Everyone has that place in their head. One place that they’ve fallen in love with whether or not they’ve ever been there. One place that serves as a goal or a dream and becomes a fantasy location where everything would suddenly be perfect. Many never reach that imagined place or if they do, they quickly find that the perceived nirvana in their head doesn’t match the reality in any way. We often romanticize or fantasize about other places because after all, the grass is always greener on the other side.
For me (obviously) that perfect place was Ireland. I was in love before I ever stepped foot on the island with my head full of myths, dreams, and ideas about the magical country of my ancestors and just how perfect it would be. I was lucky too because when I landed on my first sojourn, everything was just as I imagined it would be. That magic continued for the whole trip, re-enforcing my idea of Ireland as utopia. I studied the country, immersed myself in the stories, the history, and the music, and continued to romanticize the hell out of the place for well over twenty years.
It was a hard habit to break. It took many trips and staying in country for longer and longer while developing real friendships (and real conflicts) to stop seeing Ireland as the pretty picture it is sold as. Many would argue that I still haven’t quite given up on the idea. However, I’ve now spent enough time in country to witness firsthand just how imperfect it is and while it depressed the hell out of me at the time, I’m grateful to shrug off the idealism. Ireland is not any more full of people who are friendly and kind than anywhere else. Some people there will think you’re an asshole no matter what, just like everywhere else. Many hate (and often mock) tourists who become infatuated with their culture. Economically Ireland is a mess, and if you are as fond of the North as I am, there are more and more issues the deeper you delve. In short, Ireland is just a place like anywhere else with a population like everywhere else, and it’s full of the same societal problems that many other countries struggle with every day. In some ways it has more than its fair share.
One of those ways was how it treated its women as second-class citizens. The patriarchy and the church have run right over women in Ireland time and time again. The revolutionary history I love didn’t treat women any better which is why I highlight them as often as possible, but I’ve also experienced that dismissal firsthand both on the internet and in person. Some think I should butt out of writing about Irish history because I wasn’t born in Ireland while others (including someone close to my best friend) won’t even meet me because they find the subjects I often write about to be despicable. One person said no one would ever care about Irish women no matter how much was written about them and another scoffed at the topic, saying only women would ever care about such things. On my last visit to Ireland, I was told that I was a waste of a human because I don’t want children, shortly before we were threatened and insulted because we were leaving a party without the men who were harassing us. I met women who supplied birth control and emergency contraceptives secretly because their lives and their freedom depended on discretion. All of these experiences made me hyper-aware of how women still struggle to be seen as equals in Ireland. When the referendum to repeal the eighth was announced, I worried incessantly for those who were advocating change and I stayed in close contact with those I knew who were volunteering.
By all accounts, this campaign was hard on everyone involved. I don’t know a single woman who wasn’t shamed, verbally abused, or belittled in the lead up to the vote – but that didn’t stop them or anyone else. They didn’t turn the issue into a gender war, they didn’t get trapped in the mire of personal attacks, and they didn’t succumb to the pressure to give up. They knocked on doors, stood on corners, and marched through streets slowly growing in numbers and changing the hearts and minds of everyone around them. These people ran an inter-sectional, grassroots campaign as they challenged centuries of bias and indoctrination. The change that many thought would never happen at all just did because of those powerful, everyday women and their allies.
Officially, today is a new day for women in most of Ireland but the fight isn’t over. The laws still have to be written and changed. The details still have to be worked out – and the devil always hides in those so keep the pressure and the attention up. The North is still in shackles when it comes to this issue and many others which shouldn’t be forgotten either. However, it’s also time to celebrate, for today is another step toward a real, equal, and progressive Ireland and it was driven by its own people.
Votes like this makes my constant struggle against romanticizing the country even harder. In the country I’m in, these rights (and those regarding marriage equality) are being stripped away every day. America is regressing back into the darkest years of its past, while Ireland is stepping into the light of a new era. I can’t shake the optimism I feel for the home of my heart, nor the doom I feel for the place that I live in, so of course I am idealizing Ireland today. I also think I can be forgiven for that, just this once.
Congratulations to the twenty-six. Keep fighting for equality. And let me know when you’re ready to start accepting American refugees because my bags are already packed and my heart is already there.