This episode of How The Yes Was Won is a collection of stories we heard during our interviews that we loved, but just didn't fit in any other episode. We hope you like them as much as we did!
Stories are from Mary Ryder, Anne Connolly, Mary Gordon, Mary McDermott, Ursula Barry and Catherine Coffey O'Brien.
If you would like to help increase access to abortion in Ireland and elsewhere, please consider donating to the Abortion Support Network.
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Written and edited by Deirdre Kelly and Aisling Dolan. Narrated by Aisling Dolan. Produced by Deirdre Kelly, Aisling Dolan, Emma Callaghan, Tara Lonij, Davy Quinlivan
Music: A Dream
Written By Jessie Marie Villa, Matthew Wigton
Performed By Jessie Villa
Produced ByJessie Villa
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Deirdre: I still haven’t processed last year.. well I'm still trying to do it..
Aisling: I don’t think we will.
Deirdre: There was a lot last year..
Aisling: I think we've embarked on a two and a half year podcast project to not deal with our feelings. [Everyone laughs].
*Intro plays for 30 seconds**
Narrator Aisling [00:00:13] : Welcome back to How The Yes Was Won, a podcast about the 8th Amendment. This is our last episode, and we're taking it as an opportunity to tell some of the stories that we loved, but that just didn't make the final cut for the main series. Instead of leaving them on the cutting room floor, We thought we'd stitched them together and released them in this bonus quilt episode.
Mary Gordon: Well, yeah. I mean, do you want some dirt?! Do you want to the gossip? [laughs]
Narrator Aisling [00:00:41] : We started this project right after the referendum and spent many, many months researching and trying to learn how to make a podcast. One of our first struggles was figuring out who we needed to speak with. We knew we needed to talk to people who'd been involved at every step of the way.
Our first port of call was Eddie Conlon, who we'd all canvassed with during the 2018 campaign. He referred us to Mary Gordon, who referred us to Ursula Barry, who referred us to Anne Connolly, but we were stuck for someone to speak to about the X case specifically. At the March for Choice in 2018, we brought our little pocket microphone and were speaking to people on the street about what they felt the next steps were and how they were feeling. Deirdre and I stopped a woman who was running to the start of the march, and suddenly she started speaking about her activism in the late 80s, getting the phone number out and how she'd been one of the people who organised the X case march. It was fate. We couldn't believe our luck. It was, of course, the wonderful Mary Ryder. Here's a great story from her that we just couldn't fit in anywhere else.
Mary Ryder: It was the United Nations, they do the United Nations decade for children, the United Nations year of the something or other, and this was the United Nations Decade for Women. I'm pretty sure if it was 79, the it came in 1980 or 81. Charlie Haughey was Prime Minister and he was the guest of honour at the United Nations Decade for Women... Anyway, he was the guest of honour.
But what had happened in the previous couple of weeks, because as the abortion and contraception, that was our focus, we would find anything that was happening and try and publicise it and say how ridiculous the law was. And there was a story on the.. Gay Byrne is a bit like, I don't know what programme there is now. A programme would be the people say?.. Joe Duffy! Gay Byrne, who Joe Duffy trained in his entire life with him. But anyway, Gay Byrne had a piece on the programme people would ring in, and this woman rang in really upset. “What should I do?” She said that herself and her husband went out for the night, left their either son or daughter, I can’t remember which was to babysit the younger kids. When they came back, the girl and her boyfriend were on the couch having sex! And when the parents, the parents were horrified, absolutely. There were about 15, 16. The parents were horrified, but the girl said, I think it was their daughter. And but she said “Look, we're using contraception!” They were using cling film... Right, which... [interviewer laughs] Right, because contraception just wasn't easily available.. but this was the idea that you could protect yourself... Here they were, at least being somewhat.. inventive! Knowing that.. [everyone laughs] Ugh just the idea of it!.. Anyway that was the story on The Gay Byrne Show and that became “Going down to buy the cling film for the weekend.” You know “This is it. What are you going to do? What are you going to wrap in the cling film?!”
