5 mins


With the upcoming 2024 Béar Féile, Ethan Moser takes a stroll through the woods of gay history and celebrates our beloved bears, before discovering all the festival has to offer.

The first time that the word ‘bear’ was used to describe certain groups of gay men dates back to a 1979 edition of The Advocate. In the article, titled ‘Who’s Who at the Zoo?,’ journalist George Mazzei joined forces with cartoonist Gerard Donelan to pen an article that categorised gay men and lesbians as different types of animals.

While the article would be unlikely to be published today, at least not without a significant amount of backlash, the terminology coined by Mazzei has infiltrated LGBTQ+ culture at large, with terms like ‘bear,’ ‘wolf,’ and ‘otter’ still regularly used within gay male spaces to refer to a gay man’s body type and habits.

By Mazzei’s original definition, ‘bears’ are “usually hunky, chunky types reminiscent of railroad engineers and football greats. They have larger chests and bellies than average, and notably muscular legs.”

Mazzei similarly defines bears as (generally) hairy and good humoured. Though he warns that a bear’s goodnatured demeanour “can turn threatening if you attempt to cruise their trick, and you will hear about it for weeks afterward”.

According to Tom O’Connor, the Chairman of Dublin Bears, Mazzei’s 1979 definition still reigns true–for the most part.

“A bear is typically a full-bodied hirsute man,” O’Connor elaborated. “However, the word ‘bear’ means many things to different people, even within the bear movement. “Many men who do not have one or all of these characteristics define themselves as bears, making the term a very loose one. Suffice to say, ‘bear’ is often defined as more of an attitude than anything else - a sense of comfort with our natural masculinity and bodies,” O’Connor added, echoing the words of Mazzei’s original definition, which states that “It’s attitude that makes a bear”.

25 years have passed since Mazzei coined the term and the community of body-positive, furry gay men is alive and well, especially in Ireland, where O’Connor and his colleagues at Dublin Bears are gearing up to celebrate the 2024 Béar Féile.

Founded in 2010, the Béar Féile is an annual celebration of Ireland’s bear community. The four-day long event is organised by Dublin Bears, a social group “run by gay men for gay men of all ages who identify as bears or admirers”.

O’Connor shared more on how the festival came to fruition. “Back in the mid-2000’s a few friends met regularly at bear clubs like The Furry Glen, Men of the North, or LUBE (Leather Uniform Bear Encounter),” O’Connor began. “Some of us used to go abroad to bear events and festivals in Belfast, Manchester, Edinburgh and Sitges and thought it might be a good idea to start one here.

“There was already a healthy bear, or men’s scene here, but we thought we would try to create a full weekend festival. Given that only one or two of our group had ever organised anything before, it was a very exciting and somewhat daunting idea for most of us,” he added.

“I think a lot of people thought we were either the lunatic fringe or incredibly brave to start something completely new with very little experience. We decided to give it 100 percent and go for it, and in March 2010, Béar Féile was born!”

However, creating a successful festival for Ireland’s bear community required the team to think outside the box to create something that was not only unique, and entertaining, but also something that was safe and accepting for gay men who are too often left out of the spotlight at other LGBTQ+ events and festivals solely due to their body type.

“We wanted to create an event that would reflect the traditional flavour of the many festivals, or Féilí, that are so popular around the country throughout the year, but with a typically friendly bear atmosphere that we had experienced elsewhere,” continued O’Connor. “We created a template for Béar Féile which has a rhythm that can vary each year. From the beginning our goal has been to involve every venue in the Dublin Gay Village with an event that suits their layout and ambience.” Venues included in this year’s Béar Féile line-up include Pennylane Bar, The George, Street 66, DV8, Pantibar, and Button Factory.

O’Connor provided a detailed itinerary of the 2024 Béar Féile: “There are quite a few highlights over the weekend, not least of which is our Welcome Night (Thursday, March 21), which has become a firm favourite with locals and visitors. It is a very relaxed Meet and Greet in Pennylane Bar in the evening, followed by a late night bop in Bridie’s Bar in The George.

“Our official opening is always a Ceili or Traditional music session in Street 66, with Booster and friends. This sets the tone for a warm and welcoming festival for all. It’s also great to warm up for GlitterBear in DV8 later on Friday night.”

On Saturday, March 23, Béar Féile will host a Bear Bus tour, hosted by Kristin Kapelli, the musical comedian, actress and DJ. Other events lined up include Bingo Disco on Saturday, a live performance at Pantibar on Sunday afternoon, Bear Bingo at The George on Sunday night, and the hopeful return of Bear Market, where festival-goers can purchase t-shirts, books, and even crocheted bears.

The festival’s “centrepiece” however, is the Mr Bear Ireland competition. Set to be hosted in the Button Factory on Saturday March 23, the now-iconic competition sees bears from around the country competing to snatch the title by answering pageant-style questions and sweating it out in an impressive dance-off. This year’s competition is sponsored by The George and will be hosted by Panti Bliss.

Concluding our chat, O’Connor added that Béar Féile “is a celebration of the larger, hairy men with a strong emphasis on warmth and friendship. Bear hugs are de riguer!”

Weekend tickets for Béar Féile are on sale now on TicketStripe. A full schedule of events for the upcoming 2024 Béar Féile will be published soon. Be sure to follow @dublinbearsevents on Instagram or @dubbears on X/ Twitter for more updates as the festival approaches.

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