THERE were two boxes to choose from on the ballot-paper presented to the electorate on Thursday. One was a vote for A Rock and the other was to give a tick to A Hard Place.
This referendum was an unloved child, a grimly complex tangle of acronyms and bureaucratic jargon which offered scant reward for the citizenry who daily ducked away from the doodlebugs of fear dropped by both the Yes and No camps.
More damn austerity if we did vote No and more damn austerity if we didn't.
It was unsurprising then that the turnout barely crept over 50pc. Rain fell and confusion and apathy reigned. Most folk held their noses as they made their reluctant mark in the polling booth. By 10pm on Thursday, it was clear that the people hadn't spoken -- they had muttered.
Early yesterday, before the boxes were opened at 9am, the political pundits were all at sea, unable to decide if the low turnout was good for the Yes side or for the No. From Government Buildings, the sound of squeaky posteriors could be heard as the spectre of Lisbon 1 hovered ominously.
Then at 9.08am, Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain popped up on Twitter to announce that the Ayes had won -- he later explained his clairvoyance on seeing the votes of key boxes from Dublin North-Central.
"If they were convinced, the country was convinced," he reckoned.
Luckily for Aodhan, he had called it correctly. For as the morning unfolded, it quickly became evident that it was to be a Yes -- all that remained was to ascertain if the Yes was a resounding, a decisive or a narrow one.
Dizzy with delight, Fianna Fail senator Tommy Byrne came over all tabloid on the telly and declared: "It was Fianna Fail what won it." He was probably just head-melted to find his party on the winning side of anything these days.
Quirky results started popping up. The tiny island of Inishbiggle gave the referendum the thumbs-down by 10 votes to one and everyone hoped that the rebel who voted Yes wouldn't be sent to Coventry for running against the crowd.
There was relief among the Yes camp, resignation among the No. Both sides admitted that it was an unloved child.
Micheal Martin (one of the star turns of the Yes campaign) confessed that many people saw a Yes vote as "the lesser of two evils", while Gerry Adams said that a lot of voters had put their mark beside Yes "through gritted teeth".
The main count centre in Dublin Castle remained very quiet until mid-afternoon, when politicians began to trickle in. Both sides were muted in victory and defeat.
"I'd prefer to be standing here talking to you on the back of a No vote, but I'm not. That's politics, that's life," shrugged a philosophical Mary Lou McDonald.
Richard Boyd Barrett, whose Dun Laoghaire constituency had returned a resounding Yes vote of over 72pc, said: "Fear won the day. The people who were the biggest victims of austerity voted No but others voted Yes in the hope that things wouldn't get worse."
Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy was equally stoic. "I always thought a Yes vote was more likely but this week I allowed myself to hope," he explained.
Just after 3pm, with only a few constituencies left to declare results, the trickle of politicians grew into a steady stream.
Fine Gael's director of elections Simon Coveney was evidently still running on adrenaline and got into one last squabble on the telly with Paul Murphy. He was still feeling scrappy when he entered the count hall, although he did have a kiss for his Labour counterpart, Joan Burton.
"I'm as angry about bank debt and I'm as angry about people not being held to account as everyone else. People building political credentials on the back of anger don't have any solutions," Simon sniped, with an obvious swipe at some of the No campaigners.
Gerry Adams was doing a bit of a juggling act. "We're going to have more austerity," he warned, while simultaneously stressing that Sinn Fein "accept absolutely the verdict of the people. This is one battle in what's going to be a very, very long struggle," he added, as no stranger to the concept of a long struggle.
Then at 3.26pm, earlier than had been anticipated, the declaration was made. It was a decisive Yes -- 60.3pc to 39.7pc.
There was applause from the gathering of government deputies in the hall but no cheering. Some of the photographers, despairing of getting a victory shot, appealed to a bunch of clapping Fine Gael TDs. "Will ye raise your hands in the air?" they asked.
"No," crisply replied the Anti-Fun Minister, Alan Shatter.
Nor was there any sign of triumphalism over in Government Buildings at 4pm, when the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste stood side by side on the steps for a press conference.
It had been "a good day's work", said a brisk Enda, who then announced that he had been busily on the blower to various European bigwigs, including Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Spain's Mariano Rajoy, to collect his gold star for bringing home the Brussels bacon.
But did he agree that the Government had scarified the electorate into voting Yes? Did you frighten the electorate?
"Certainly not. The fear came from the other side, where we told about billions of time-bombs of austerity blowing up in the peoples' faces," he retorted briskly.
Enda was in full flow a few minutes later when a hearty cheer blasted through the grand wrought-iron gates of Government Buildings as a full crew in a Viking Splash vessels sailed by.
Ah well -- at least some folk managed to knock a bit of craic out the whole shebang.
Irish Independent Supplement