Interview: Conor Horgan, director of ‘The Queen of Ireland’

Conor Horgan

Sarah Griffin sat down with Conor Horgan to discuss The Queen of Ireland.

The Queen of Ireland has been an unmitigated success on its opening weekend, but sitting down with director Conor Horgan in the whirlwind days preceding its release, there was still a sense of anxiousness. A film that represents the culmination of over five years of hard work and dedication, it carries a hugely personal weight for both Conor and his subject, Rory O’Neill.

Knowing the timeline, I wondered how Conor envisaged the documentary structurally when he began filming, not knowing the narrative arc he would eventually be gifted. “Rory is very interesting and is very politically astute and engaged, so I knew that at the very least there would be more than just a portrait of a fabulous drag queen. There was a political engagement level to it. But none of us  involved had any idea how big a part that would end up being. We were just hanging on for dear life and filming as much as we could.”

With the increased visibility of Panti Bliss, there was a chance of over-exposure, but The Queen of Ireland manages to bring a wealth of unseen footage to the screen. “I suppose people think that they’re very familiar with every aspect of the story. Panti’s been on the Late Late, on the Saturday Night Show, but seeing Panti behind the scenes is, I think, very interesting to people. And I think even more so seeing Rory behind the scenes because Rory is an unknown quantity.”

Rory has enjoyed a certain amount of personal privacy up to this point, but allowed Conor and his crew open access to his life. As Conor puts it, “the honesty, and the willingness to engage on that level is what makes it a film.” For those watching, whether the lifestyle is alien to you or not, it’s also what makes it so relatable – the personal aspect. “I had to write the director’s statement as part of the funding document and the first line of my document was ‘I identify with Panti Bliss.’”

Delving deep into Rory’s life, his parents are brought to the forefront at Panti’s homecoming gig back in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. Conor clearly feels at home with the O’Neills, having spent so much time with them. In fact, Rory’s sister Edel even suggested that Rory leave for the Ballinrobe show from his parents’ house with them alongside him. “‘I’ll tell you what’, she says to us, ‘it’ll make great television.’ And she’s right! And actually it’s one of my favourite moments in the film. There’s a vulnerability to Rory at that point that’s just really affecting. And I’ve a lot of admiration for him, because, at that moment, you’re not thinking that the country as a whole has given its approval to ‘the gays’, it’s still the little town that he came from.”

The general tone of the film reflects this familiarity in a way that doesn’t feel invasive, engaging with Rory’s life without being voyeuristic. Rory has said before that his one ‘talent’, the only one he will admit to, is his ability to find people to collaborate with who are good at what they do. He therefore works with people that he trusts, and it is evident throughout the movie that he trusted Conor completely. “I knew that I was in a privileged position,” Conor says, “and I did not want to abuse that trust in any way. And not just with the film, but because Rory deserved better than that.”

Conor also has that knack for collaborations, and among his many supportive crew members he particularly praises Mick Mahon, his editor: “he is just terrific, and he put his heart and his soul into it. I’m there beside him at the front of the engine room, and it’s like watching a fighter pilot in action. He’s physically wrestling the material into shape.” For any feature the editing is a crucial structural device, but even more so with a documentary, as Conor acknowledges, “Even with the best will in the world, you are finding your actual story in the editing room. I always think that any kind of film editing process is in some ways a creative argument between the director and the editor, and the material wins.”

The narrative structure was, of course, cemented by Pantigate, the 2014 debacle of libel suits that brought Rory into the national consciousness. It’s a tumultuous time to look back upon for Conor, watching it unfold for Rory in real time. “He was always giving out to me, you know, around the Pantigate thing because he knew that on one level I was thrilled that all of this stuff was happening. Well, I was thrilled on two levels, and I said it to him. I was thrilled for the film, but I was also thrilled for the country, because I knew that this would be a good thing ultimately. I think everybody did.”

