Sunday 21 January 2018

A sense of cultural change swept through entire country . . . and not just the famous Panti Bar

Yes voters celebrate after the result last May. Photo: PA
Yes voters celebrate after the result last May. Photo: PA
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

When I was told I would be spending all of May 23, 2015, in Panti Bar, I was delighted.

And not just because it meant I could drink G&T from noon and discuss that night's Eurovision with abandon.

I felt there was no better place in Ireland to watch the Marriage Referendum results pour in.

Before I arrived at the bar that Saturday, it was already clear we were on course to making history.

A nervous energy was running through the city. In Dublin Castle there were cheers as people slowly began to realise how the votes were falling: couples hugged tightly, children ran about with painted faces, and Miriam O'Callaghan strode across the cobbles to the stage.

"This is going to be a fantastic episode of 'Reeling in the Years' some day," I thought. "Perhaps RTE will turn it into a special."

By the time I reached Panti Bar I knew I was watching a defining moment in modern Ireland. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves," one very sensible Bear warned the bar.

"Nothing's definite yet".

As regional talking heads informed us of vote tallies, there were cheers, boos and hisses.

"Scarleh for Roscommon," one man shouted as we were confronted with the only No vote in the entire country.

It may have been the perfect place to witness the results trickle in, but perhaps Panti Bar was a distraction from what was happening throughout Ireland (except Roscommon).

The sense of cultural change could be felt in nearly every home in every county.

After decades of religious and cultural sexual repression, we were at the forefront of liberation. We were at the forefront of change.

It seemed that other countries around the world were now looking to us for guidance and answers. How on earth did that come about?

When I was born, homosexuality was still a criminal offence in Ireland and contraception had been legal for just five years - and only with a doctor's prescription - so this was a pretty big turnaround.

The sense of importance was compounded by the fact that this seismic social and cultural shift wasn't the result of a vote in Dáil Éireann - it was made happen by a vibrant, dynamic, patriotic and passionate population. After years of bad news - where young people were advised to leave the country if they wanted to get ahead in life - a sense of national pride had engulfed the nation.

Gay or straight - as a country and a people, we really needed this.

Back in Panti Bar, it's hard to convey the elation that erupted when we heard that a total of 1.2 million of us had voted Yes.

Irish Independent

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