On Friday May 22, I am going home to vote YES to Ireland’s historic Marriage Equality Referendum, giving its LGBT citizens the right to marry. As my mother used to say, “I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
My mother’s long dead, so I don’t know what she’d think of this proposal. Yet I’m sure she’d have something to say. When she was a young girl in Ireland, her mother unofficially adopted a little boy who was gay.
When pressed, Mammie said that her mother simply took Dan in from a large neighboring family. But she never said why. Then again this was the silent thirties, when no one in Ireland breathed a word about sexuality.
From snapshots found after Mammie’s death, I could see that Dan was a lively little boy with a big head of hair and mischievous eyes. From his letters, I could see he was smart. So, of course, he was groomed to be a priest.
It cost a lot to send a boy to a seminary. Yet a priest in the family gave respect and importance. “A pump in the yard and a priest by the hearth,” was a popular expression indicating spiritual and actual wealth — wealth that gave “Father” the slice of cake with the most icing and the chair nearest the fire.
Dan missed by a hair. He wasn’t a priest. He was nearly a priest. He went through the novitiate and the seminary all right. But on the day before his Ordination, Dan walked out the seminary door and took the bus back to Kerry. For me at twelve, this was the most shocking thing I had ever heard. Yet, Mammie claimed being educated by Jesuits was the next best thing to being a priest.
In the sixties, when I was a teen, come every August I’d eagerly wait for Dan to visit. Hot from Dublin, he’d arrive unannounced at the Home Place, pal or two in tow. Pals with slicked down hair, skinny ties and filtered cigarettes. They didn’t stay with us, but showed up every day to hang out with Dan and joke with me.
When we’d all go to town for tea and cakes, Dan would entertain my mother and me with slightly racy stories told in a plumy Brit accent. I’d roar laughing. She’d roar laughing. I knew he was gay. She must have as well. Though that word wasn’t around then. Everyone used “fairy.”
Dan and I became pals, quite like it must have been with he and my Mother. We’d write to each other all the time about the movies, the Royals and Marilyn Monroe. We’d send snaps back and forth. Me dressed like Don Draper’s daughter. Dan dressed in a black suit and tie. He may as well have been a priest.
In the seventies Dan was working for the Irish government and ensconced in a posh brownstone in Dublin. He had a new troop of pals, one of whom called him “my huz.” And Dan would fall to pieces laughing. Yet they were never seen together. These were fiercely repressive times for the gay community in Ireland. So there was no public mention of homosexuality, much less marriage.
By now Dan had gone old and was not so funny. The man who called him “my huz” would come and go, but they never seemed happy. I was older, too. Old enough for Dan to tell me that he was gay.
It was autumn. I was staying with him in the posh house on Waterloo Road. He said he wanted to tell me something and suggested a walk around the block. I remember I was wearing a Betsey Johnson dress.
“Alice Marie,” he said. “I want to tell you that I’m gay.”
I can still hear the leaves crunching under our feet. Not wanting to make a big deal about it, I said, “I suspected as such. I’ve lots of gay friends and it’s OK.” We walked on. Dan looked crestfallen at my lack of shock. We talked no more of it, and he went on to tell me he was sober. AA meetings were his life.
A few months later I got a call from a distant cousin who said Dan had died. Dropped dead on a Dublin street. She had no details. I have no idea how Dan died, the street he died on, who buried him or where he is buried. It was a mystery, just like he himself was.
Dan is why I am voting YES.
YES for all the Dan’s all over Ireland who want the right to marry.
YES for Dan and his once-upon-a-time huz, who, given half the chance, would have married Dan and stayed with him to the end.
As Molly Bloom rightly said: “Yes, I will. Yes.”
Will YES win? Tune in next week.
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