#MarRef Memories: How Ireland became the little country that could

One year on, Yes Equality campaigner remembers the journey we took to that day in May

#MarRef Memories: How Ireland became the little country that could

Crowds at Dublin Castle on the day of the marriage equality referendum | Photocall file photo

It was Thursday, the day before polling and #HomeToVote was just starting to take off. For the first time since the campaign had gotten underway, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Maybe it was exhaustion, or maybe it was the feeling we had done all we could. But for the first time I let myself go there, the emotion, the feeling of fear, the frustration and the joy of the previous seven months all came flooding to the fore. We were about to make history, I knew it.

I was lucky enough to a part of the courageous and dedicated thirty strong team in Yes Equality HQ. It all began back in November 2014 when three organisations came together under the Yes Equality umbrella with one task in mind, marriage equality. Months, years and decades of tireless campaigning had gotten us to this point, but now constitutional equality was in sight.

However, the decision of whether or not gay and lesbian couples were equals in the eyes of the constitution was now in hands of the people. And so, we needed to create something that would capture the imagination of the nation, one that people wanted to a part of. Marrying the person you love is all about joy and happiness, and we wanted the campaign to reflect that.

But what was to happen over the next seven months surpassed anything that I could have ever hoped for.

From the emergence of over 70 Yes Equality groups all across the country, to 90-year-old Madeline Connolly who has 14 children, 25 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren telling us why she was voting yes - a breath of fresh air was sweeping the nation, having been stifled for far too long.

With each passing day, my appreciation for the fairness and generosity of the Irish people was burgeoning. For instance, when we launched our crowdfunding campaign with the aim of raising €50,000 in three weeks, I was slightly cautious. Little did I need to worry, we smashed it - raising €107,000 in just 21 days. Mind you, the ‘No’ posters started appearing during that time which helped the campaign immensely!

Yes, at times it was really tough… especially when it came to scaremongering tactics the no campaigners were espousing. It was tough knowing that the country I grew up in and am so proud to be a citizen of was going to decide whether I was equal or not, and what if it was a no? My partner Paul wished for rain in the mornings so his umbrella would block him from seeing the No posters on his walk to work. That was tough.

But thankfully, it was balanced out by little things that ultimately made a big difference.

I come from a small village in rural Kilkenny, and a wonderfully loving family. My mother herself even turned into a little Yes Equality campaigner. Not only did she attend mass on the Sunday before the Referendum in her Yes Equality t-shirt, she stood up and walked out when the priest began reading a letter calling for people to vote no – a big thing to do in the Parish of Bigwood let me tell you.

My mother had a story to tell, a story of why she was voting yes so that her son could have the same opportunities as her other children. Thanks mom!

It was stories like my mother's, like Madeline Connolly’s and so many more told on the doors and in homes across the country that saw 1,201,607 people come out and vote Yes on the 22nd of May, 2015.

As we celebrate the first anniversary of that historic day in May, I am filled with enormous pride and look back on the experience with only the fondest of #MarRef memories.

We showed the world that we are the little country that could.

As Margaret Mead once said “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.

Craig Dwyer was the Director of Social Media for the Yes Equality campaign and is now the Social Media Manager for Newstalk.