I got my first voting card this morning in the post. I’m in my mid sixties but this is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to vote in Ireland. I left my homeland in 1973 to work in Holland. Ireland had just joined the Common Market, as the EU was called back then. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted shortly, before I left, lowering the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 years of age, so I never had the opportunity to vote.
I left to find love and peace, man! After all, the sixties had just passed. I actually found sex and drugs but that’s a different story!
The Ireland I left felt like a very dark and dangerous place for a fledging gay person like me. I remember an article in the Evening Herald during the buildup to the referendum campaign for the Third Amendment to allow The State to join the ECC. This was probably in the very late 1960s and the article had an anti-treaty slant. I was in school at the time. The gist of it was that holy Catholic Ireland would not survive if we joined pagan Europe, where Protestants lived and all manner of dark and terrible things happened. They gave an example of the central station in Amsterdam where men met men to carry out unspeakable acts. They didn’t say what these acts were. After all, this was the 1960s before sex was invented by the Eurovision Song Contest in COLOUR. But my embryonic gaydar suddenly came online with a loud PING and and my little pink ears pricked up. Aha, I said to myself, so there are others who feel the same as me. I was not the only person in the world to have these strange intense feelings for other guys. These feelings felt completely right but at the same time, I knew that I must never talk about them. As if I could; not only had the language that dare not speak its name have no language, back in those dark days, it didn’t even have a vocabulary. I was struck dumb and felt dumb. I made up my mind to go to Amsterdam as soon as I could and find love. This I did in 1973.
Shortly after I arrived in Amsterdam, it was Koninginnedag, a Dutch St Patrick’s day, where the centre of the city was a big party. I was enthralled by the sight of men walking down the Rokin, the main street, holding hands and kissing. YESSSS
Today, I feel proud to be a citizen of this Republic. I feel my heart bursting with love, joy and pride when I see the fine people who support the Yes campaign; gay and straight, young and old, men and women, every race and colour of face; coming together with a message of kindness, compassion, tolerance and inclusion. I am saddened by the hate, fear and loathing of the No campaigners. Their message seems small and joyless and reminds me of the hurt Ireland I left over 40 years ago. I wish they could be touched by the clear open message of the Yes campaigners and supporters.
So, I’ll be at the polling station on Friday to vote YES and help forge a new Ireland, Éire Nua.