It certainly seems, from an outside point of view, that Pantigate gave Rory the opportunity to build a stage, and to speak from it on his own terms. This initially took the form of the now world-famous ‘Noble Call’ in the Abbey Theatre. “That speech in some ways crystallised some of the great things about Panti, with Rory behind Panti, which is grace under pressure, incredible articulateness, and underlying that, an awful lot of heart, because that was a vulnerable thing to do. Panti, and Rory,  has described Panti many times as a suit of armour. Panti is always front of house, camera-ready, able and available give a quip, but that was Panti and Rory interchangeably and that’s the power of that. That’s why the speech has such far-reaching effect. Fintan O’Toole, who is not given to exaggeration, said that it was one of the greatest speeches given in this country since Daniel O’Connell, and I would agree.”

The response was immediate, taken up by advocates, both celebrity and otherwise,  around the world. Panti became a byword for a discussion about societal homophobia and the possibilities for change in the future. The necessary conversations therefore began over a year before the referendum for Marriage Equality, despite Rory’s humble protestations about his role in the movement. But it isn’t exactly politics that occupies Rory’s mind when he decides to speak out about injustice. “Rory has no political ambition,” Conor points out, “which is the reason that he can do what he does. But he does have a very strong sense of what’s right, which is also the reason he does what he does. And the fact that this, until relatively recently, benighted country under the cosh of the Catholic Church and a lot of other things just like it, has taken this giant drag queen to its heart is just fucking wonderful. If he was just a great drag queen then maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Panti’s a great drag queen who’s also just really, really smart, really able to formulate and deliver compelling arguments for equality.”

Indeed Panti can articulate, but the film isn’t just a showcase for the undoubted talents of this consummate performer, it shows the maturing of a country in a very personal manner. “In a way, we had the big political end,” Conor continues, “but the personal, as Rory says in the film,  always trumps the political. It’s one of the reasons the Marriage Equality referendum was passed, because people realised that it was about actual people’s lives, not just a technical, political or intellectual argument.”

There’s no denying that the ‘Yes’ vote is a climax in the film; the excitement that filled the country sweeping even the camera crew along in its infectious joy. “There is a shot of me in the film outside PantiBar on Capel Street after the official result is being announced, and I’ve got a huge beaming smile on my face, and Kate McCullough, [cinematographer], has a huge smile, and Aoife Kelly [assistant producer]. We’re all incredibly emotional, because you can’t not be, because this is real stuff and it matters. And you know, we all voted, we all took part in this, and to see how well it turned out is just massively emotional. It doesn’t stop you doing your job. It just makes it a very, very good day in work.”

Still, where The Queen of Ireland shines most is in small moments, those wonderfully private times where we watch Panti walk down the street of Ballinrobe, flanked by family, or listen to Rory talk candidly about his life off stage. In the end, this documentary is a very personal testament to a public figure who happened to play a crucial role in our country’s evolution. “Sure you couldn’t make it up,” Conor acknowledges, “and if you did, nobody would believe you.”


The Queen of Ireland is currently in cinemas




Irish Film Review: The Queen of Ireland


DIR: Conor Horgan • WRI: Conor Horgan, Philip McMahon • ED: Mick Mahon • CAST: Panti Bliss

Drag queens, echoing the essentially political role of court jesters of old, comment on society – sometimes flamboyantly and hilariously – from their place on the fringe. Pandora ‘Panti’ Bliss is Ireland’s most famous drag queen, thrown into the international limelight by the shameful behaviour of extremist conservatives and our national broadcaster, and propelled to centre stage in the campaign for Marriage Equality. There is, however, more to Rory O’Neill and Panti, his loud and proud creation – and considering the further elevation of Panti to almost mythic proportions in recent times, a documentary five years in the making couldn’t be more welcome. They say never meet your heroes, but The Queen of Ireland belies this adage, intimately introducing us to the story behind the legend.

