I am Brendan Nellis. I was born and bred in Belfast. I still live here. Tarlach was my brother, my confidante and my friend. On 1st April 2020 he died from Covid 19 complications. He was just 57 years old.
Tarlach Mac Niallais was born in Belfast in October 1962 into a Catholic family. He was 10th of 11 children, 6 boys and 5 girls. He was a happy, talkative, intelligent boy without a care in the world, until, in 1969, the NI troubles erupted.
Tarlach’s political and radical activism began in his teenage years. He became involved in various nationalist youth movements including Youth Against H-Blocks and Lesbians and Gays against H-Blocks and Armagh Prison. He also came out around this time and became an articulate LGBT spokesperson within the core nationalist movement, which included Sinn Fein, and within the Gays Against Imperialism movement.
In 1983, the National Union of Students Lesbian and Gay Conference was held in Queen’s University Belfast. The Reverend Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party led a ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ crusade onto the steps of the Students’ Union at Queens University Belfast and the events of that weekend mark a remarkable chapter in Belfast’s LGBT history. That weekend inspired a 2019 Kabosh Theatre production ‘A Queer Ceili at the Marty Forsythe’ by playwright Dominic Montague which was premiered at a previous Imagine! Festival.
In 1983, Tarlach moved to New York City and quickly got involved in LGBT/Irish activism. When the Irish Lesbian and Gay organization (ILGO) formed in 1990, Tarlach became an uncompromising and articulate spokesperson for this organization. He joined the first USA TV debate which included the right for LGBT Irish people to walk in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade. After a 25-year struggle, the Lavender and Green Alliance was finally invited to march in the 2016 St Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. Tarlach was one of the main organizers and was called to use all his negotiation and conciliation skills to bring the Irish LGBTQ groups together for this historic march.
During his life in New York Tarlach worked in the area of Disability and became a strong advocate and activist for Disability rights and equality.
During his 30 years in New York City, Tarlach never forgot his home. His heart remained in Belfast. He returned home as often as he could, and his New York door was always open with a huge Tarlach welcome. He was so proud of the changes in Belfast, encapsulated by the positivity around PRIDE.
To commemorate Tarlach’s activism and dedication to advancing LGBT+ and Disability equality issues in New York, the New York City Council honoured his memory by naming a NY street after him. On 5th December 2021, a street in the Queen’s area of NYC, close to Tarlach’s home, was named Tarlach’s Way. Several of Tarlach’s family travelled to join Juan, his husband, for this momentous occasion.
Tarlach’s memory will also be honoured with the first posthumous Mayoral certificate to a Belfast citizen in recognition of his positive contribution to the City.
Tarlach lived a full and active life as a husband, a brother an uncle and a friend, as well as an activist for justice and equality.
May he rest in peace while his memory lives on.