Wednesday 19 September 2018

Terry Prone: The Great Generation shake off the shackles of the past

A woman cycles past a marriage equality mural in the Liberties area of Dublin
A woman cycles past a marriage equality mural in the Liberties area of Dublin

The body language told the story this weekend. Never did so many gestures unite a nation.

Fists in the air one minute, hugs the next. Grannies reaching up to big tall grandsons, a hand each side of the young face.

Younger women putting their hand across their mouth in the distinctive gesture that says "I'm afraid to be as confident as I feel". Young men thumping each other in combative delight.

Who ever thought that a referendum would make the tears flow so freely?

They were tears of relief, of happiness, of pride, of achievement. Tears of dis- belief shed in the company of old friends brought together just for this purpose, this historic event.

But smiles were the constant. It was as if the nation couldn't stop smiling.

Remember that phrase, "voter apathy"? We watched that one die when our brightest and best came off the planes from London, from Paris, from Boston, from Melbourne, looking around them in Arrivals as if asking when the party was due to start. That never happened before.

This is the generation without secrecy, where coming out was as natural - if harsh - a right of passage as a tough exam.

This is the generation illuminated by the awareness that they could strike a democratic blow to remove the last major barrier to equality in the country they regard as their home place.

Before many polling stations even opened on Friday morning, queues had formed outside, young people getting up at dawn or staying up until dawn to vote, many of them if not most of them for the first time.

The cars passing on their way to work began to beep in approval, and the voters waved in delighted acknow- ledgment. There was no Us and Them.

The voters coming off long flights and the voters who had canvassed their runners off were pasty with exhaustion. When they hugged, they leaned on each other in an ecstasy of tiredness and achievement, filled with a sense that they were doing something important for people they loved and for a principle that would change Ireland.

Commentators had predicted that older people - particularly in rural Ireland - would vote No.

That was to miss the point of what the Americans call the Great Generation: people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s who grew up in a secretive condemning Ireland were changed by learning that their son or daughter or grandchild was gay.

Some of the most Catholic of them emerged on mass media - social and mainstream - to shake off the shackles of the past and to affirm their faith in the future and their uncon- ditional love for their own.

Hundreds of men and women of seriously advanced years, with no experience of the task, went out and knocked on doors to persuade their neighbours.

They are our Great Generation and they proved it in spades.

When they started to open the ballot boxes, what was astonishing was how quickly we knew it was all over - and all beginning. Within an hour, the nation knew it had undertaken a peaceful revolution and a long shuddering sigh of gratitude was heard throughout the land. We did it. It's done. We're home.

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