“Is this Ireland?” the woman asked on her way into the polling station, because that dazzling sunshine was just plain out-of-character for this rainy little isle.
’Twas plain out of character too, she said, that Irish citizens might actually vote to finally permit abortion on Irish soil, but sure, you couldn’t rely on them when they went to the polls.
Didn’t they vote in favour of same-sex marriage three years ago, and did anyone see that coming?
Taking herself and her stream of consciousness into the polling booth at St Anthony’s Boys’ National School in Ballinlough, Cork city, the elderly woman was among the high early voter turnout replicated in polling stations around the country.
Hot on her heels was Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil party leader, to cast his Yes vote at 9.15am.
One of the great strengths of Bunreacht na hEireann is its capacity for change through the will of the people.I have just voted to bring about a more compassionate and humane response for women in crisis pregnancies. — Micheál Martin ()
He predicted regional differences, generational differences, a degree of gender difference, and ultimately, a vote in favour of repealing the Eighth.
“I get the feeling that the ‘don’t knows’ will break down in favour of Yes, so I think the Yes will win it,” said Mr Martin, who went against the majority mood of his party to support a Yes vote.
“But that said, I have to acknowledge there are reluctant Yeses and reluctant Nos.”
So there are known Nos and known unNos or unknown Nos, or whatever you are having yourself.
“The overwhelming majority accept that the status quo is not sustainable and they don’t want the status quo to remain,” said Mr Martin.
Asked how this campaign compares to the 1983 referendum that led to the constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion, that the current vote may or may not repeal, Mr Martin said this time around, there was “far less aggression, far less intensity, far less absolutism about the question”.
“I think the people in the current debate have a far greater sense of the complexity of life itself,” he said. “People get the nuances and the fact that life isn’t simple, life isn’t straightforward.”
Cork Together for Yes chair Kathy D’Arcy, and Luke Field, deputy chair, vote at Sunday’s Well NS. Picture: Larry Cummins
Life wasn’t straightforward for the nephew of a woman who wanted Mr Martin to know why a No vote was the right way to go.
She had with her a framed photograph of her nephew, who had Down syndrome, and a flyer urging a No vote. Clearly upset, she had voted for Mr Martin all her life, and she wanted him to know how much her beloved nephew, now deceased, had meant to her and to all of his family.
“I have 27 nieces and nephews, girls and boys, and he was the one that gave us all the love when the others went their own way,” she said.
“He was so full of love and he deserved to live and the way I look at it is they say it won’t happen [abortion of Down Syndrome babies] but I know it will.”
Voting in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment in St Anthony’s NS in Douglas, Cork. Picture: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
At the polling station in Blackpool, Cork City, the presiding officer said turnout was edging towards 20%-25% by lunchtime, with no lull throughout the morning.
“Elderly voters featured strongly,” he said, but that could reflect their proximity to Blackpool Church, where many had attended morning Mass, perhaps seeking divine inspiration.