Why I travelled home to vote in the Irish referendum

Posted by
Niamh Cavanagh
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Women and men from all corners of the globe have been travelling home to vote in the Irish referendum. Here, one woman shares her journey with

24 May

10am, Clapham, London: I woke up in my house with a slight headache. Last night I’d met up with a group of friends from school who all live in London. We had a discussion until 1 am about all of the heartaches women face in Ireland. No matter what positions we reach, no matter how much money we earn, women in Ireland are still unequal.

11am: I packed my bag with one outfit and some make-up as I would only be in Ireland for a day and a half, similar to the situations that Irish women find themselves in when they travel to the UK to get an abortion.

Midday, Clapham Junction train station, London: The entire day I was nervous, tripping over my words at the train station when buying my ticket before tripping over the steps when walking to the platform. I wasn’t sure why I was so nervous, but it was something inside me that I couldn’t shake off.

1pm, Gatwick airport: Although I was early for my flight I power walked through the airport. I didn’t want anything to tip me over the edge. But deep down I was hoping not to see was a lonely Irish woman flying back home, distraught and distressed.

2pm: I looked around the room where my flight was boarding, frantically searching for a Yes badge or a Repeal T-shirt, only to notice that I had forgotten mine. I realised that in my rush to get ready I had forgotten my tiny piece of armour. To let the outside world know that I was a little nervous. A sort of “beware” badge of honour. 

“I would only be in Ireland for a day and a half, similar to the situations that Irish women find themselves in when they travel to the UK to get an abortion.”

6pm, Dublin: Grey skies as usual in Ireland, but it was the people who I spotted around the quays, after just finishing work at 6pm. I missed the people so much. But as soon as I started reminiscing about my life back in Dublin, I noticed the No signs plastered on lamp posts from where I was stationed on the bus, as far as the eye could see. Yes posters were dotted on the lamp shades too, but it was the pictures on the No signs that were the most noticeable. I couldn’t imagine how a woman would feel after flying back from England to be greeted by these signs.

While the bus was driving across the spiralled roads of the motorway, I noticed two men, both armoured with flags as if announcing the start of a civil war. One man flying the Irish flag and the other a “Love Both” flag, I decided to breathe, love both of those men and go back to my documentary on Netflix.

9.30pm, Toomevara: Three and a half hours later I was greeted by my father at the bus stop. He is an atheist but is Pro-Life, a side rarely heard from. But as of the last time I was home, and a long conversation about the rights of women in Ireland, he had decided that it was possible to be Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. I cried with happiness. It isn’t about one person being right and the other wrong, it is about how we view women and the future of women’s rights in Ireland. He was stood under a YES sign with a big grin on his face and my nerves disappeared; he finally got it.

11pm, Templederry: Before I went to bed, I turned off my phone. I didn’t want to see any posts online from the Yes or No side. It was time to get some rest for the days ahead. 

25 May

8.30am, Templederry: I woke up this morning with a jolt. I sat up in bed with that feeling that you get when you have woken up late for an exam.

I ran downstairs and started talking to my parents at hyper speed. My father told me to calm down and look outside. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen this weather at home for so long. Blue skies were stretching across the green fields. The hot sun was drenching the newly bloomed flowers. A good omen? Perhaps. I’ll take it as one.

“Was the weather a good omen? Perhaps. I’ll take it as one.”

10am, Templederry: After sending a selfie to my family’s Whatsapp group of myself and my mother outside of the polling station, my sister-in-law shared a picture of her and my six month old niece with the caption “Cavanagh Ladies Voting: Cork Edition.”

10.30am, Templederry: The two women who greeted me at the polling station were in good spirits. In front of them was a tall pile of polling cards. It was only 10.30am but the turnout had already been quite exceptional in this small village. I stumbled to the covered podium and marked my “X”. With that, a small vote for change but a huge vote for Irish women’s rights and equality. 

Images: courtesy of author