‘The exit polls say it’s over. We did it.’

Caroline Barry pictured holding a placard that reads "Repeal the 8th Not up 4 Debate"

Caroline Barry

My choice in 2001 was simple and off to England I went. I was too young, too naive and too immature to take on the responsibility of what had happened and my country was too afraid of young women to support me. 

There was no way when Repeal was announced that I would sit on the sidelines. 

Myself and a group of other Irish people started the East Midlands Together for Yes in Nottingham, England. Where we had emigrated to for various reasons from recession (mine) to education (theirs) and more. We felt powerless as campaigning door to door among the British made no sense. We would be hoping that we found a random Irish person among thousands. Nottingham’s Irish Diaspora was scattered to the winds only to be found by accident. 

Yet here we were.

We quickly established some public and private links with campaigners back home to support and inform us. We held talks in Nottingham University, we took photos and set up social media campaigns aimed at trying to encourage people who might be in the Midlands to get registered to vote. You would be surprised how many weren’t. It broke my heart in Cork to hear young people come up to the campaign desks to ask, when the vote was and could they vote, only to hear they hadn’t registered in time.

I’m a journalist by trade. While there were many things I couldn’t do, there was one thing I could do. I went public. I told my story to the shame and mortification of my family. I spoke on radio, in print, online and at events. I sat with tears rolling down my face while I spoke to ELLE magazine about the domestic violence and abortion I had suffered at that time. I felt deep embarrassment as I gave a fake name for the piece because my parents had begged me to. 

Where we live is rural. People remember and they talk. I am free from this and living my life away from the prying eyes of the locals but my family are not. They live there and I have to respect that. So I became anonymous for the first time in my career. 

I realised then that while the decision I made in 2001 does not make me sad nor does it haunt me, that the law did. The law brought the shame and with that, the secrecy that so many of us felt during that time. 

So I spoke out. 

I live tweeted my 20 hour round trip home to vote. Where I live is rural and far from my home in Nottingham. It takes me 2 buses, 1 plane and a car ride to get home. 

The pride I felt at queuing in East Midlands airport in my Repeal jumper noticing quickly the other passengers on route to Dublin in the same jumper. Although we didn’t know each other, there was a nod of recognition as we went off to war.

Landing in Cork I felt conflicted. I could see the pro life campaigners and I felt very intimidated in my very obvious jumper. I wheeled my suitcase around to the Together for Yes offices with my friend Roland who had met me to be told I was one of the first to come home to vote.

At the end of the day. The voting was simple. I went, I cast my vote. 

On route home (I did 20 hours travel in 2 days) a woman spotted my jumper on the bus. She lent across and grabbed my arm. Her eyes were excited, ‘The exit polls say it’s over. We did it.’ Then she squeezed my arm and sat down. She was right. I cried the whole way to Dublin.

When it was announced we had done it, that Repeal would be gone. I scream cried. I have done so much of this over the change in the law that I feel I have no tears left. I’m still finding reasons to burst into tears in 2020 over my Repeal experience.

 I think the sheer emotion of it will never ever leave me.