As you can tell from the title of this post, it’s not a science-y one, but I hope you won’t hold that against me 🙂
You see, as well as being a lover of all things STEM, I am also a proud Irishwoman. Despite having lived in London for almost ten years, my accent hasn’t changed a bit, and I’m very happy about that. The majority of my lovely family live on the Emerald Isle, as do some of my dearest friends. I still listen to Irish radio, keep up with the news and visit when I can. I firmly believe that my nationality has had a huge impact (mostly positive!) on who I am, and how I’ve turned out.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those people who blindly thinks that their nation is perfect and blameless and the best in the world at everything. Ireland has its flaws – some very big ones, to my eyes (more on that later) – but I will only ever call myself Irish, no matter how long I live outside of it!
On Thursday night, I had a moment. Just a moment, when I glanced up from my phone, caught my reflection in the mirror and noticed I was crying. The reason was the #HomeToVote hashtag on Twitter. This was the image that called forth the tears…..
Thousands of people in the passport control queue in Dublin Airport – I’ve flown into Dublin countless times, but I have never, ever seen a queue like that. It became clear as the evening went on that the vast majority of these wonderful people were flying in to vote in the marriage referendum the next day. The Irish diaspora is famous – sometimes it feels as if there are as many of us off the island as on it – and, in huge number, many flocked home to make history. If you were one of those people, please know that I think you are magnificent.
Taking a step back – let’s assume you’ve been living under a rock for a few months. Early in 2015, the Irish Government announced that the question of giving gay people the right to marry would be asked to the people of Ireland in a referendum (Ireland has lots of these – its in the constitution) and a date was set for Friday 22 May 2015. The YES and NO sides campaigned for months, each one wanting to convince the rest of the country to follow them (actually, if you were on the NO side, it was mostly scaremongering, but hey).
I am lucky to still have a close-knit network of wonderful family and friends in Ireland – without exception, those who aren’t themselves gay, have a close friend or family member who is. I had absolutely no doubts which way they would vote, but I wasn’t sure about the rest of the country. Myself and my boyf had been to visit the weekend before (yep, in hindsight, that was poor planning on my part) and had asked what the general consensus was. Most people felt that YES would have it, but there were definite concerns that there’d be a surge of silent NO that would emerge from the more rural areas. No-one wanted to make a definitive call. So I can only imagine how they all felt on the day of the vote and during the count!
Long story somewhat short – on 23 May, Irish voters decisively voted in favour of marriage equality, making Ireland the first country to do so through the ballot box. The final breakdown was 62.1% YES to 37.9% NO (Total turnout = 60.5%). As the tallies rolled in throughout the day, I cried again, so proud and happy that Ireland had done the right thing. There were even rainbows in the sky in celebration 🙂
Some of you may know my religious leanings (i.e. non-existent). I was brought up in a Catholic family, I was baptised, took communion and was confirmed. But for many years now, I have been an atheist. That story is for another day, but I mention it for a reason. A huge part of my move away from the church was the stranglehold it had / has on the country I love. As of late 2013, 93% of Ireland’s 3,200 primary schools were run by the Catholic Church. This is a ridiculous situation & I am NOT COOL with it, but again, it’s for another day. In addition, because of the close relationship that the church once had with the government, homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993.
To my eyes, the #MarRef result made a broader statement than ‘just’ equality for all. It also suggested that the church and state continue to move apart. For the first ten years of my life, I lived in a country that said that two men who loved each other were criminals, just for that love. But now, at 31, I can proudly say that I hail from a country whose voters spoke out, to give gay people the equality they have always deserved.*
To those who those who made the time to exercise their democratic right – you made history. To those who campaigned so hard and for so long, standing on people’s doorstops, telling their stories – the hugest of congratulations and eternal thanks. You should never have had to do it, but because you have, you have helped to change Ireland for the better. I hope that Saturday’s result has made you feel even more loved and supported in your own communities.
In the immediate aftermath, I said on Twitter “There’s rarely been a day that I’ve been prouder to be Irish”, and I meant that. My only regret is that I didn’t have a ballot paper in the box.
(*: I don’t doubt that those twenty years have felt very long for some people, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty quick turnaround.)