It was the culmination of years, and even decades, of work by Irish gay-rights activists, when, this week five years ago, Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote. Meadhbh McGrath talks to some of those campaigners about their memories of that momentous day and finds out how they feel about their role in making history.
Drag queen Panti Bliss and gay rights activist
I thought, if it was a Yes, everything would just be the same, but we could get married if we wanted. It was much more than that. It was very liberating, because I think the Irish queer community, more than any other country, feels very secure in its place in Irish society because we can literally point to a referendum where people went out and voted and said what they thought. Even though the referendum was meant to be just about marriage, it wasn't really - it was a referendum on the queers. That has been psychically life-changing. No other country has that experience.
I think back to that day and I think, "God, that was amazing". The weather was perfect and there were spontaneous parties breaking out in the street. But I became very associated with it, even though I was between two minds about it - part of the reason why I really love being gay is that it sort of frees you from those conventions.
When I came out in the 1980s, there were all sorts of things like lesbians living in communes raising sheep, and gays who were never going to settle down, and would party for their lives. People were experimenting with other ways of being happy - and I liked that.
I fought for marriage equality because it turns out that the gays are just as boring as everybody else; most of them do want to settle down with the picket fence, the chocolate Labrador, all of that. To me, it was purely an equality issue. If that's what my boring gay friends want, they should be allowed have it.
Then, of course, I f*cked up my own argument because I ended up getting married! But I got married for all the boring practical reasons; it made life easier for us. At first, I resented that, but my straight friends said, "everybody feels that!" They get married because they're pregnant or they want to get pregnant or get a mortgage, all sorts of reasons. That made me feel better about it.
Now, when I go around talking to other countries, I say, "I would never recommend doing it by a referendum, because we shouldn't have to do it, but it is the most powerful way of doing it". We know to a percentage point what the rest of the country thinks about us. That was much more powerful than I had anticipated.
Co-director of Yes Equality and chair of Marriage Equality
People say, was there a time when you knew you were going to win it? I have to say, right until the boxes started to open on that morning, I wasn't certain. I went to bed the night of the vote thinking we had done as much as we could, but I still had that "Jesus, what if this doesn't work?" [feeling]. The day of the vote was extraordinary - before 9.15am ['No' vote campaigner] David Quinn had conceded we had won, and they hadn't even opened a third of the boxes.
But it wasn't just about the gays; it was a much bigger Yes to a progressive Ireland, to moving away from that oppression of the past, to moving away from any church telling us how we should be. All of that was part of the joy we felt that day.
In terms of the couples who have gotten married, there is a certain sense of security and a sense of belonging. Myself and my partner got married last September. After 35 years in a relationship, we thought: "We will now, at a time of our own choosing, exercise our right to get married." That gathering of our families was really special.
For the kids in school maybe wondering are they gay, I think that would have made me more confident as a 15-year-old lesbian, if I thought the country I live in was a place I didn't have to hide.
I worked as a teacher for many years, I went into staff rooms and didn't mention my partner - all of those things that you do when you're in a space that you don't feel safe, a lot of them have fallen away. Not all of them - there are still lots of people who find it hard to come out and are struggling with their families to make it okay.
I think that part of our legacy was a legacy for moving and shifting hearts and minds that took place in Repeal the Eighth.
That's a great sense: that there has been a legacy and it's been a positive one.
Senator, academic and civil rights activist
In the run-up to the referendum, I had thought it would be very tight. The opposition was so nasty. Most of the people on our side said, "They were so polite, so courteous," and I said, "They weren't!" It was all rubbish. I remember somebody saying that gay men wanted children as a fashion accessory. It was very nasty. I wasn't at all convinced we'd win it, until I went to the count, and after the first 15 minutes I could see we were winning.
I thought it was absolutely terrific. I walked home along Capel Street and people were delirious; they were out on the street, enjoying themselves. It was a really good, positive atmosphere. I went home with a neighbour and even though I'm not supposed to drink, I had a nice glass of red wine to celebrate.
Five years on, I think it's had a remarkable effect. The people who were running the campaign were very clever - they weren't challenging, they just got people to say, "I'm voting 'Yes', would you like to hear my story?" A lot of people came out to their family and friends, and that made a huge difference. It put a human face on the issue. That was the most significant aspect of it: there was a mass realisation of the situation that gay people were in.
