Kathy Sheridan: Republic wakes to world of calm acceptance

‘Ireland triumphs: the country has said, Goodbye Catholic guilt, hello Celtic grá’

Ministers, drag queens, campaigners and citizens gathered together in Dublin Castle to celebrate the Yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum.

 

Exhausted, elated, tearful, hungover, incredulous, grateful, flat broke. And, transcending it all, a radiant calm. Yesterday, Ireland woke up to a morning lacking the drama of double rainbows, breathless Twitter threads or heart-stopping catharsis. Instead, delicate brushstrokes of blue in the Irish sky seemed to reflect a world bathed in softer hues.

Etain Kidney was in her local SuperValu, in a state of “calm, blissful domesticity”. On Saturday at lunchtime the 31-year-old DIT lecturer had uncorked the bottle of Moët kept since her 30th birthday and toasted Ireland with her partner, Michelle, and friends.

Twenty-four hours later she was approaching the shopping with extreme care because the campaign has left her and a lot of gay people a tad low in disposable income. “We gave everything to Yes Equality. All the money we raised didn’t fall from the sky. That’s the really big part of this – this is about the people, so many people who gave so much,” she said, in the perkiest tones ever heard from a woman forced to choose between bargain-priced apples and oranges.

As always in these reflective moments, the conversation shifted briefly to the bad days, to when she and Michelle signed up to civil partnership for practical reasons although they didn’t believe in it; to the ordinary-looking middle-aged man in a suit who jabbed his finger in her face and called her a “c***” during a canvass.

Then a swift shift to joyful memories, to their pledge of lifelong commitment at their Spanish “wedding”, to the woman in the bakery who gave them her sought-after doughnuts in a low moment, to her uncontrollably trembling hands as she put the X in the Yes box in the polling station.

A “positive visualisation” technique she employed in the depths of the campaign was to imagine the Sunday paper headlines proclaiming a Yes. Now here she was in SuperValu having just that moment, drinking in the exhilarating rainbow of front pages. “They’re exactly what I had been visualising.”

Like everyone else, she shies away from cliché when asked how it feels, but the same word crops up over and over: calm. “As a Liverpool supporter, it’s a strange feeling to wake up on the good side. You become cynical, you learn to manage you expectations, but now my uppermost feeling is calmness. I feel a weight has been lifted. I feel more confident, more Irish – and I don’t feel like a gay person any more.”

That shaky X in the box, knowing it could – and would – have an immediate impact on their lives, has also left her feeling more politically engaged and empowered. To her surprise, she found herself applauding politicians at Dublin Castle on Saturday.

As did Vivian Cummins (56), back in Athy, Co Kildare, at the home he shares with his husband, Erney Breytenbach, and Jason, their 15-year-old foster son. There would be no big celebrations, just that “nice, inner, woozy feeling”, said the architect.

“I have always been proud to be gay and Irish. This morning being Irish triumphs. We are waking up in a new Ireland, the sun is shining and the sky hasn’t fallen in on our little rainbow nation. Ireland has said ‘Goodbye Catholic guilt, hello Celtic grá’.”

He had slept for 10 hours, the longest in two months. “I feel I’ve been holding my breath for all that time and now I can breathe again. There’s also the relief of knowing that I don’t have to canvass or feel guilty for not doing so.

“And the relief of not having to check myself that I’m wearing my Tá badge. I’ve had to wear my sexuality on my sleeve for two months, having to knock on strangers’ doors, discussing your most private, intimate thoughts and when it got stuck on surrogacy or things like that, all you had left was to beg – ‘Please. For me.’ It’s time to put it back in the closet. Let it be just one little part of me and not my defining characteristic.”

The overwhelming feeling now is of relief and gratitude. “For us, the huge thing about the Yes vote was to be able to give Jason a hug and look him straight in the eye after the result was announced that Ireland had affirmed that our little family unit is okay.

“For 10 years we’ve tried to raise and love that child since he came to us at aged five,” he says with his voice breaking.

“To see that dismissed in a poster caption [‘Two men can never replace a mother’s love’] made me feel physically ill. We’ve never sought to replace a mother’s love but, boy, can we replicate it.”

Last week, Vivian got a taste of a future Ireland when a hospital consultant referred to Erney as his “husband”. “That consultant could have had no idea what that meant to me. It was a sign of things to come.”

His gratitude extends to all of Ireland. “I’m delighted there was no urban-rural, young-old, male-female divide on the doorsteps and that was reflected in the results. That kindness, generosity and sheer compassion; I may never be able to thank all the people enough.

“Never again can it be said that no country has opted for same-sex marriage by popular vote. The impact of this will be colossal.”

And he heads back to a mundane, contented family Sunday, in which a Junior Cert looms.

The day after began with an accountancy lecture for Ronan McBride (30), a trainee accountant from Maynooth – one of the rare ones who woke up with an entirely clear head, having resisted the flowing prosecco to focus on his exams.

But he too is full of surprise and gratitude, especially towards people he “might have written off as anti-, people that I went to school with and didn’t keep in contact with, but who you saw posting on social media and places and now realise they’re on your side.” There’s no getting away from that word “acceptance”.

“Today, the result feels like more of a personal comfort, it gives a nice sense of quiet confidence,” he says. “And now that we’re over the frivolous and the fabulous – everyone is entitled to the party – we remember the friends in their 40s and 50s who grew up in a different Ireland and for whom this is a really great day. For me, that’s an emotional thought.”

And for all of them, he says laughing, there is now the opportunity to grow “unhappily old with someone, just like everyone else”.

Although he has always voted, he sees how the process of canvassing, campaigning and the scent of the power to make a difference “might have awakened something in me that I didn’t realise lay within me”.

In Portlaoise, Catholic priest Fr Paddy Byrne was preparing his Sabbath sermon: “We have no reason to fear but embrace this new life and hope. God is love.”

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