Friday 23 February 2018

'Roscommon may be the only county to have voted 'No' to gay marriage, but there's change afoot'

Disappointed: Will Keane was gutted when the 'Yes' campaign failed to succeed in Roscommon Photo: John McColgan
Disappointed: Will Keane was gutted when the 'Yes' campaign failed to succeed in Roscommon Photo: John McColgan

Rachel Lavin

A year ago today, euphoric party scenes flashed around the world as Ireland became the first country to decide by democratic vote to recognise gay marriage.

It signalled a remarkable step for a country, once so tightly bound to the Catholic Church, where only one single constituency, Roscommon/ South Leitrim, said 'No'.

For 34-year-old Roscommon farmer, Will Keane, who had led his county's Yes Equality campaign, it came as bitter personal blow as he marched with fellow campaigners to celebrate victory at his local count centre.

"Did I expect Roscommon to come down as 'Yes'? Yeah, I did," he says. "When it started to dawn that it hadn't, it was crushing."

The constituency had rejected the referendum by just over 1,000 votes, and while many other counties passed the referendum by similarly slim margins it was Roscommon that became infamous as the 'No' county.

For Will, an openly gay man who had given up his life in Dublin to move home and take over the family farm in Kilteevin, he was left questioning where it all went wrong.

"Part of my decision to move back was, would I be accepted? The answer was wholeheartedly yes. I was full of positivity when we started the campaign."

However, the campaign faced obstacles. Geographically, the county is quite rural, making canvassing more difficult, and while 45 canvassers campaigned regularly with Yes Equality Roscommon, it was obvious Roscommon lacked the youthful energy due to the county's high rates of youth emigration.

There was a lack of vocal support from local politicians, although Will praised Fine Gael's Maura Hopkins and Frank Feighan for their work, while the popular influence of the Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, was also a factor.

Will also wonders if the county's 'No' was a protest vote against the Government following long simmering resentment after the closure of Roscommon Hospital.

"We can try to talk about what the reasons are to the 'No' vote," says Will."But positives have come out of it, too. After all the negative tweets came a wave of love. I think people have looked at the result and said 'what can we do to help?'

Yes Equality Roscommon was invited to lead the Dublin Pride parade; LGBT groups are being set up in Roscommon, and more and more LGBT events are being held

There was even talk of a pride parade through Roscommon town but Will rejected the idea. He doesn't want to alienate local people but win them over. And it seems it is already happening.

"I have been approached at various events and they have said that after they saw the rainbow-coloured happiness across the country, if it was to happen again tomorrow they'd vote 'Yes'.

"A sea change has come from the negative result," he says. "We're going to use that to show that we're not going to end the world."

Sunday Independent

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