I am not a natural marcher or protestor or rally attender. I feel more than faintly ridiculous chanting, cheering, and waving a sign. In fact, I have only attended three protests in my entire life-- one was a protest against the building of a motorway past the Hill of Tara (the "spiritual capital" of ancient Ireland), which was way back in 2007, and the other two were today's pro-life march and another a few weeks ago.
The whole thing was very smoothly and slickly organized. Stewards were well-positioned and helpful, huge amounts of printed signs and of candles were handed out, and buses were organized to bring protestors to the event. The good side of this was that the rally is well-organized and civil, and that the posters were not inflammatory or nutty. (There were a few nutty posters at the back, though.) The bad side is that the pro-abortion advocates can say (and are saying, very loudly) that the whole thing was made possible by funds from America.
No matter how much funding you may get from abroad, you still need people to turn up on the day. And they did. The gardai estimated there were about 25, 000 people there. (I am awful at estimating numbers so I don't know how accurate that might be.)
I didn't take a sign or a candle, and then I felt bad because the master of ceremonies emphasized that everyone should have one-- and I could see the logic of that. So I spent a good deal of the protest edging towards the back of the crowd, where they were still available, while trying to avoiding looking like I was abandoning the event early on. In the end, I never did get a poster or a candle or a badge, but I did applaud visibly as often as possible, my hands high in the air, in case any camera came my way.
There was a "roving" camera crew going amongst the protestors, and conducting short interviews, which were broadcast on the two huge monitors that had been set up. One of the interviewees-- or rather, the husband of one of the interviewees-- was a fellow who'd been in my class in school. He was the most cynical of the cynical back then. Now he was a paterfamilias with one child sitting on his shoulders and the others huddled around him. It was nice to see.
I was impressed with the amount of young people that were there-- there were certainly a lot of elderly people, but by no means a preponderance. And there were certainly as many women as men, despite the propoganda that the pro-life cause is anti-women.
Everybody seemed very normal, too. People laughed and chatted and made phone calls and wore ordinary clothes and apologized when they bumped into each other. The women present did not look like long-suffering, cowed housewives who had been dragged away from the sink long enough to register their presence. It was not a throng of glaring, ruthlessly focused, otherworldly fanatics.
The speakers gave the troops what they came for. It struck me that a rally is a show of strength and it doesn't much matter what is said. Besides, what more is there to say on this subject that has not been said? But one of the speakers did say something that I thought was a rather original and powerful point. Caroline Simons of the Pro Life Campaign took a fact that might be demoralising-- that Ireland is something of a "hold-out" in terms of the right to life, and that the current tide of Western history seems to be in the opposite direction-- and turned it into an encouragement. She argued that, if Ireland was in fact to end up as the last bastion of the protection of life from conception to natural death, it would play an invaluable role in tomorrow's world.
There was undoubtedly a strong sense of anger towards the Irish media. One placard read "RTE is Anti-Catholic". And when it was announced that The Irish Times website had announced the turnout as ten thousand, people around me started shouting, "Liars! Liars! The Irish Times are liars!".
Will it be enough?
It's difficult to be optimistic. The forces pushing for abortion in this country are so determined, so confident, and have such momentum behind them now that it's hard to see anything stopping them.
But it's not an all or nothing situation (although, of course, each life lost to an abortion is irreplaceable and an utter tragedy). Even in states where abortion is legal, how many women are inhibited from taking this step because so many pro-life supporters are willing to speak out and say that it is always wrong?
But of course, we should still go on protecting the legal right to life with all the strength and passion we can muster.