Now I think bullying in schools has to be addressed, and the issue of education. I don't think it's appropriate for schools, particularly schools that are funded by the State, to be restricted in the information they give out. Some of them don't deal with the gay issue at all. And I think that's completely wrong. Young people are entitled to the facts about sexuality, and the school can put the facts there, and it's then for the parents to put them in whatever religious or ethical context they want. That's their responsibility, not the school's.
Senator and board member of Marriage Equality
For me and Ann Louise [Gilligan, Katherine's late wife], we campaigned for 14 years. Every night when we went to bed, my thoughts were, "What do we need to do to advance the cause?"
As we were making the decision to take the case in the 2000s [Katherine and Ann Louise took a case to have their Canadian marriage recognised by the Irish State], we thought, "Yes, it's about taking a case, but it's in the context of building a campaign." We did the research to see that you needed to couple a judicial case with a research strategy, a fundraising strategy, an awareness-raising strategy, so those are the things we shared with the group of people who gathered around tables in our home. That's what it takes for such massive, significant change.
It's incredible for me - in the last couple of years that I've worked a lot at international level - how we are absolute global heroes. What happened here rippled around the world. And it also laid the foundation for the next really important win that we got here with the Repeal campaign, and that again rippled around the world.
This morning, I was out in my garden and I was watering a beautiful camellia plant that our lawyers gave to us to mark the win. It's bittersweet. Ann Louise and I had a life partnership. We had said, "enough was enough". When we took the case, we did it for ourselves, but just as important... we did it for the young people, so that they wouldn't have to grow up in an Ireland where they would have to hide themselves.
The day itself, of course it was extraordinary, especially being in Dublin Castle. Unbounded joy. It was a dream come true for Ann Louise and I - the proposal, the kiss, all of that.
It took us three hours just to get down Parliament Street because everybody was on the streets and giving us glasses of champagne.
I remember when we went to RTÉ to give our response to losing our High Court case [in 2006]. It was probably one of the darkest moments, and at the same time, it showed our absolute determination to continue. Because we were together and we had such incredible love and so much support, that was a really special moment. In our darkness, we could see some light.
The other point I really remember was the morning of the win, when it started to come through on the radio that we had won. From that moment, we were flying, in the clouds, just like our rainbow flags flew over Dublin Castle that day.
Director of Straight Up For Equality
I got married to my wife in 2014, and as I looked out on the party, there were many people who wouldn't have been given that opportunity. Over the coming weeks, I began to ask people, "What can we do?" Not as a white knight coming in but as a voter in an upcoming referendum. How can we get straight people to acknowledge the opportunities they have? We released Straight Up for Equality in early 2015.
There was such toxic debate early on that I think a lot of well-known figures didn't know how to be involved. This was an opportunity to say, "I'm supporting this," without giving too much commentary.
The research showed that young to middle-aged men were reluctant to speak out, and we were really excited when GAA players got involved and Brian O'Driscoll tweeted about it - those voices are very influential in men's lives. Then Hozier was kind enough to do a video, and it took off around the world.
One of my highlights was Bosco and Dustin the Turkey calling each other to talk about it. That was the essence of what we were trying to do: to get people, whether it was lads down the pub or groups of couples out for dinner, talking about which way they were going to vote and why.
The celebrities were great to get the reach, but it was the individuals that were really powerful.
It didn't impact me directly, but from a broader point, it was also about the possibility of being a compassionate, caring country. When we all gathered outside Dublin Castle, I remember seeing people singing and dancing on the streets, and I'll never forget that. It was like a valve of the Ireland we'd all been dreaming of had been released and we were ready for this new, exciting future. It wasn't just about this moment for the LGBTQI community, but about where our generation could take things.
Director of constituency mobilisation at Yes Equality and former director of education policy at GLEN
The turning point for me was [journalist] Ursula Halligan's piece. When I read that, I read my story, only thankfully I had come out years before.
I went down to my hometown that weekend in Mullingar for some family celebration, and everybody was talking about how moved they were by her piece - older relatives that I wasn't sure how they were going to vote. It really gave me a lift, and made me think, "We could win this."
