By Maria Horan
The longest running pro-life march in Ireland is the “All-Ireland Rally for Life,” which is a collaboration of The Life Institute in the Republic of Ireland and Precious Life, the largest pro-life group in Northern Ireland. The idea for the rally was inspired by the huge success of marches in the United States and other nations. It began on the 7th of July, 2007, in the Republic of Ireland’s capital city of Dublin, and the plan was to march on the first Saturday of every July, alternating between Dublin and Northern Ireland’s capital city, Belfast.
The marches begin in historically important locations in both cities. In Dublin, the crowds have met outside the city’s General Post Office, where Patrick Pearse read out the Proclamation on Easter Monday, 1916, declaring Ireland to be an independent nation from Britain. The Garden of Remembrance has also been used, a location that commemorates various Irish freedom fighters over the centuries and where several Irish 1916 Easter Rising leaders were held before being taken to Kilmainham Gaol to be executed by the British. In Northern Ireland, the Belfast rally usually starts at the Custom House, the steps of which have long been used as a speakers’ corner, where protest speeches have been delivered to ordinary Belfast workers, inciting them to take action against injustices. These historical places demonstrate the fight for justice that continues in Ireland, no longer for nationalism and independence but now for voiceless and defenseless pre-born Irish children.
Once again taking inspiration from the American model, various Irish and international speakers have addressed the rally crowds, including former singer and member of the European Parliament Dana Rosemary Scallon; politicians such as Independent Mattie McGrath, one of only twelve who voted against the horrific Abortion Bill passed in the Republic of Ireland before Christmas; and Dr Judy Ceannt, a relative of 1916 Irish revolutionary leader Eamonn Ceannt. In 2009, the Roe v Wade plaintiff, the late Norma McCorvey, addressed the Rally in Dublin, discussing her conversion to the pro-life side. Surprise visitors have also attended, such as when in 2007 the Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona, the Rev. Thomas J. Olmstead, saw a flyer for the rally and changed his flight home to the United States, so he could attend. He addressed the crowd, comparing the number of American pre-born children who are killed annually through abortion to the million Irish who died in the 1845 Famine.
Themed “Carnival Atmosphere”
Each year has focused on a specific theme. In 2007, the first year of the march, the theme was “Celebrate Life.” While the emphasis has been on keeping Ireland abortion-free, marches have also focused on opposing embryo research in University College Cork. Other themes have included: “Every Life Matters” and “Keep Ireland Abortion-free.” Face-painting, music, balloons, and banners complement the themes, ensuring that the atmosphere is upbeat and positive. Even the vehemently pro-abortion newspaper The Irish Times has described the Rally for Life atmosphere as “carnival-like.” This is in stark contrast to the abortion advocates’ rallies that took place in the lead-up to the Referendum, with displays of monochrome “Repeal” t-shirts and even placards and banners supplied by Amnesty International, featuring images of barbed wire and prison sentence references.
The Final “Save the 8th” Rally
The “Save the 8th” campaign, meant to preserve the amendment to the Irish constitution that protects pre-born life, ramped up their presence in March 2018 and organized an incredible rally in Dublin, garnering even attention from abroad as well as reluctant praise from the biased and pro-Repeal Irish and British media. Though reported figures have varied, approximately 100,000 people attended—an incredible number for a nation with less than 5 million citizens. Various international speakers spoke to the throngs, including American Down Syndrome activist and UN addressee Charlie Fien, who gave an inspirational speech on how abortion targets people such as herself. New Wave Feminists’ Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa was also present and delivered a strong pro-life feminist message, stating that: “Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women and is a symptom of women’s oppression. Ireland should lead the way by saving the 8th”.
“The North Protects”
After the tragic landslide vote to repeal the 8th Amendment in the South of Ireland, politicians rapidly turned their attention to the North. On the 26th of May, during the shameful celebrations of the Repealers at Dublin Castle when the “yes” side was declared to have won, Sinn Féin’s Republic of Ireland Leader Mary Lou McDonald and Northern Ireland Deputy Leader, Michelle O’Neill waved a piece of cardboard for the cameras which ominously read: “The North is Next.” This referred to the fact that Northern Ireland is not regulated by the UK Abortion Act 1967 and so pre-born children continue to be protected there. However, as an ingenious subversion of this image, in July's Belfast "Rally for Life," Precious Life’s Bernie Smyth and The Life Institute’s Niamh Uí Bhrian held up a sign which read: “The North Protects.” Many people in the crowds carried placards with the same message. The Republic may have legalized abortion but the marchers from the Republic of Ireland were declaring their support for the now-isolated and vulnerable Northern Ireland.
And The Future?
In the lead-up to the Irish abortion referendum, the “Save the 8th” pro-lifers had been up against deeply unjust odds: the Irish and international media lock-out of pro-life coverage and openly blatant support for Repeal; the vast majority of Irish politicians being in favor of Repeal; Amnesty International’s relentless and biased targeting of Ireland’s pro-life laws, with millions of pounds of overseas monies being funneled into overturning Ireland’s laws (some of which was illegally acquired and still hasn't been returned). However, pro-life alliances were formed and bonds were created among thousands of volunteers who had generously given so much time and energy in the months and even years before the Irish Referendum.
Ireland can be motivated by the incredible energy and drive that fuels the United States’ Marches for Life. Even though the Republic of Ireland has fallen prey to abortion, this cruel, despicable, and unjust law will be overturned. And with the ongoing and relentless attacks from members of the British parliament such as Diana Johnson and Stella Creasy on Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws, this is no time for complacency. Pro-lifers on both sides of the Irish border need to stay strong and support each other. The fight will continue until the whole island of Ireland is pro-life again, protecting the lives of both mother and child and once more serving as an inspiration to the rest of the world. -- This article originally appeared in Volume 7 Issue 1 of Life Matters Journal.