Sunday 4 December 2016

'As a nation, we never do anything by halves... For a time, it felt as if I was walking through the pages of a future Leaving Cert history book'

Published 25/05/2015 | 02:30

Celebrations inside Pantibar after a Yes Vote in Dublin
Celebrations inside Pantibar after a Yes Vote in Dublin
Marriage Equality referendum
Marriage Referendum: How the nation voted

It was either going to be triumph or tragedy. "A No vote and Russia winning the Eurovision? Jaysus, that would be like the first horseman of the Gay apocalypse," a die-hard Song Contest fan told me late on Friday night.

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"But if it's a Yes and Sweden win, the whole country will be like Gay Nirvana."

As soon as I woke up, I knew we were headed in one direction. A static energy seemed to be coursing around Dublin - predictions were ringing out on Twitter, there were declarations of Pride and cars beeping enthusiastically.

Camera crews had set up shop outside The George and regulars discussed who would prove to be more of a diva; Vincent Browne or Bosco.

In the Dublin Castle courtyard, Yes campaigners took selfies with rainbow flags and hugged each other. By this stage, a Yes vote was clear and social media was buzzing.

"I wonder if this is what it feels like on your actual wedding day," Oonagh Murphy asked.

But it was bigger than that. Tony Blair once said he could feel the hand of history on his shoulder. That's what it felt like on Saturday,

I felt as if I were walking through the pages of a future Leaving Certificate history book.

At one level, it was hard to believe: Ireland, a country which had been constrained for so many years by guilt about our sexuality, had broken free and was leading the world in its open-mindedness about sexual equality.

When I was born, homosexuality was still a criminal offence. Now the country was embracing same-sex marriage.

It seemed a strange 180-degree turn around. But then, as a nation, we've never done things by halves. We did boom and bust better than anyone else, we did religious devotion and suppression better than anyone and now it seems we're also doing liberalism better.

As the square began to fill up, I made my way over to Dublin's gay Mecca - the Panti Bar. "The mothership is already jammers," one gent noted.

Inside, the results from count centres were beginning to trickle in.

It all felt "very Eurovision" as regional talking heads informed us of vote tallies.

The afternoon moved in peaks and troughs.

"We've going to have to pace ourselves," 2fm's Louise McSharry told me. "This party won't end in a hurry."

On Capel Street, a man in a wedding dress and turban tucked into a glittering cupcake while twin sisters Lynda O'Sullivan and Sharon Carroll explained how important the referendum was for them. "My sister walked me down the aisle in February," Lynda said. "Now I'll be able to return the favour."

The #HomeToVote crew were out in force and exchanged war stories about how far they had travelled. Pantomime-style booing and hissing erupted when we heard Roscommon had voted No.

"Scarleh for Roscommon," one man shouted across the bar, before adding: "You know that's where John Waters is from." And we all nodded.

Having chit-chatted with Miriam O'Callaghan in Dublin Castle, Panti Bliss arrived to thunderous applause.

Finally, after hours of waiting and debating, we were told that 1.2 million of us had voted Yes.

Then there was ecstasy. Sobbing and singing and hugging and shifting.

Everywhere you looked, there were familiar faces: my best friend from secondary school; RTÉ's Aengus MacGrianna; a former college room mate.

It became clear just how far-reaching but close to the bone the referendum had been to and for us all.

Then we started talking about the Eurovision in earnest. Would Russia win? And would Conchita have put in hair extensions?

By this stage, both my parents had rocked into town to watch "both the Eurovision and history unfold".

As the glittery, kitschy ballads started to play, a sense of Mardi Gras swept through the streets. Glitter, glo sticks and feather boas were doing the rounds.

"This day should become a national holiday and we should call it Gay Day," my dad told a group of drag queens after three vodka and sodas.

Having watched the interval act - which featured far too many Alpine horns for my liking - the results started rolling in.

In a way, the song contest was the ultimate backdrop for the night's revelries - the camp dance routines and high octane ballads seemed to frame everything perfectly.

We may not have made it to the final this year but as Mans Zelmerlow performed 'Heroes' on stage in Vienna and the referendum trended globally, it was apparent we had won douze points where it mattered.

Irish Independent

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