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Disbelief, euphoria and emotion as a deep wrong finally put right

Savita's needless death became a potent symbol for all the women of Ireland hurt by the Eighth


CHEERS: Repeal the Eighth campaigners celebrate the return of a Yes vote in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. Photo: Gerry Mooney

CHEERS: Repeal the Eighth campaigners celebrate the return of a Yes vote in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. Photo: Gerry Mooney

CHEERS: Repeal the Eighth campaigners celebrate the return of a Yes vote in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Amid the unfolding disbelief and rapture at the RDS, a trembling young woman in a Repeal T-shirt in the crowd reached out to touch the arm of Katherine Zappone, saying: "I was the rape victim case that you read out first in the Dail." The Children's Minister enveloped her in a tight hug.

Vanessa O'Sullivan (30), originally from Inchicore in Dublin but now living in West Cork, said she had spoken out about her rape and subsequent termination because she knew there were more people like her out there.

"If I was silent, I was letting them down," she explained.

She had been 14 weeks pregnant before she could arrange to have her termination and travelled to London alone, staying in a hostel. She remembers looking in the mirror while bleeding heavily and wondering if she would even get home because she felt so ill.

It was the same year Savita Halappanavar had died.

"When the vigils were held I felt it was not just for her but for me - but that people didn't know it," she said simply.

The result of this referendum, then, was momentous, yes, euphoric, yes - but it was rooted in painful emotion that was deep and poignant.

A day when the suffering and struggle of Irish women down the ages was remembered with honour and profound regret.

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A day of righting the wrongs of the past, of correcting misguided actions and thinking, and of shredding the old cloak of secrecy in which Irish society had been shrouded for far too long.

A day of fresh beginnings for us all.

Tears flowed freely in the cobbled courtyard of Dublin Castle once the crowds began to gather to hear the final result.

Amid balmy temperatures, the crowds gathered steadily and shouts went up of "We did it," as Sheila de Courcy struck up on her guitar, accompanying Voices for Choice as they belted out a rendition of Journey's Don't Stop Believin', with lyrics specially altered for the occasion.

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"Don't stop repealing, this country needs some healing, treat us equal," they sang.

The courtyard was at capacity level with thousands of emotional people gathered. And with the separate arrivals of the leaders of this campaign - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris and Ailbhe Smyth of Together for Yes - appreciative roars went up at all they had done to get this through.

It said it all about this campaign that many of those women who had suffered under the Eighth Amendment were remembered by name.

People spoke of Amanda Mellet, whom the UN found had been treated in a 'cruel and inhumane' fashion by Ireland at being forced to travel for a termination for a fatal foetal abnormality.

Of Arlette Lyons, who wrote about having to travel to Liverpool for a termination when she found her baby had no chance of survival.

And of course, Savita's name was on everyone's lips.

A luminous framed portrait of her had been put up on the wall at the bottom of the count centre at the RDS as a sort of a talisman.

As the metal ballot boxes were clanked open with military precision at 9am and their contents tossed out onto the tables, the results were already a foregone conclusion thanks to the exit polls - but even seasoned pundits did not dare to count their chickens.

"I was as nervous yesterday afternoon," said Kevin Humphreys, explaining that the voting had slowed up a lot during the afternoon, but claimed a push on social media had encouraged people to go out and vote.

As the picture emerged throughout the morning with greater and greater clarity, a lone tallyman for the No side in a pink high-viz jacket stood silently by the barricades.

Cora Sherlock of the Love Both campaign described it as a "devastating day" - but said their fight will go on.

"We will come back from this," she vowed, adding: "This is now an election issue."

Dr Peter Boylan said that he had taken much abuse throughout the campaign but if it helped the Yes side, it had been worth it.

Just as had happened earlier with Katherine Zappone, a woman came up to thank him, saying: "21 years ago I was one of those women. Thank you."

Weeping, she told the Sunday Independent how the previous day had marked 21 years since she had to travel on her own to London in a crisis pregnancy. "It was horrible, horrific," she said. "I was a single mother and had one child on my own already. I had no choice."

Declan Meenagh, a campaigner with People with Disabilities Together for Yes said the tactics of the No side had made it a very difficult time for people with disabilities.

"We need a ban on protests outside hospitals," he said, saying: "They have a right to protest but let's not traumatise families."

Ellen O'Malley Dunlop, chairperson of the National Women's Council of Ireland was elated. "We're able to be ourselves and proud to be ourselves," she declared.