Gráinne Fallon – volunteer with Together for Yes Offaly
Abortion on the radio, again. I shift slightly; three labours in four years will do that to you. The lack of control I had in the labours fresh in my mind. It was time to pin my colours to the mast and come into the light. Just one woman going to do “her bit”, amid a sea of change that is taking hold. Thousands, across the country working together, determined. That’s what I told myself as I jumped on the coat tails of the women who had got us this far in the fight over the control of our own bodies. My first march; not theirs. They have been fighting against the insertion of this amendment into the Constitution since I was my daughter’s age, in 1983, when a public allowed it in. This is now her age. We need to get this right; if we don’t, she might have to join the more than 200,000 Irish women who had to travel out of Ireland since the amendment was inserted in 1983 if she needs this healthcare.
Pressure to get this repealed is immense; one chance; this generation. I pick up my Repeal jumper and smile and nod at those in the big queue, lined up in Temple bar, collecting theirs. The feelings of togetherness and empowerment, and strength in the numbers, as I walked alone, but surrounded, up O’Connell St., in the shadows of the giants of women whose names we all know like Tara and Roisin, who stood up, and wouldn’t be ignored and refused to sit back down.
My comfort zone stretches uncomfortably like a cervix.
I look up the ARC website to join the Offaly branch when I get home. Offaly has yet to be made purple on the map. Still a few counties with no ARC branch. Could I set up a regional group? Would I have the skills required to do it? No, probably not, but nothing interesting ever happens in your comfort zone so I email ARC and awaited a response. They reply the next day. I get support; understanding; encouragement and the names, phone numbers and emails of women in Kerry; Dublin; Waterford and Mayo that I can contact anytime if I need any help. I need it. I am on a conference call, waving and sharing what’s going well and not so well – ARC Offaly suddenly exists on Facebook and Twitter and there is an email for people to contact. Nervous anticipation ensues.
Abortion conversations are all over the airwaves and we have a date. The nerves. This is it. The local papers are full of letters from the NO side and I write and write but don’t appear. The editor’s choice.
And it stretches;
The first virtual meeting chaired; the first letter in; the first press release; the first picture of our crew in the paper; a big one, in colour, with a big write up. The launch. My friend who had to travel when we were younger turns up and sits quietly and supportively. The first radio slot; Claire does great. Suddenly the women and men of Offaly are coming together in a big What’s App group and the social media is flying it.
The first looks.
After being in the paper. The first posters. Mine were in Edenderry on a sunny Saturday afternoon, amid the numerous different types of No posters already up. The place is plastered. The love both stickered Micra, following us up and down the town, watching us taking pictures of each other up the ladder, still a little shaky. Music playing; determination and solidarity with our women, fuelling OUR poster erections.
My comfort zone is fully dilated.
The first door knocks and the first angry male; angry female. Learning the hard way what to look for and when to smile and walk on. We honed our skills. The No side are many and active. We need balls of steel in some estates, and we have hard balls by now. One chance.
The love and solidarity we felt in the room at our “information night” in a Tullamore hotel. A great turnout, silent, listening to Arlette Lyons talk of bringing her baby girl, Skye, home in the boot of the car on the ferry. The pain on her face recounting it, brings us all to tears but we know there are those amongst us who don’t want to allow things to change, and we need to knock on their doors. We tread carefully but purposefully through the county, parish by parish. We are worried; What if this is not enough and women continue to have to leave? All we can do is our best.
Worried that the No side were closing the gap in opinion polls, a week or so before the vote. And then the interview. A breath of understanding and compassion blew down the local area like a wind. The No side silently pushed back, by the words of “one of our neighbours” on the radio with Ray Darcy. She tells us her story of what her and her husband and family are going through right now. A fatal foetal abnormality; she has just buried their baby with her dad. We feel it that evening at the doors; the compassion and sadness and love that people have for her. They will be voting YES, they say quietly; door after door. The wind blows silently in one direction and Edenderry votes Yes; 68%, the biggest YES in the county. Resounding; and we cry with her and for her and for all the women who were so courageous and who felt it was so important to go public with their pain. Thinking of other women who might get to stay at home when this terrible heartache hits.
Thank you, Sinead; Arlette, and all the courageous women who wouldn’t stay silent. We love you.