t wait to see SQI evolve in the coming years.

To find out more about SQI or to get in touch with the group, you can head to their Facebook page.

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