So when Charlie Haughey was speaking and it was very shortly after the ‘79 legislation on contraception. And it was.. you know, the whole thing was, that was dubbed to be the Irish solution to the Irish problem. Right. So we got cling film. And we sat, so I sat in a row with as many people as we could get in a row and other rows up here. And other people got up and we passed the cling film down, and we had written on it “An Irish solution to an Irish problem.” And as soon as Haughey.. we didn't say a word, as soon as he began to speak, we all stood up and held it up, and people walked to the front with a big placard saying an “Irish solution to an Irish problem. This is not good enough.” You know, the contraceptive pill is not good enough. And there are great photographs. And the photographs are actually in the United Nations book on the women of the decade. But it was.. and we never said a word. And you know what? He didn't miss a beat, and he never stopped a speech.
Narrator Aisling [00:04:39] Our next story is from Anne Connolly. Before the 1983 referendum, the Well Woman Clinic was able to operate with very little interaction from the Guards and told us of two visits she did have with the Guards.
Anne: Yes, it was interesting. On occasions.. we had, we had two types of visits. One was from the the Gardaí in the local police station, which was Harcourt Street in those days. And and the other was from, we call them the vice squad. They were the vice something or other in Dublin Castle. And they were both.. they both had a role. So with regard to the local Garda station, I think we probably got about three visits and at one stage I was asked to go up to the station in Harcourt's Terrace, and I ended up spending about an hour and a half with about ten of their Gardaí taking me through everything that we did, asking me all sorts of questions about contraception, about how to access it, about what the story was, and just divulging very personal stories themselves about their difficulties. So I have to say that couldn't have been more sympathetic and supportive.
Then I suppose more.. slightly more ominously, I was for the first time, I suppose, concerned the the day before the 1983 referendum on abortion. That's not true.. about a week before, a few days before anyway, I got a visit from this this guy from the vice squad as we, as we called them on the foot of a complaint. And for some reason it was slightly more serious. And I think understandably, from their point of view, given the political climate and the referendum, they were treating it slightly more seriously. But.. we went through the same discussion as we'd had before. And I remember smiling at him at the end, because he was a very nice guy. And I said “You know how I am going to abuse your visit today?” And he said, “I know.” And of course, I got on to the media immediately and said, “We've been raided by the police on the eve of the referendum. And that it was putting at risk people's right to access to contraception.” And he, he just laughed and left.
Narrator Aisling [00:07:13] Mary Gordon told us about canvassing for a No vote in the 1983 referendum. It's a sharp example of what pro-choice activists were up against, facing against the influence of the church on people at the time.
Mary Gordon: I remember there were a couple of great women in Ballyfermot and we were canvassing and they were saying “Yeah, no, I’ll vote against that. I’ll vote against that.”
And we went back the night before the actual referendum, and met the same women. And these “Ahh the priest told us last Sunday we had to vote Yes. So we're going to”. So it was as if, I mean that the impact of the pulpit on the vote was striking as that it was really, really made a difference.
Narrator Aisling [00:07:56] : Rural activists in 2018 had the added difficulty of not being anonymous in their campaigning. This often came with personal confrontations and sometimes the church itself, as Mary McDermott tells.
Mary Mc : It was just.. it was, it was interesting because obviously the lead up to the referendum, we knew that it was more likely young people would vote Yes and that the older generation might vote No. And my father had surprised me a few months previously, when I told him I was heavily involved in the Together For Yes campaign or in the pro-choice campaign. He.. His attitude was “Sure it's nobody's business but the woman's.” And he was actually way more pro-choice than what I had given him credit for, considering we live in a rural, rural part of County Roscommon. And in the lead up, because I was going home every weekend in the lead up to the referendum, he was ringing me all the time and checking in with me. “How's it going?” And and he would have asked one of the weeks before the referendum “How do you think it's going to go?” And I would have said, “well, we think we're pretty confident that the young people will vote yes. But it's your generation that we are afraid of.” And I said “Well, how are you going to fix that?” And I said “Well, if we got someone of your generation to say they're voting Yes.” And he was like, who? And I said, “Well, you! you're a rural man, in the countryside, runs a pub, has a farm. You know, it would be interesting, I think, for a lot of people to hear you say you’d vote Yes.” And he said he would. So he went on the six one news the Friday before the referendum and spoke with Ciaran Mullooly, because they were doing a special piece on Roscommon because of the interest in the referendum in 2015. And Ciaran Mullooly and his team came out to my little village, and showed that it's a church and a pub and that's it. And went into my dad, who was sitting behind the bar and spoke to him. And dad spoke about why he was voting Yes- that it’s between the woman and the doctor and nobody else.