Conor Horgan began filming his friend Rory O’Neill in 2010, following the professional life of a successful pub owner, stage artist and drag queen, while also uncovering the deeply personal life of the man behind the heels. As the cameras were rolling long before ‘Pantigate’, the film explores the many facets of Rory’s life, including his background and creative advancement, before alighting on recent defining moments. The narrative arc therefore has a much warmer touch – no doubt due to the trust Rory felt in Conor’s ability to bring his story to life – and manages to blend the personal and political seamlessly, and without contradiction. From his beginnings in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo to the Japanese club scene, return to Ireland in the 1990s, and on to his stratospheric burst onto the world stage, the camera is a constant companion – and it is a testament to director Conor Horgan and editor Mick Mahon’s capable self-control that the running time is kept to a neat 82 minutes.

Interspersing footage with an impressive line-up of talking heads, Rory’s influence and influences can be seen in his collaborations over the years. We relive Panti’s naissance on Tokyo stages as CandiPanti with Angelo Pitillo, hosting the Alternative Miss Ireland (‘Gay Christmas’) pageant in Dublin to fundraise for HIV/AIDS charities, stage productions with Philip McMahon, and Panti’s present incarnation as pub landlady of Capel Street’s flagship establishment, Pantibar. Throughout the film, we work towards the unignorably present Pantigate situation, the result of which was perhaps the exact opposite intention of the instigators. Panti’s position as “accidental and occasional gay rights activist” – as she called herself in 2014’s amazing ‘Noble Call’ on the Abbey Stage – was cemented by these events, and the video of her onstage in our national theatre became a worldwide sensation. By taking a potentially devastating situation and turning it on its head, Panti simultaneously called out the oppressiveness of a homophobic society while entreating us to become aware of it. The conversation about Marriage Equality was thus begun a full year before the referendum was due to take place.

There are, of course, colourfully ecstatic moments in Dublin Castle as the Yes vote carries through, a memento of our recent national celebration of love and hopefulness for a more inclusive society. It’s difficult not to feel emotional watching the joy unfold onscreen as Panti strolls through the crowds, and her amazing ability to move people to laughter even while our eyes fill with tears is a heartening reminder of her skill as a consummate entertainer.

Despite being gifted such an amazing narrative direction with Pantigate and the Equality vote, Conor’s film manages to be a much more touching and personal piece than these world-famous events might imply. As much as interviewees like David Norris, Niall Sweeney, Una Mullally and Tonie Walsh talk about Panti’s fame, they also speak about the erudite intelligence of Rory, who brings such humanity and thoughtfulness to his creation. Two sides of the same coin, we are introduced to a complex figure who exists on many levels, but leave the cinema feeling as though we’re a bit closer to knowing the person. A glorious testament to a national treasure, The Queen of Ireland is a documentary that needed to exist, and that it comes to our screens so perfectly formed is down to hard work, wonderful collaborators, supportive family members and the essential brilliance of Panti Bliss.

Long live the Queen!

Sarah Griffin

15A (see IFCO for details)

82 minutes

The Queen of Ireland is released 23rd October 2015



Pre-production & crowd-funding continues on ‘How To Be Happy’


Pre-production continues for How To Be Happy; a comedy feature film which tells story of Cormac, a marriage guidance counsellor, Flor, a private investigator and Al, an accountant with a marriage in crisis. Cormac’s unorthodox approach to his relations with his clients brings their worlds crashing together. Ultimately, they each discover how to be happy.

The feature film is written by award winning writer/director, Conor Horgan (One Hundred Mornings). The development of the script was a collaborative effort between Conor and the MSc class in Filmbase.

Casting is well underway and with Laura Way attached to the film. Principle photography begins in March with this highly motivated crew of emerging Irish filmmakers.

The Crowdfunding campaign for this feature film has received a great response so far and stands currently at 78%. The How To Be Happy and Filmbase MSc team are extremely grateful for the support of their patrons. Any additional contributions made to help get this campaign over the line would be greatly appreciated. The nature of the crowdfunding process means that if they fail to reach the target of €10,000 by Monday, they get nothing! There are some great rewards for contributing, such as DVDs or your name in the credits to mention but a few.

