Una Mullally on ... that day last May
“There are moments of togetherness that words cannot do justice.”
When I look back on the referendum now, I don’t really think about the count centre, or the high-pressure TV debates, or even the celebration after the win. I think about the canvass. Dublin itself opened up, the driveways and estates and blocks of flats and culs de sac I’d never been in became familiar. The smell of blossoms in the suburbs, the shouts of children playing, the barks of suspicious dogs. The creak of gates and tones of doorbells were a soundtrack to a march. Handshakes and phone numbers and lifts and umbrellas were exchanged. People joked about how great canvasses were for getting dates. Unfamiliar streets became highlighted lines on maps. The quality of one flyer over another was debated. “These ones seem to work well.” Handfuls of badges were stuffed in pockets and reams of stickers were pulled off rolls. This stuff appeared like magic, rustled up by the bosses in HQ, the lieutenants to our foot soldiers.
There are moments of togetherness that words cannot do justice. The bond of a team, a band, a family, a movement. In these bonds, there is the emotional shorthand a shared experience creates. On the canvass, we did not just meet humanity at the doors, we found it in each other. Those are my memories.
On an early canvas in a leafy part of Dublin 4, myself and my friend Fiona called to a door and an elderly man answered. He seemed a little suspicious and taken aback, but when we explained that we were canvassing on behalf of YesEquality, a quiet smile broadened, and he thanked us for the leaflets.
As we walked out of the driveway, we turned to watch him through a large front window that offered a view into the sitting room. He walked over to the couch where another elderly man sat in his slippers. He handed him the leaflet and they both smiled, expressing the recognisable tenderness of a couple.
Outside a hurling match in Kilkenny, a mountain of a man observed the canvass from behind a barrier. Eventually he, a steward, came out to talk to us as the match ended. “Up from Dublin, is it?” Myself and my girlfriend went into the automatic spiel about the importance of the referendum being carried, ending with, “and would you consider voting Yes?” He looked at us quizzically and we wondered was it all about to go very wrong, “Sure I’m gay myself,” he said.
I remember a canvassing in Cavan and a woman starting to well up when I handed her a flyer at her door, “my son . . . ” she began, trailing off in tears, “I’m voting Yes more than you can ever understand.” I think about the mother who brought her young lesbian daughter out to the door. The teenager was too young to vote, but she was collecting all of the different YesEquality leaflets to keep in a scrapbook. I think of the shirtless man covered in tattoos holding a baby in the doorway of his flat, “don’t worry love, you’ve got three votes here”.
I think of the middle-aged couple arm in arm on their way to a rugby match. “No!” the man exclaimed when I tried to hand him a leaflet. As they walked by, his wife turned to me and mouthed behind his back, “I’m voting Yes”. Humanity, in its vast, beautiful range, with all its small gestures.
They call that time just after sunrise or just before sunset the magic hour. You know what it’s like. There’s a calmness and a stillness in the air. Everything looks better. Sound seems somewhat softer. In the magic hour, there’s a feeling of contentment. Perhaps it has something to do with the beauty of the light, or the way the day seems not yet begun or not yet finished, and therefore so open to possibilities. What has the year been like after the referendum? For many of us, the subsequent weeks were like one long magic hour. Shoulders un-tensed. People slept better. Campaigners took holidays. And then life continued. There was work and weddings and pregnancies and deaths.
There were relationships to recalibrate and plants to be watered. But there were also new bonds. 1,201,607 little prisms of light – bordering on a rainbow – connecting everyone who put an X in the Tá box.
Sometimes memories evaporate if you don’t write them down. During the marriage equality campaign, I sat down at my desk a few hours after being diagnosed with cancer on Friday 13th of March 2015, and started a diary for the first time since I was a teenager, which I have continued every day since. The first words I wrote in it were Joan Didion’s, “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”
But sometimes life doesn’t change fast. Sometimes life doesn’t change in the instant. Sometimes there is a gorgeous mundanity to change. Sometimes you sit down to dinner and life, as you know it, just goes on.
Róisín Ingle is on leave