I live in Dublin, and I'm very aware it's not even across the country; however, from what I see, [the vote] had a hugely positive impact. Almost any time I go out, I see a gay couple. Before, it might have been a couple times a month - now, it's several times a week.
I work with Educate Together, and in schools, too, I think there's much more visibility. But on the flipside, I do think there's a perception that everything is fine now, and it's fine for young people. Actually, it's not. In the past year, we've seen some horrific homophobic attacks, and there is some very, very right-wing stuff happening in other countries, like Poland.
We can't be resting on our laurels. Things need to be called out.
But I'll never get another opportunity like that. It was so fraught, on many levels - emotionally, because we didn't know what way it was going to go - but it was just amazing, like working on an episode of The West Wing on a daily basis. It was so exciting, so thrilling and such a privilege to be part of something so immense. It was such a proud time to be Irish.
It took me years to get over it, to get my energy back, because it was so all-encompassing and so personal to so many of us. It exacted a huge toll, but thankfully it was positive and wonderful to be part of. There's a box up in the attic that hopefully my grandchildren in years to come will open up and piece together that story of Irish history.
Broadcaster, fashion designer and marriage equality advocate
The day it happened, I was sick of it. I had been hassled for the whole year in the run-up to it. Every day, some yob would spit on our shop window, and every night, we'd have to wash off disgusting amounts of spit. People would post death threats under the shop door, and I was attacked on the street one night.
After I had a call from Yes Equality saying, "Kingswood is coming back 'No'," I had to go around my estate that I grew up in and knock on the doors of the very people that I'd decided I didn't care what they thought of me, and ask them to please vote. I didn't enjoy it, but I did have a good impact; people were very responsive and very kind, actually.
The minute the vote was in, I thought, "Right, that's it, I'm going home. That's exactly what it should be." But then when I went to The George that evening, I did get very emotional. I kind of had an epiphany in that moment - I said, "We doubted the humanity of the Irish people, and we were wrong to doubt them. Thank you so much", so that was very emotional.
But up to that point, I had been a little bit indignant, because I had taken a few metaphorical and physical punches for it. I came out when it was illegal to be gay, so I'm of the generation where I definitely suffered because of my sexuality in the early part of my life.
There's still a hard-right faction and, remember, there was 40pc of them [who voted 'No']. I heard a man on the radio say to Joe Duffy about [TV series] Normal People, "They're promoting fornication." Let that remind us all to keep our wits about us - there is massive misogyny, massive gender inequality and massive homophobia in this country; it's alive. It's definitely much better, but there is still opposition here.
I did feel it was a great victory for Ireland, and I think it was the day I felt proudest in my life to be Irish. Erin go bragh!
Founding director of BeLonGTo
When you're in the campaign mode, it's very exciting - there's great 'command centre' energy about it all. But it was tough. Marriage isn't really a youth issue, but because it was being put to referendum, we knew what was going to happen, and what did happen was that LGBT rights were being put up for public debate. Some campaigners would say, "If you don't have to do a referendum on a social-justice issue, don't do a referendum." People are hearing things and saying things that shouldn't be heard and said in public. The broadcasting rules around 50/50 [coverage] meant there were moments where it did feel like a free-for-all for homophobes on the airwaves.
For a lot of young people in vulnerable situations, that really isn't a good thing to allow. We kind of acted as a protective sponge for that as much as we possibly could. We were all really exhausted after.
I remember being in Dublin Castle, hearing people singing the national anthem, and it was lovely. There was a straight man who played a major role in the campaign and I remember him saying, "I'm so proud of the country." I remember just feeling deflated, like, "Yeah, I get it, but I don't know if we should have had to have gone through this." It was a very mixed emotion - I felt an overwhelming sense of relief, rather than celebration.
Five years on, I think a change has happened. Certain things seem more possible than we would have thought previously. The overwhelming 'Yes' vote, I think, allowed for our supporters to repeal the Eighth Amendment, in terms of people's desire for change. I went on to set up Equate and we campaigned to remove the baptism barrier from schools, and I think it wouldn't have been possible if marriage equality hadn't happened. It also created a thirst and energy in young people for activism, and you see it now in areas like climate change work. During the campaign, political pundits were saying, "Young people's votes won't really count because they don't go out and vote." We really showed they were underestimating young people.