See for yourself at


Issue 138 Autumn 2011 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Conor Horgan

One Hundred Mornings
One Hundred Mornings
One Hundred Mornings

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  

Conor Horgan on how he learnt to jump into the middle of the script when writing One Hundred Mornings.


I’d wanted to write a drama about an impending breakdown of society for quite a while – well, actually, ever since I’d started reading about the impending breakdown of society. My first attempt was called ‘Greenland’, and concerned a London adman who discovers something untoward while working on a major oil company account, which propels him out the doors of the agency and over to the other side. Unfortunately, the script soon descended into sub-Bourne shenanigans, with stony-faced men in black SUVs and helicopters pursuing our hero as he attempts to tell the world what lies ahead. It wasn’t great, to be perfectly frank.


One unfunded submission to the Film Board later, I landed in the Catalyst project, a scheme which enabled three teams of filmmakers to shoot their first feature. It was an inspiring process, and the moment I remember most clearly during the workshops was a production manager calmly telling us that for this level of budget, we couldn’t have this, that, or indeed the other. As I listened to the growing list of what the films would have to do without, something occurred to me – this is how I can define the world of a film, by its absences. Authenticity could come from taking things out rather than by adding them.


I had an idea I was excited by, I had a producer who wanted to read what I came up with, and I had probably the single most useful thing any writer can have – a deadline. So much of writing seems to be about surfing the deadline – start too early and there’s a lack of urgency about the proceedings, start too late and panic takes over, leaving you teetering on the back foot.




It took four and a half months to write the first draft. There were a few initial setbacks, such as realising after writing the first 27 pages that page 28, which was after the second of the two couples arrived in the house, was actually page 1. I hit a few more speed bumps along the way, and a writer friend gave me great advice by suggesting that I didn’t necessarily have to write the script in order. I immediately jumped into the middle of the script and wrote one of the key scenes that the entire film revolved around, then darted to the finish to write what would turn out to be the first of several versions of the end before hopping backwards to start filling in the gaps. This gave me an episodic story that I could re-order as needed, and in the pell-mell rush towards the finish line I didn’t have enough time to worry if I was making it too personal – I just put it all in.


I wrote in the mornings, mainly, until I couldn’t write any more. After a while the real world changed from being a distraction to something else – it took on a ghostly sheen as I became smitten with the far more interesting, more exciting world of the film. It’s a most pleasing state to be in, and if I could choose one just super power it would be to be able to enter that other world at will.


The last elements I put in were a couple of jokes – well, not jokes so much as a few moments of dry wit, that both suited the characters and made the tragic elements feel even sadder.


Moment of truth


As the cast and crew assembled for the first table read in the week before the shoot, I knew the moment of truth was approaching. Would the dialogue sound authentic? Would there be enough exposition? Would the whole damn thing work, or was I looking at feverish rewrites as I headed into the shoot? As that pivotal scene came closer, I shifted in my chair. As Alex Reid said the first few lines, clearly and simply, I felt something. Even though everyone there was familiar with the script, they were all leaning forward, eager to see what would happen next. It was a great moment, and I knew the writer part of me had done his job, and now I could hand my baby over to the director, hoping that he wouldn’t mess it up. I was finished. Job done.


Of course, you’re never really finished. There were many late night discussions during the shoot between myself and Katie Holly, the film’s producer. We huddled over a kitchen table in our B&B, figuring out which scenes needed to be combined with other ones, and which could be binned completely. Every time I rehearsed a scene, I kept an ear out for extraneous dialogue, and often dropped lines completely. Even more came out during the edit, and I think I didn’t really finish writing the film until we hit picture lock. Even after that there were a few lines of ADR to write.


One Hundred Mornings isn’t the first feature script I’ve written, but it is the first one that really felt like a film when I was writing it. It’s a good feeling, and one I’m looking forward to having again.


This article originally appeared in Film Ireland autumn 2011 issue 138 published 1st July 2011.


