‘The child is the heartbeat of the Church, now and forever, and every heartbeat counts,’ said Fodhla from Kells, County Meath, as we stood in Parnell Square, Dublin city centre, waiting for the start of the All Ireland Rally for Life 2017. Actually, the front of the march had already reached the halfway point, but we’d yet to move – and we were far from being at the back.
Garda on the spot were estimating a turnout of 60,000 people even before everyone had arrived. One secular news outlet, in a rare attack of truthfulness, reported the figure 70,000 before ideology kicked in and numbers like 10-20,000 began to fill Ireland’s newspapers and television screens – despite the best final estimate of 80,000!
It’s no surprise that so very many people turned out – or that the secular media don’t want people to know. Ireland’s new president has promised a referendum on the 8th Amendment, which essentially outlaws abortion, and the country now faces an agonising nine-month countdown until the fate of its women and unborn babies is decided. Nine months – the amount of time a baby is in the womb of its mother, as one of the inspiring speakers pointed out.
The march was vibrant and the marchers passionate. “I’m here because of the 8th – it’s got to stay!” exclaimed Agnes from Ballykelly, Country Wexford. Fr Bryan Shortall ofm. Cap. from Dublin explained that, “My family fought very hard to get the 8th amendment passed in 1983 and I believe it has served our country very well.”
As the wait continued, two ladies (not as young as one might have expected!) climbed up onto a nearby open-sided rally lorry and began some lively Irish dancing, to roars of approval. And then… we were off!
“I’m in the march because I believe it’s a very big contradiction in our society that we say it’s a crime to kill a baby after birth but not when in the belly of the mother,” remarked Fr Rafael, a young priest from Gemelli, Brazil.
Peter, an Englishman from Warrington, UK, with Irish family links, told me, “I’m very worried about the situation in Ireland – there’s so much money from America being put into the pro-abortion movement. It’s currently one of the safest countries to have a baby. I don’t want the ‘George Soros machine’ to change that, to destroy babies and women’s lives.”
Julie, from the USA, had a similar perspective. “Coming from the US with 40 years of legal abortion I know it is so important to stop the atrocity before it begins. I can’t vote in the referendum, but I can be here today.”
Many older people lined the streets as we passed, holding up pro-Life placards. But not everyone was waiting to cheer us on. “We’re coming up to where the abortion supporters will be,” Michelle Quigley, a pro-life author from Derry, Northern Ireland, explained, as she made a point of dropping back alongside the lorry on which her children were travelling, “and I’m worried in case they throw anything. They usually don’t, but what they shout can be so nasty.”
Thankfully, the protestors were few and not very threatening. A large ‘marriage equality’ march in Belfast had clearly lured away the most militant. I stared at one group as I passed, though. Their signs read: ‘People before profits.’ Were they standing in the right place? I wondered. Surely they should be outside Planned Parenthood or BPAS?
Sheer numbers backed up the march for about a mile from Merrion Square, the destination. Would we even fit in? But finally, we were on the move again, lorry, Noddy train (the most novel of the vehicles carrying those less able to walk!), bagpipers, and all.
“I’m here because our country needs the 8th more than ever now,” said Karen, from County Mayo. “It’s so important we love all our babies, including the disabled ones.”
And appropriately, we reached the square in time to hear Karen Gaffney, a well-known advocate for people with Down Syndrome, noted long-distance swimmer, and international speaker, who happens to have Down Syndrome herself. “I’m very proud to be here today to stand up for life – for all lives,” she began, to massive applause.
Another speaker, Declan Ganley, spoke stirringly, “There is no woman in Ireland who cannot be offered, if the will was there, a better solution, than abortion. … There are few groups of humans that are more defenceless than the preborn human individual … and we will not allow them to take away the 8th amendment and dehumanise the preborn because this is Ireland, and we stand for real human rights!”
Perhaps Dorota, from Poland, summed up the rally – and the cause – best when she said simply, “It’s important.”
In Ireland, just now, it is more important than ever before.