Whenever I go back to Dublin, I wonder where it’s all gone.
I usually think of the gay marriage referendum, for some reason. It was one of those long spring Saturdays where the evening lasted half the day. There were so many of them in those terminal months before I left. So many sunny afternoons hungover on the grass by the bandstand in Stephen’s Green. So many magic-hour cans by the canal. So many nights that stayed evening until eleven or twelve. So many pills. So many lines. So many dabs of MD. So many illegal raves underneath Chinese restaurants and in garages on Prussia Street and in warehouses by the docks. So many kisses in the after-nightclub dawn.
They announced that ‘Yes’ had won in the early afternoon and we left our tiny rooms in Stoneybatter and went into town to drink. Me and two of my friends. It was standing room only outside Grogan’s so we stood and talked shite in the sun. The streets were wedged with people celebrating. The crowds were chanting “yes” and singing “olé olé”. There were rainbow flags, rainbow beards, rainbow armpits, rainbow headbands, rainbow t-shirts, rainbow hot-pants, rainbow dogs and rainbow cars. There were ‘Yes Equality’ badges and “Same Love” tote bags. There were people posing for photographs in front of sunlit, multi-coloured murals. There were gay couples kissing and strangers cheering them. There were news crews from all around the world, filming the celebrations and having their filming interrupted by people jumping in front of the cameras to celebrate.
Everyone under thirty was home to vote and out for the craic. Town was even more mental by early evening as we walked from pub to pub in the lens-flare light. It was like a carnival. It was like the World Cup. It was like Pride, except it was ourselves we were proud of, the soundness of us. Proud of our country. Proud of our city which voted overwhelmingly for yes. Proud of our young people who were out dancing and singing in the sun and the shade. It felt like a revolution.
We drank in The Bernard Shaw with the South Americans and the continental Europeans who were out to celebrate too. We drank under the stars, and after last orders we walked by the graffiti for yes to Whelan’s. We sang Prince and Madonna and everyone hugged on the dancefloor when the lights came on at the end. The old establishment seemed on the verge of falling. I shifted some lad outside at four. No one wanted to go home even though the seagulls were down for the leftover chips and the sky was glowing up a Sunday morning blue.
Me and my two friends walked back to Stoneybatter. The street sweepers were out. The papers were being delivered. The frontpages said “Ireland says yes” and “Even the Sun Came Out” and “The Rainbow Revolution” and “A New Beginning” and “Ireland’s Big Yes”. They all had pictures of people in the sun in sunglasses hugging and cheering and blowing bubbles and kissing.
“The country’s changed,” my friend said as we sat in our small, dawn-lit kitchen at half-five in the morning having toast and tea. A month later the landlord raised our rent by 30%, and four years on now we’re all gone from Dublin. Me and my friends, and probably most of the people out drinking in the sun that day. We celebrated equality and left a day or a month or a year later. Off to London or South America or Asia or the Middle East or back down the country or onto friends’ couches or back in with our parents or into homelessness. I wish I could go back to those days, but it’s all gone now: that Dublin, those people, that hope.