Monday 11 November 2019

How economic turmoil robbed the No constituency of its Yes voters

Roscommon/South Leitrim has its own struggles, writes Nicola Anderson

Christy Deely and daughter Helen at his home in Tarmonbarry, Roscommon
Christy Deely and daughter Helen at his home in Tarmonbarry, Roscommon
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

A homely half-pack of digestives sit on one of the restaurant tables and there is a pleasant clatter of dishes and cutlery. But amid a Sunday lunch atmosphere that is convivial and welcoming is an unmistakable and understandable wariness.

The pretty village of Tarmonbarry, Co Roscommon, on the banks of the Shannon, lies in the heartland of Roscommon/ South Leitrim - currently reviled because of its lonely stance in being the only constituency in the land to vote No in the Marriage Equality Referendum.

Amid the landmark rainbow step, hailed on the front pages of the 'New York Times' and the 'Boston Globe', and the praise of superstars from Cher to JK Rowling, Hillary Clinton to Stephen Fry and Richard Branson to Miley Cyrus, the people of Roscommon/South Leitrim drew rather different comments.

Writer Marian Keyes apologised after posting a reactionary tweet condemning their electorate; while Roscommon native, actor Chris O'Dowd, also took to twitter venting: "I was awarded the freedom of Roscommon. Martin McAleese has the same honour. In protest to county's No vote, we're French-kissing right now."

One voter from Boyle was taking no chances and wrapped a miraculous medal to Mary up inside a ballot paper with a No vote.

But diners in Keenan's Hotel were quick to point out that it was a 'No' carried by a mere 1,000 votes.

And it was a No fuelled by the almost total evacuation of young people from the area, due to unemployment, they explain.

"All our Yes voters are living in the cities now," agrees publican Annette Keenan, her own three sons amongst them.

She brings us up the road to meet her father, Christy Deely, who headed up the local No campaign - as well as her sister, Helen, who is in a happy lesbian relationship.

A retired garda, originally from Dublin, and a widowed father of 14, Christy climbed poles at the age of 80 for the abortion amendment referendum.

This time round, he was "disappointed". He doesn't agree with it for religious reasons - it was nothing to do with the surrogacy issue, though the posters said differently, he explains.

Helen shrugs while telling how they have never fell out over the issue.

"That's the way he is. He's not for changing," she says cheerfully.

Christy hands us pots of his own homemade marmalade.

"It won't kill you," he says.

Over a glass of whiskey at Keenan's, farmer Mickey Kelly (84) admits the landslide victory was "a bombshell".

"I met one man who told me he was after voting Yes. He is 80 years of age," he says.

"He said gay people can be very good people and that it's hard luck on them if they can't bring their partner home to their family."

Mickey voted No for "religious reasons" but adds: "There's for and against it."

It is a view shared by his friend Al Shannon, who also voted No. "But was Our Lord gay?" he wonders.

Both men had known many local gay people. Most had emigrated. Some had hidden their sexuality amid the 'normality' of family life.

"But it was known," nods Mickey.

A neatly laminated note on the table warns that Roscommon County Council have introduced a boil water notice in the area and tap water is, therefore, unavailable.

It is a situation that has stood for the last "four or five years" explains former Roscommon mayor, Tom Crosby and his wife, Pauline.

This is one of the major problems for locals, says Tom.

Unemployment is another. There has been no major employer in the area for the last decade. He brings us down to the marina to show us his development of attractive houses, explaining that David McWilliams had called it the Puerto Banus of the Boomtime.

The last few years have been tough both mentally and physically - but he hopes for better times ahead for Tarmonbarry.

Irish Independent

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