‘One Hundred Mornings’ in cinemas nationwide

Blinder Films are delighted to announce a successful first week for One Hundred Mornings finishing up in The Irish Film Institute yesterday, 12th May, One Hundred Mornings can still be seen by cinemagoers in Movies @ Dundrum, Movies @ Swords, IMC Dun Laoghaire and the Eye Galway for another week!


Rave reviews describe the film as ‘cleverly constructed and surprisingly gripping drama, and the best Irish film so far this year.’ [5***** Paul Whitington, The Independent], ‘one of the very best Irish films of the last decade’
[Donald Clark, The Irish Times] and ‘One Hundred Mornings is much more than a genre Piece, what it achieves within the confines of the “post-apocalyptic” header is a highly original take on a premise we have seen many times before, and the result is an extremely human film that will stay with you for days’ [ 4**** The Dubliner Magazine].


In addition to the film being released in cinemas Director Conor Horgan and Producer Katie Holly took part in a sell out master class hosted by Filmbase: ‘One Hundred Mornings: A case study in Digital feature film production and distribution’.


One Hundred Mornings will continue on around the country on its nationwide release opening:


• Wednesday 18th May The Model Arts Centre Sligo – Q&A with director to be held on the 19th

• Friday 20th Queens Film Theatre Belfast – director Conor Horgan and actor Ciaran McMenamin will be for an opening night Q&A

• Also opening on Friday 20th Carrick Cinema Roscommon, Century Cinema Letterkenny and Park Cinema Clonakilty.


The film was produced by Katie Holly at Bl!inder films as part of Project Catalyst and the much anticipated Irish release on 6th May is being supported by the Irish Film Board/Bord Scannán na hÉireann.


To view the trailer and see further info, visit

Follow the film on Facebook and on twitter @100mornings.








One Hundred Mornings

One Hundred Mornings


DIR/WRI: Conor Horgan • PRO: Katie Holly • DOP: Suzie Lavelle • ED: Frank Reid • DES: Lucy van Lonkhuyzen • Cast: Ciarán McMenamin, Alex Reid, Kelly Campbell, Rory Keenan


Conor Horgan’s debut feature, One Hundred Mornings, is a post-apocalyptic film set in rural Ireland. An unmentioned catastrophe has seen the end of technology, energy and communication, and two couples are weathering the disaster in a lakeside cabin. Times begin to get difficult as food gets scare, and the already frayed relationships within the group begin to bend and snap as they do what’s necessary to survive.


Although a great piece of filmmaking, One Hundred Mornings is let down somewhat by the lack of warmth and likeability in its main characters. This, along with the increasingly unfortunate plot twists and relentless tension means it’s quite a challenging film to watch. Nonetheless, it’s a must-see; being clever, well-made and featuring some great performances. One Hundred Mornings also touches on some thought-provoking concepts, and is a breath of fresh air from the bog-standard, end-of-the-world flicks that get churned out of Hollywood.


It’s also nice to see that even after society breaks down, people continue to cut and maintain lovely lawns.


Gemma Creagh


Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

One Hundred Mornings is released on 6th May 2011

One Hundred Mornings – Official Website



Director & DOP: Illuminating the Relationship Workshop

Filmbase are hosting this one-off afternoon workshop this March on the relationship between the Director and Director of Photography. Hosted by award-winning Writer/Director Conor Horgan (One Hundred Mornings, Deep End Dance) and award-winning Director/DOP Ruairi O’Brien (Five Minutes of Heaven, Murphy’s Law) this workshop will explore the boundaries of the working relationship between the two creative disciplines.

Using clips from their own work, Conor and Ruairi will illustrate best practices for smooth and successful shoots, and examples of cases where things can go wrong.

Aimed at aspiring filmmakers, DOPs and those seeking a greater understanding of the filmmaking process, the audience will be encouraged to join in a Q&A with the filmmakers throughout the session.

Date: 15th March 2011

Time: 15:00 – 17:30

Venue: Filmbase, Curved Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

The event costs €10 for Filmbase members and €15 Filmbase for non-members, visit for information.