And in the days following that, our local parish priest kept appearing at the house and now he was a new parish priest. He'd been there maybe only a year, so we hadn't had much interactions with him. And he kept arriving at the house. First time he arrived, Dad wasn't there. Second time, Dad was just finishing food. Dad said “Why do you want to speak?” “Because I'm here to change your mind. You have to vote no.” And my father said “Well, I'm not for changing, so you might be better off talking to somebody else. And I've got jobs to do. And best of luck.” And the priest pretty much demanded a meeting, my father the next day, which was the day before the referendum. And the, my father agreed, but my father once again said “You might be better off talking to people who are undecided because I'm not going to change my mind.” So my father welcomed him into the house the day before the referendum, again reiterated “My mind's made up. It's not for changing and that you should maybe go speak to somebody else”. And the priest said no, he was going to change my father's mind. He took out his phone. He showed my father an abortion. And my father, which I'm quite proud of, was able to say “That size of that fetus, that was a wanted child and that woman is in distress.” I wouldn't have thought my dad would have known the difference between what an early stage abortion looks like and a later stage abortion. And the.. my dad once again said “I'm not going to change my mind. You know, I think you should go” after ten minutes and the priest wouldn't leave. The priest threatened my father that he wasn't going to give him communion. He threatened him with literal hell. He said that.. Accused my father of being a murderer. He he just continued with this.. kind of got... And, you know, he kind of got a little bit kind of it was a power thing, really. My father said “If you don't leave, I'm going to bring up stuff that you don't want me to discuss.” And the priest wouldn't leave. So my father brought up stuff like the Tuam babies, the clerical sex abuse towards children and women. He brought up the Magdalene Laundries... The priest's attitude to all of this was “Well, that's in the past.” And my father’s, “Eh well, no it's not it's still going on. What about women's mental health? If they're being forced to continue pregnancies that they don't want to?” And the priest's attitude was “ahh mental health!” [makes dismissive noise] Just really... My father would have said to them, “You lack compassion! You don't have any understanding.” It went on for forty minutes and at forty minutes or forty five minutes even maybe, my father instructed him that he was now to leave the property and that he was welcome back into the house any time never to bring up this discussion again. My father still going Vote Yes. And as he was leaving there was a neighbour in doing some work in the house, and my parents were converting a downstairs room into a bedroom. And the priest grabbed him on the way and said “You’ll do the right thing now tomorrow. Won't you? You’ll do the right thing now tomorrow?” “I will indeed, father. I will indeed. I will be voting Yes with John. Priests should have been out of women's vaginas years ago!” And the priest looked apparently like he was going to like BURN them and the two men in their 60s and 70s, walked him out the door. The priest was shouting back, getting into his car about hell. And Dad was saying “Hell can wait till tomorrow night Father, till 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night. I have to canvass everyone in my phone book for a Yes vote!”
Sure enough, our local polling station went from having the highest percentage No vote in all of Roscommon in 2015. And there was 104 votes cast in last year's referendum. And there were 60 Yes, and 44 No. So we had pretty much swapped the demographic, and it was just such.. To me, it is, it it's it's an indicator of the difference between central Dublin and rural Roscommon. You have a priest who is a new parish priest, so he's not well established, taking on what I call the parish publican or one of the parish publicans, who's been there with his family for 40 years, but still felt that he had the authority, the priest did, to go in and essentially try and bully my father into changing his vote and failing. And I just think there's something in that, that's so telling of Ireland in 2018, that it felt like it was from the 1950s. But that's the way the church rules in certain areas. And our local bishop in Elphin, Kevin Doran, would have been very outspoken about wanting a No vote and what should happen to people if they vote Yes, and different things. So we suspect that Kevin would have had a word with the local priest. We've since had interactions with the local priest and it's been fine.
Narrator Aisling [00:14:59] : Many of the activists we spoke to for the 83 campaign mentioned the change of focus in 2018. The opposition to the Eighth Amendment in 83 mainly made their arguments on the basis of legality, in 2018 it was not only about women's rights, but people actually cared about women's stories, and were willing to listen to people's experiences to make sure others didn't have to relive them. For the activists that were there at the beginning, this was a sign that Ireland was a different place to the one that they had grown up in. Here's Ursula Barry.
