Have you heard the ultimate “Irish” joke? In a referendum on a united Ireland the Protestant Unionists of north-east Ulster campaign for “no” on the grounds that the South is too liberal. The people no longer fear God, maybe scarcely believe in God, and refuse to listen to their spiritual advisers.
The two-to-one vote on 25 May to rip up the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution — entrenched there by a referendum in 1983 — was a great empowering and liberating event for the women of Ireland, Mná na hÉireann. Legislation to allow abortion will soon follow.
The yes vote in the referendum on women’s right to choose is a great event in Irish history — the Third Irish Revolution.
In the last 150 years Ireland experienced two revolutions. The first broke the power of the landlords and gave the land to — some of — the people, creating mass peasant ownership.
The second Irish Revolution was the political revolution in which the 26 Counties ended British occupation and rule, winning virtual independence and the freedom to make it real independence, as was done in the second half of the 1930s. The Six Counties was given a limited Home Rule.
The Third Irish Revolution is the breaking of the power of the bishops, priests, and nuns. You might call it the end of the Roman occupation.
Of course, the Revolution did not happen last Friday. It has been going on for a quarter of a century or more. Friday’s vote registered that it had happened.
In the campaign before the referendum on a cardinal Catholic doctrine, the bishops and priests and nuns skulked, knowing that people wouldn’t listen to them and would resent their advice — still less accept the diktat of a gang of proven child rapists and people who covered for the rapists and let them go on doing what they did to small children.
People are too aware of mass unmarked graves for infants and small children who died in nun-run institutions to listen patiently to nuns pleading for the sacredness of the potential life of an unborn embryo.
But yesterday the bishops bestrode Ireland like colossi. Now they skulk, and only one in three is so poor that they will listen reverently to their spiritual advice.
For decades, it was impossible for honest Irish nationalists to deny that the old Unionist cry that Home Rule would become Rome Rule had come true. It could be argued that if there had been an autonomous united Ireland in which Protestants were a sizeable minority, then things might have gone differently; but could be no more than hypothesis and hope and might-have-been.
The reality was an independent Ireland that saw itself as the rebirth of the not entirely mythical Island of Saints and Scholars of long ago, but in reality was a place of priest and nun sexual and sadistic child-exploitation, where the stulted bourgeoisie lived by exporting cattle and the young people, for decades educated up to semi-literacy if that.
There were cases of people escaping to the North, for what was political asylum, from the Magdalene Houses run by nuns, where sexual nonconformists were illegally held and forced to work without pay. Now perhaps women from the North who want an abortion will be going South, where what is still illegal in the North will now be legal.
Sinn Fein was for yes in the referendum, and in the Six Counties will now be to the liberal left of the Unionists on this vastly important question.
Of course the Catholic Church in the South, though greatly weakened, is still entrenched, still dominant in education for example, very rich, and able to procrastinate for many years over payments to its victims. It has great reserves. Religions revive. The Catholic Church revives. The stake has not been driven into its shrivelled heart yet. The Third Irish Revolution still needs to be pushed through fully and comprehensively.
Bliss in this dawn to be alive? Indeed. And to be old is to remember how dark and how long the darkness has been.