Emigration of energetic, enlightened youth behind Roscommon no vote

Roscommon native Jennifer Hough looks at why her home county was the only one with a no majority in the marriage referendum — and the implications of this

A DAY ahead of last Friday’s historic vote on marriage equality, I tweeted that the results of the referendum would show us where the last remnants of old Ireland were hiding out.

Little did I know I’d wake up across the pond on Saturday to hear that my home constituency — Roscommon/South Leitrim — was the only one in the country to vote no.

So, we are finally on the map. All lit up in red — but for all the wrong reasons. All lit up in red for saying no to equality, an oxymoron if ever there was one.

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Because even though many others —Cavan, Mayo, Donegal South West — went down to the wire, we’ll always been known as the county that said no, a red blot on an otherwise sea of green.

But I wasn’t completely shocked by the news.

My mother, who voted yes, along with 17,614 others in the constituency, had told me that most of her “vintage” around town were voting no. It’s like the Civil War, she said; families were divided over the vote.

It doesn’t help, of course, when some clerics across the country — and internationally — preached hell and damnation. On Saturday evening, with the country celebrating the yes vote, one Irish priest told his congregation he was ashamed to be Irish and that gay people were damned.

And by now, everyone has surely heard about the miraculous medal wrapped up in the ballot paper in Boyle. As the analysis of the vote begins, no doubt the critics will dredge up every unequal thing that has happened in Roscommon since the dawn of time.

And maybe we are fair game. But the referendum passed, so we can laugh about these religious zealots a bit, right?

For balance, RTÉ might have to interview someone from Dublin Central (the area with the highest yes vote) every time they talk to someone from “backwards” Roscommon.

On Twitter, word is that the Iona Institute is en route to Roscommon to set up its HQ.

Another shrewd observer noted that everyone in Roscommon — the home county of avid no campaigner John Waters — clearly thinks like him.

Well, I’m from Castlerea, the same town as Waters, and I certainly don’t think like him, and neither do my peers.

Everyone I know from the county was proudly calling for a yes vote.

Thing is, none of us are there anymore. We are in Australia, Canada, America — places where it’s not really possible to make it #hometovote. Others live permanently in London, Dublin, other urban areas, and probably aren’t even entitled to vote there anymore.

In 2012, a Roscommon Herald editorial wrote: “105 male GAA players (the equivalent of seven teams) have emigrated from County Roscommon in the last 12 months.

“Losing a whole generation is going to have serious implications for the economy in the years to come. And it is also going to have serious implications socially. We just can’t afford to let it go on unchecked.”

But it did go unchecked and the “serious implications” are what we saw over the weekend: An aging population lacking the energy and enlightenment that youth bring to the social fabric of any town, city or county.

It’s not just about jobs and the economy, stupid, it’s about progress and handing the baton over to the next generation. Sadly in Roscommon, that generation has largely fled.

Forget the “John Waters” effect, the influence of the Catholic Church or miraculous medals, this is the chilling effect of mass emigration, a lack of investment in rural areas, a place forgotten by a Dublin-centric government. And that’s not funny.

It’s definitely not funny for any young LGBTQ person in the region, who now feels more isolated than ever in his or her own skin. Another lost youth.

As a gay friend from Roscommon said, “coming out” just got harder there.

No doubt the 18,644 people who voted against marriage equality, are staunchly proud and pious Roscommoners.

The irony is they don’t even realize the damage they’ve done to the county. Or care.

Because thanks to them we’ll forever be known as the one county that didn’t embrace equality, progress, fairness.

If that’s what they were after, well then I guess they won the day fair and square.

But I’d say that patch of red is a stain on an otherwise magnificent day for a great little country growing up, coming into its own.

And every Rossie I know feels the same way about that.

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