This country of ours is no sand bank, thrown up by some recent caprice of earth. It is an ancient land, honoured in its archives of civilization, traceable into antiquity by its piety, its valour, and its sufferings. Every great Europen race has sent its stream to the river of Irish mind. Long wars, vast organizations, subtle codes, beacon crimes, leading virtues, and self-mighty men were here. If we live influenced by wind and sun and tree, and not by the passions and deeds of the past, we are a thriftless and a hopeless people. —Thomas Davis
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks. — Psalm 137
On Thursday I had a strange sense that the day had the tenor of a Holy Saturday—a day lifted out of history. Except that here, history seemed to have gone into reverse: the Resurrection behind, Calvary in front. On Friday, the Irish people climbed Calvary backwards, in the name of progress.
If you would like to visit a place where the symptoms of the sickness of our time are found near their furthest limits, come to Ireland. Here you will see a civilization in freefall, seeking with every breath to deny the existence of a higher authority, a people that has now sentenced itself not to look upon the Cross of Christ lest it be haunted by His rage and sorrow.
Two out of three of those who voted—66.4 percent—said Yes to the removal of the right-to-life protection of the unborn child in the Irish Constitution. When you think of it in actual words, it is dizzying: just one in three voters—33.6 percent—wished this protection to continue. The world’s media called it a “landslide for abortion,” but before that it was a landslide for leaving the unborn child—every unborn child—defenseless against assault from outside. When you factor in the fact that roughly one in three of those entitled to vote did not do so (turnout was 64.1 percent), this unprecedented measure passed with approximately just 42.5 percent of the electorate voting for it. Only one constituency, Donegal in the Northwest, voted No, and this by a tight margin—51.87 percent for No; 48.13 percent for Yes.
For the first time in history, a nation has voted to strip the right to life from the unborn. The victims of this dreadful choice will be the most defenseless, those entirely without voice or words. This is the considered verdict of the Irish people, not—as elsewhere—an edict of the elites, imposed by parliamentary decree or judicial fiat. The Irish people are now the happy ones who dash their own children against the rocks.
Now that we have come to the end of a long and ugly battle, I can say that none of this surprises me. The tenor of the contest has been so nauseating that the deepest parts of my psyche had begun to anticipate this outcome. It was little things: the frivolity of the Yes side: “Run for Repeal”; “Spinning for Repeal”; “Walk your Dog for Repeal”; “Farmers for Yes”; “Grandparents for Repeal,” which ought to have been “Grandparents for Not Having Grandchildren.” This, like the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015, was a carnival referendum: Yessers chanting for Repeal, drinking to Repeal, grinning for the cameras as they went door-to-door on the canvass of death.
Today, Ireland dances on the graves of little children. It is a country where freedom means the right to do just about anything you please, without risk of consequences.
On the day of the vote, the media gave us a picture of our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, grinningly dropping his vote into a ballot box, over the headline: “All the lads in the gym are voting yes.”
It is the epitaph of the country I grew up in, the only one I had to call home, this ancient land, traceable into antiquity by its piety, its valor, and its sufferings. This fool we are obliged to call Taoiseach (Chieftain), this man without qualities—who entered the last election three short years ago as “pro-life”—has led my people into a hell beyond imagining.
On Wednesday, two days from polling day, Varadkar, with his typical disingenuousness, called for no public celebrations if the vote turned out a Yes. But Saturday evening in the yard of Dublin Castle saw thousands of citizens dancing, cavorting, weeping, screaming—as they were entertained by the musical group Voices 4 Repeal. The leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the now disbanded Irish Republican Army, declared: “It’s been a long time coming. This is about women’s right. We deserve to celebrate.” When Varadkar and his health minister arrived, they were greeted by chants of their Christian names.
How did we get here? The spiritual reconstruction of Ireland that took place after the Famines of the 1840s placed mothers at its center: the moral instruments by which Irish families were to be brought back to the straight and narrow. Women were placed on a pedestal, their actions or demands immune from questioning by mere men. Add two dashes of feminism and you have an unassailable cultural force, which has now attained its apotheosis. “Trust women,” one of the many fatuous Yes slogans demanded. Trust women to kill their own children?
The cancer at the heart of modern Irish culture is unbelief in anything that is not negotiable in the manner of currency. But that was the diagnosis up until last Friday. May 25 will go down as the beginning of the final stage of the disintegration: the carting of the human in Ireland from the spiritual to the material level, with the country that was once the jewel in the crown of European Christianity affirming that a baby is the mere chattel of her mother.
The Church, with the exception of a sprinkling of pastorals, was tactically absent. This reticence is understandable in respect of the public realm: The leveraging of antipathy towards Catholicism is a core element of the pro-abortion strategy. What was unforgivable was that this silence extended to pulpits. The Association of Catholic Priests, a kind of theo-ideological trade union, intervened to criticize a minor trend of pro-lifers delivering homilies during Masses.
For years, people abroad have teased me about the Island of Saints and Scholars, asking when we’re going to send them more monks. Usually they’re only half joking, the scale of Ireland’s disintegration being by no means fully understood beyond her shores. It falls to me to disabuse them of their romantic ideas about my country. Friday last should at least have the benefit of henceforth saving me that trouble.
In his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill writes that “the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature,” thus becoming the “conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilisation they had overwhelmed.” He praises the monks “who single-handedly re-founded European civilisation.”
This is the Ireland of popular imagining. We now know it to be a legend long past its use-by date. The Irish of today are more likely to be among the looters and book-burners, the barbarians who value nothing but what is expedient. Indeed, on May 25, Ireland might be said to have put a match to one of its own most sacred texts, Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish Constitution, of which the fateful Article 40.3.3, which recognized “the right to life of the unborn, … with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” will soon be replaced by a fundamental right to kill any unborn child whose mother demands it. We now lead those razing the remnants of a Christian civilization that treasured the weak into the sandy ground.
John Waters is an Irish writer and commentator, the author of nine books, and a playwright.