Islanders have first say in abortion referendum
A third of Inis Oírr’s electorate voted by 7pm
Colleen Ui Fhioruisce with her two-year-old daughter Saoirse, at the ballot box as she votes on Gola Island, off the Donegal coast. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Garda officer Pat McElroy stands with the sealed ballot box as he travels back to the mainland from Gola Island, off the Donegal coast, one of 12 island communities voting on Thursday in the referendum on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Garda Pat McElroy chats with Jimmy Sweeney (left) whose home acted as a temporary polling station on Gola Island, off the Donegal coast. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
When the ballot box opened on the Aran island of Inis Oírr on Thursday, four people were in before the morning ferry to cast their votes.
“We had the first two ballot papers issued by 7.20am,” presiding officer Pádraic Ó Conghaile confirmed.
However, he was anticipating a quiet few hours in class in Scoil Naisiúnta Chaomhín as people were making the most of the good weather.
Arriving by tractor, Tomás (Colm) Ó Conghaile and his son Cathal from Baile Thiar were among those opting to avoid the late rush, helping to make up a 30-strong turnout by lunchtime.
That number would rise to 76, or a third of all Inis Oírr’s electorate, by 7pm. By then, there had been a “rush” of a very different kind over in the harbour. A number of visiting artists, musicians and volunteers participating in this weekend’s “Drop Everything” biennial cultural festival on the island had opted to nip back to the mainland to cast votes.
The event’s founder and curator Mary Nally, who described herself as “hashtag busy”, was nonetheless relaxed about the doing the return trip.
“We know it is something we just have to do, and we will be back on the Friday evening ferry, just in time for the opening,” she said.
Architect Emmett McNamara, who has erected a sauna with a sea view on the beach for the festival, is registered to vote in Co Clare. His father Alan and brother Briain were also bound for the Doolin ferry.
Likewise, artists Michelle Doyle and Jen Moore of the Repeater Collective were giving finishing touches to their work up in the Áras Éanna arts centre, before setting out for Ros-a-Mhil, Galway and then Dublin to vote on Friday morning.
Wexford-born Kevin Freeney applied to transfer his vote for the referendum , and was one of seven on the island’s supplementary register. His polling card was almost a collector’s item, as it was addressed to him at “Drop Everything Áras Éanna”.
The southernmost Aran island was one of 12 offshore communities where polling on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution took place a day early.
Dozens of tourists barely noticed,with a distinct absence of campaign posters on Inis Oírr, apart from a “Tá” in the window of Tigh Ned’s bar.
In 1983, when the amendment was voted in, turnout on the Aran islands was very low, with around 24 per cent voting on Inis Meain, 40 per cent on Inis Oírr and just 29 per cent on the largest island of Inis Mór.
This was attributed to two factors: confusion among the electorate, and a wedding on Inis Mór.
On Mayo’s Clare island, residents were preparing for the wedding of islander Aisling O’Malley to west Corkman James Morrissey. However, the ceremony takes place in Mulranny on Friday, giving islanders all of Thursday to vote.
Polling clerk Padraic O’Malley, who is on the invite list, estimated Clare island turnout at around 50 per cent by 7pm. He was aware that there would be more voters travelling in on the evening ferry.
Air Corps helicopters flew ballot boxes out to the Donegal islands of Tory and Inishboffin where just over 200 people are registered.
A total of 2,151 people were entitled to vote on the Donegal, Galway West and Mayo islands, and some Galway islanders received two polling cards -for May 24th and May 25th, due to an error by the county council.
The 460 registered voters on Bere, Cape Clear, Dursey, Hare and Whiddy islands,along with Long Island and Sherkin in the Cork South-West constituency cast their ballots with the rest of the State on Friday.
Former Gaeltacht and island minister Éamon Ó Cuív has initiated legislation to allow all islanders to vote on the same day as the State, on the basis that improved transport and communications should allow for this.