A human rainbow of hope burst through Dublin as centuries of oppression finally gave way to the sunshine of hope with one wave of the ballot box pencil.
The streets around Dublin Castle surged with energy and colour as strangers hugged each other and declared: “We’re equal.”
Couples draped in the rainbow flag thronged the pavements as passing cars sounded their horns in support. Jubilant lovers carried placards saying: “Thank You: You’re All Invited To The Wedding” as a spontaneous, carnival atmosphere gripped the city centre.
The ripple of hope began to emerge late Friday when the expectation generated by a high turn-out was heightened by the announcement that 2,000 people would be allowed into the quadrangle of Dublin Castle to hear the results.
The Government would never have allowed that to happen if it was going to be a no vote, and indeed, the event turned into a Yestival of celebration in the May sunshine.
As the green wave of equality spread across the giant map of Ireland, the only boo of disappointment came when Roscommon-South Leitrim tipped no on a knife-edge, after Donegal South West had stayed Yes by just 33 votes.
Down the street at Dublin’s most famous gay bar, The George, TV3’s Vincent Brown was holding court amidst a surreal collection of drag queens, happy, tipsy gay people, scantily clad go-go boys, Bosco and Micheál Martin.
With the result never in doubt, the throngs at Dublin Castle took an exuberant twist on the default chant of any victorious Irish crowd, replacing the strains of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” with “We’re gay! We’re gay! We’re gay!” as the love that Oscar Wilde once said dared not speak its name spoke out for all to hear.
Leomania enveloped the courtyard as the Health Minister arrived and shouts of approval drowned out everything else.
When Mr Varadkar took to the podium where the TV cameras were with Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach got a respectful welcome, but the cheers that went up again for Leo were all-consuming.
It was a bit like the balcony scene from Evita, and the potential next Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach certainly had the air of ‘Don’t cry for me Enda Kenny’ about him as he lapped up the applause.
As the day wore on and early tallies pointed to an emphatic victory at the RDS, the forgotten hero of change, Eamon Gilmore, who, as Tánaiste, had pushed through the reform, against much hostility, was at the centre of a media swirl as he declared ‘Liberation Day’ for Ireland’s gay people.
The no side were no shows at the RDS, not surprising given the abject failure of their attempts to spread fear and sow division, but their absence was also a cause of concern to the people to whom they had tried to deny equality.
Tongue-in-cheek gay people were anxious to know where exactly they could pick up the complimentary free babies the no side had seemed to insist they would be receiving if it was a vote for equality.
Helen McCarthy and Dee Campbell at Dublin Castle to celebrate the results of the on marriage equality referendum.
But, alas, the no side were unable to enlighten anyone as to when the babies would be delivered, or what the waiting list would be like. Instead, some took to Twitter to express their lack of grace in defeat, with one prominent anti-equality campaigner announcing: “Stupid won,” to which Today FM’s Niamh Hassell delivered the withering riposte: “Education, love and tolerance won. I’ll turn your sour grapes into a glass of champagne.”
And the bubbly flowed on the streets as bars around Dublin Castle struggled to cope with the crowds and people spilled out onto the pavements to enjoy the moment in time as it seemed that, after nearly a decade of despair, Ireland finally had something to celebrate, and that the country was moving forward again, becoming the first to acclaim marriage equality by popular vote, leading the world as well.
Senator Katherine Zappone, who proposed to Ann Louise Gilligan at the Central Count Centre in Dublin Castle.
Rather than just another dry constitutional question that nobody really cared about — like lowering the age for presidential candidates — marriage equality touched every family and became a referendum on what kind of country Ireland wanted to be.
The final count revealed the nation had not made a grudging, 50:50 tolerance of diversity, but rather had, by almost two to one, embraced inclusion and change to is bosom.
“Oscar smiles in his grave,” Stephen Fry noted as the result rolled across the globe leading news bulletins and websites worldwide.
The Irish people spoke. And the words they spoke were Respect, Dignity and, loudest of all, Love. The sanctity of marriage has been upheld.— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) May 23, 2015
A fractious, shrill campaign by the no side had thrown the equality agenda off course in the early rounds as a seemingly complacent equality camp appeared to be talking to itself and no one else.
A sudden reboot to humanise the experiences of ordinary gay people retook ground, but when the no side’s unrelenting, and deeply misleading, emphasis on adoption and surrogacy appeared to be making headway, it was the poignant, strikingly honest life stories revealed by people such as TV3’s Ursula Halligan that reminded everyone what this was really about.
Five years ago ,who would have put money on Ireland being the first nation on Earth to endorse marriage equality at the ballot box? But here we were in Dublin Castle as the quiet elegance of the majestic surroundings once again played host to the noise and clamour of history in the making.
With nearly all the votes in, the chant “We want Cork! We want Cork!” rang out as three of the county’s constituencies stubbornly withheld their results from the giant digital map. The nervous energy channelled into a raucous chorus of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ before the final result landed and a deafening roar of relief and excitement was followed by an impromptu, rousing singing of the national anthem.
A woman on the podium turned and said: “Ah, look, everyone’s kissing, isn’t it great?” On Capel St, crash barriers and guards were deployed to keep the traffic flowing as Panti Bar over-flowed with an ecstatic crowd, many of whom had travelled back home especially to vote and named this as their Gay Christmas. And Dublin partied through the night.
It felt like the 21st century had begun at last.
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