Ursula: I think one of the the highest level things that struck me in the most recent campaign was.. I was trying to remember the detail of it. Was it was one of the debates on the television, when a young woman who was going for an abortion. And she was telling that on the television, she saying “But I don't fit into any of the categories, you know, of any of the categories of under this circumstance, under the circumstances, I just I'm not ready to go through with this pregnancy at the time.” But she just was. She's just.. in the middle of all this debate that was going on, in the kind of relatively abstract way, in which some of those televised debates can happen. She just stood up and there she was and” I'm 18 and I'm going to Liverpool at the weekend. And this one I'm going to do and, you know, I don't care what you're saying about this is the circumstance of the circumstance. This is what I'm doing. And that's what I’m going to do. And I'm not alone. And lots of women like me.” And she just stopped. And what she was... Visually identifiable, it wasn't just at a meeting, it was the television, you know. Anyway, I was just one of those things that that would never, ever have happened in my lifetime. Somebody would do that and it was so brave. She was so young. She's only like 17 or 18. She was heading off the next day or something like that. I mean, it was really brave, because like the level of intimidation that can happen to you if you're identifiable like that young person, and she wasn't even part of a group going in anywhere, because I talked to the.. I actually talked to the television, RTE people afterwards because it was worried about her, and how she just and anybody made sure she was OK. And then they have contact information because they should put her in contract with services. And they were saying, “Ah you know”, I said “Look, you know, you have a responsibility in these situations. You can't just whatever, you know” anyway. But, you know, and that was a high.
Narrator Aisling [00:17:39] : Not strictly related to the themes of our podcast, but something that's important nonetheless. In 2018, the Pope came to Ireland, again. Three of us on the team ended up at an impromptu protest as the Popemobile drove through Dublin. Some of the women we met that day were survivors of the Mother and Baby homes. We asked Catherine Coffey O'Brien what she had to say about the day and what Repeal meant for her. In this audio, Catherine refers to Katherine Zappone who was then the Minister for Children The audio quality isn't the best, but stick with it.
Catherine Coffey O'Brien: I just want to see justice and closure. I want to healing. I know a lot of.. We're getting older, and Minster Zappone is eh... I thought when we got a minister in like Minister Zappone, she’d make a fierce positive impact. I'm deluded by her and I’m disgusted by her. Because all she's doing is, she's playing a waiting game. And her legacy could have been very positive. She could have addressed these issues regarding the Mother and Baby homes, the unmarked graves and especially Tuam and Catherine Corless who I have great respect for. But our Minister for Children. She's for children! And she's not representing children of Ireland, neither the ones of the past and the future, or the present ones! So I'm also here as well, because of the unmarked graves of children and the women in those graves, they were ignored and rejected by their own country, their own government. And now, they're being, they are being excluded again, rejected by being left there. And there's no.. there's no dignified. There's no. It's like they are just left there, and it's horrible. That's why I'm here.
I'd like to thank, I just met these random people today, and they're brilliant! And we had a great time and we weren’t attacked by anyone thank God!
Interviewer Deirdre: Thank god?! [laughs]
Catherine: I know yeah! A bit of a contradiction in terms of.. It's a habit people! It’s a habit! Literally. No seriously, I just want to say thanks to everyone. And being honest about it, Repeal the 8th opened my eyes to a lot of things, and I’d like to thank everyone that was involved in Repeal the 8th as well. It’s about choice. I didn’t have a choice about whether I was born in, I didn’t have a choice growing up, and Repeal the 8th opened the door about choice in Ireland!
Narrator Aisling[00:20:09] : So there you have it. There were lots more stories that didn’t make it in, and far more activists than we could ever hope to speak with for this podcast. We were lucky enough to record with just a few of them. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did.
The history of Repeal is one of people sharing their own stories. But those stories can only inspire change when people listen to them. So thank you for listening here.
Special thanks to everyone who spoke to us for this podcast. If you liked this podcast, we'd love it if you shared it with your friends. Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts, and follow us on the socials @HowTheYesWasWon. Also we encourage you to reach out to your TDs in relation to the upcoming review on legislation if you're based in Ireland. For those outside of Ireland, please consider donating to the Abortion Support Network. There's a link in the show notes were you can donate to support their clients who need abortions or go to asn.org.uk.
How The Yes Was Won was researched, produced and edited by Deirdre Kelly, Aisling Dolan, that's me, Emma Callaghan, Davy Quinlivan, and Tara Lonij. Additional recording support from Fin Dwyer. Thanks for listening.