Friday 23 March 2018

Ireland is a home at last for us all, a home with a heart

Marriage Referendum
Marriage Referendum
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Home now with you now, and no looking over the shoulder. That day is gone, gone and forever. Pick up your step, and walk in time to the beat of a nation's heart. For home is where the heart is. Lift up the latch and in with you. You are home now.

Home at last.

There was a difference in him. A new confidence, as he strolled down Church Street. It was the jaunty walk of the young boy on his way home from school on the first day of the summer holidays. The walk of the captain going up to collect The Sam Maguire. The walk of lovers marching up the aisle. Here come the grooms. Here come the brides.

"Hey Bill," he said, "there's no more gay or straight any more. We are all the one."

Home at last.

It was at the count centre in Tralee and I met Rena Blake and Lisa Fingleton. They have the lovely Listowel Arms booked for their Civil Partnership in July. We hope the wedding laws will be changed in time. Their smiles told it all. "We won, we won. And by so much."

Jim Kenny has all the tallies.

"How was Listowel?" I ask.

My heart is pounding. Lisa and Rena go silent now.

One box was 74pc yes. My home town, in the heart of rural Ireland, was a landslide yes.

I fell in love with Listowel all over again.

And I thought of one of my nearest and dearest who had to hide his sexuality back in the days when gay love-making was punishable by imprisonment.

He can come home to a proper home now, and not just a shelter from the wind and cold. Your name is on the town deeds, my old pal. Home, home at last.

There were many too who voted No. It wasn't as if there was a homophobia epidemic.

Most of the older Nos just didn't know any gay people. But they did. They did. It was just that the gay people were too petrified to let their sexuality be known. Several generations passed by and there was never the chance for heart to hearts ,like we have today.

If there was an open day at Aine and Honor Hurley's house then they wouldn't have been so scared of change. The girls can marry now. Their kids are lovely. The home is as happy as any I've ever been in. When last I checked, they looked just like me and you.

In time there will be football matches and concerts and birthday parties and mammy chats at the school gate.

The doubters will become converts. It is time now for new conversations. A time for learning , on both sides. A time for the Nos to ease gradually into the new Ireland like a favourite fireside chair.

A time for gay Ireland to keep on canvassing, long after the votes have been counted. In the end, the vote wasn't so much about marriage or surrogacy or adoptions or constitutions, but acceptance.

So many who came out were still suffering from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress brought on by the years of living in fear and loneliness.

They were pretty sure Ireland had changed but reassurance was needed. Even on polling day when stories of the high poll were coming in, gay people were saying: "If we win by just one vote..."

They weren't sure. The minority, as ever, were depending on the majority for equal rights. Our gay Irish craved reassurance.

I was told of the story of the mother who went to Medjugorje to have her gay son cured of his gayness when Knock failed her, and of the brothers who tried to beat the gayness out of their sibling.

Our gay Irish are cured forever now, and they are still gay.

The three gay friends who joined me for a drink on Saturday night were exhausted from the emotion of it all. If their tears of joy were metered, the boys would never be done paying off Irish water.

I noticed the gay men were unconsciously taking in deep, long breaths until there were bubbles on the tips of their toes. It was as if my three friends were breathing in the fresh air of freedom.

I just never knew. Me, who was so sure I knew just what my gay friends were going through. I suppose when you've been a second- class citizen for so long, it takes a while to get used to freedom. The half-way house is vacant now.

I am so proud to be Irish. So proud of the young Irish. So proud of our kids who travelled home to vote. There's so much hope for Ireland. If our young people care, then we will prosper, and our island can become a nation of illumination once again.

The mothers won it for us. Mary Mc Aleese led the way. The Irish mothers had the compassion and the foresight. A No campaigner told us at the count of the mothers who refused their petition for a No with a "what if I have a gay child or a gay grandchild, well then is it fair they should be made to feel different?"

My mother is 86 and we watched the good news surge out of the television. I will never forget the moment the result was called out. It was as if Ireland was freed all over again,in the very place where Michael Collins took Ireland back from the British.

So there we were, Mam and me, with our biscuits and our tea, and our happy tears for the free.

Irish Independent

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