Actor and marriage equality supporter
When I came on the scene first, it was illegal to have sex with someone of the same sex, and when laws are there, people think they have permission to uphold them - if they saw gay people, they thought they had permission to beat them up.
When we were decriminalised, that was huge, and it did sort of ease back on the gay bashing. When civil partnerships came in, that was just amazing, and I felt, "There's no stopping it now." There was a momentum: the activism was growing, the Gay Prides were getting bigger, and when it came to the marriage referendum, I knew when it was taken out of politicians' hands, the people would do the right thing.
The island that I grew up in is totally different to now. A lot of gay people left Ireland; they were finding the life they wanted in London, America or Canada, and they weren't coming back. But now, Ireland is a fabulous country. The referendum just made me think the Irish people are great, and the country is the people.
I was working with Brendan O'Carroll at the time, and Lenny Abrahamson directed a video of us as Mrs Brown and Rory Brown. In that [sketch], when I said "gay marriage", Mrs Brown said, "And what about it?" It was no big deal. This is common sense, love is love and that's that.
The video was huge, and it went viral all over the world. In Australia and Northern Ireland, they were using it as well to say, "We need to get the vote here."
After I voted, I flew to Vienna. Because it was Eurovision, there were gay people from all over, and it was the main topic of conversation. Ireland had been knocked out in the semi-final but everyone was waving Irish flags. It was like a football team coming home from the World Cup.
Traolach Ó Buachalla
Co-founder of Tá Comhionannas
Everybody kind of knows everybody in the Irish-language community, so there was a bit of reluctance to talk about personal stories, which was a major spine of the campaign.
We helped people who may have been shy to go on radio and TV with training, and tried to get the campaign messages out there. One of the analogies I tried to draw was being a minority as an Irish speaker and as a gay man.
It was really difficult. The people in the Irish debates were slightly harder-core than those in the English debates; I sat in radio studios where someone from the 'No' campaign was putting homosexuality in the same sentence as paedophilia. There were times when it was really hard on anyone on the 'Yes' campaign to hear stuff that was being said on the 'No' campaign, but there were times in the Irish language where it felt a bit closer - it was a smaller community, so there were less degrees of separation between you and the person you were debating.
There's a confidence that's entered into my life now. Before the referendum, if I was making a documentary and meeting someone for the first time, I would have been wary of telling them about my personal life. That's gone out the window. The censoring doesn't feel like much, but you only realise how uptight you were when you stop doing it.
I really do think it will be one of the things when I look back on my life that I was most proud of doing. The fight for language rights has been modernised and uses social media much more now. And I think a lot of younger people feel that they understood how politics can work, and how important it is to use your voice.
Strategic adviser for Yes Equality and board member of Marriage Equality
I've been a very committed radical feminist since the late 1970s, and I didn't have any particular grá for marriage. Back in the early 2000s, I thought, "We can't be going down this route now." Over time, you begin to think, "Who am I to say I object? Whatever everybody else can do, we should also be able to do."
We had been lobbying for a long time when 2015 came around. When we came to that point, I think naturally there was a huge amount of nervousness and worry and concern. I personally was absolutely convinced it was ours to lose.
The Constitutional Convention [in 2013] really turned things around when those brilliant young people, Clare O'Connell and Conor Prendergast, spoke up. We had successfully moved the area of concern which always sees LGBT [issues] as being about sex, to saying, "This is actually about families."
You can't predict how history will be viewed, but there's no doubt it opened a door that had been very, very firmly locked, and it did so in a formal way. The trans legislation [Gender Recognition Act] went through in July , so that's two big things in the space of two months. It's a very significant moment in the slow evolution of Irish society from being under the thumb of a particularly authoritarian Catholic church. This referendum meant that we were able to say, "We have changed. We are not the people we were 30 years ago."
In that sense, it was both a confirmation of that change, and it also opened up the possibility of further change. What's really interesting is that the abortion referendum, just a couple of years later, had an even bigger majority in favour of change. You could see that that was a process, it was a path.
Does that mean that everything has changed for Ls, Bs, Gs and Ts? No, no, no. There is still homophobia and transphobia in Irish society, but it is not now the majority position. There has been a real shift in the balance there.