Mrs Brown’s Boy’s Rory Cowan reveals the extraordinary way Ireland’s gay community rallied around AIDS victims

Rory Cowan Mrs Brown's Boys

Mrs Brown’s Boys star Rory Cowan reflected on how Ireland’s gay community paid to bring the bodies of AIDS victims back from England so they could be buried at home.

The actor told The Irish Sun that watching Channel 4 series It’s a Sin brought back painful memories from the AIDS epidemic in Ireland during the 1980s.

Cowan said Dublin’s gay community banded together to make sure the bodies of Irish men who died from AIDS in England could be buried in the presence of loved ones.

The 60-year-old reflected on the pain of finding out that young gay men had died from “cancer” in England, a euphemism that was commonly used by families who wanted to avoid the stigma associated with AIDS.

“There was such a stigma about AIDS. It was seen as a gay plague,” he said.

“So a lot of undertakers wouldn’t take the funerals of victims on, and if they did, the costs were huge because they insisted on lead coffins, and the bodies would have to be brought home from England.

“A lot of families couldn’t afford this so the gay community helped out,” he explained.

“I was involved with a charity called Friends for Friends that held auctions to raise money for those funerals, and the shops on Grafton Street were very generous donating stuff we could auction.

“It was a constant thing back then, these funerals.”

AIDS epidemic worsened by laws that criminalised homosexuality, according to Rory Cowan.

He also revealed that the stigma that came with AIDS in Ireland was made worse by the fact that homosexuality was still illegal. Same-sex sexual relations were criminalised until 1993.

Cowan said most gay people in the 1980s “weren’t out” because they faced being sacked if word got out about their sexuality.

Some people were “sympathetic”, but most did not want to support gay people because homosexuality was illegal.

“So gaybashers and people who murdered gay people felt they were upholding the law,” he said.

The actor went on to reflect on his time working as a marketing manager at record label EMI in the late 1970s, revealing that he once went out for dinner with Freddie Mercury and RTÉ broadcaster Vincent Hanley.

“I remember Freddie and Vincent all talking about the gay scene at the time but AIDS wasn’t mentioned, as this was 1979, long before AIDS came into Ireland.”