Gay Travel in Ireland - the classic picture of Ireland as a very religious and generally quite conservative country does not bode well for the gay traveller. But - actually there should be no major problem for you. As long as you are as safety-conscious as you would be in any foreign city or country. Generally the best advice would be "Don't flaunt it too much!"
Gay Ireland - A Complicated Story
Despite the high esteem for the poet Oscar Wilde, the actor Mícheál Mac Liammóir or the nationalist Roger Casement, homosexuals and especially gay men were not really Ireland's favorite daughters and sons. "Sodomy" was punishable by death until 1861 and the "blackmailer's Charter" of 1885 (officially known as the Labouchère Amendment) criminalised all "indecency" between men without further definition. These British laws were inherited by the Free State and the Republic. Lesbianism was never the focus of the law. Both male and female homosexuality were, however, strictly condemned by the church.
In the mid-1970s both the Irish Gay Rights Movement and the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association started their fight against discrimination and for law reform. The Hirschfeld Centre, a community centre for gays in Dublin's Fownes Street, became the focus of activities after its official opening on Saint Patrick's Day 1979. All sorts of activities - even concrete blocks and crude home-made bombs were thrown at the Hirschfeld Centre during homophobic attacks. Legal struggles were initiated by David Norris, a Joyce expert, gay rights campaigner an Senator. But only in 1993 was homosexuality finally de-criminalized in Ireland.
On a curious note - historians have noted that quite a number of Irish nationalist icons possibly not only harboured a burning passion for Ireland's freedom, but for their fellow revolutionaries of the same sex as well. The mere suggestion of (latent) homosexuality in these circles, however, is regarded as a sacrilege. Even Roger Casement's well-documented sexual antics are still widely dismissed as "British propaganda".
Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in Ireland
Ireland today prides itself in being an inclusive, non-discriminatory society. Which essentially means that being gay is not a crime in itself any more and that you may openly follow your sexual orientation. Which does not imply acceptance by all or even most Irish citizens. Homosexuality is still widely regarded as sinful and/or an aberration - with the still powerful Catholic Church not actively trying to promote a different picture. And in public debate (male) homosexuality still is equated with paedophilia on many occasions. You are entering a backwater here!
On the other hand the gay community has established itself and feels no need to live in hiding any more - for more on Ireland's gay scene see below. But note that this is a fairly recent development and that most openly gay Irish are young. The older generation preferring to stay in the closet they are used to.
While discrimination against gays is officially frowned upon it still exists. Open displays of homosexual affection will raise eyebrows at least, vociferous alarms at worst - and even the Gardai might be called in when people are certain that two men kissing are trespassing beyond the boundaries of decency. "Indecent behavior", a catch-all phrase if ever there was one, is a matter for the courts after all. And gay men enquiring about a double room may suddenly find the B&B hopelessly overbooked. Openly gay couples may also attract snide, rude, insulting or downright threatening remarks in pubs. Fortunately most aggression stops at the verbal stage.
The churches play an interesting role in this matter. The Church of Ireland, an Anglican church, seems to be in the middle of a move towards not only acceptance but full embrace. Following in the footsteps of the Church of England with a typical Irish hesitancy. The Roman-Catholic Church in Ireland toes the party line and treats homosexuality as an aberration and gay sex as straightforward sin. Despite (or maybe because of) numerous scandals involving homosexual paedophilia in its own ranks. The worst verbal aggressors against homosexuals are, however, some Presbyterian Churches - bible-thumping could quickly lead to gay-bashing here as homosexuality is roundly condemned in no uncertain terms and rated as a "sickness". Then again these churches also tend to condemn line-dancing as sinful.
Aggression Against Homosexuals in Ireland
While verbal aggression can happen in almost any context, physical aggression is much rarer and generally affects males. A quick bout of gay-bashing is an accepted pastime in the lowest social stratum, along with joy-riding and spousal abuse.
Add just enough alcohol and the boundaries between these mindless thugs and "decent citizens" start to blur. Making attacks on homosexuals most likely in urban areas in the early hours of any Saturday and Sunday. There is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent this apart from simply walking away from any confrontation without breaking into full flight. Avoid any physical contact with aggressors at all costs - fights in Ireland are notoriously violent.
The Gay Scene in Ireland
Today Ireland has a lively "gay scene", especially in Dublin and Belfast. Some favorite hang-outs like the "George" in Dublin are clearly identifiable by their use of the "rainbow flag", others are far more discreet. The best bet for visitors who want to meet other gay people is to obtain a copy of GCN, the Gay Community News, a monthly magazine with comprehensive listings.