Modern Family: The story of why one Irish family will be voting Yes 8 years ago

Modern Family: The story of why one Irish family will be voting Yes

My uncle Nick rang last Thursday to ask if I’d write an article ahead of the Marriage Referendum on Friday, 22 May.

By Ronan Costello


He’d been asked to offer his opinion on the referendum and talk about what he and his partner, Stuart, might do if it doesn’t pass. Nick didn’t think an angry tirade from him would convince anyone who’s still wavering, so he suggested that I write about how our family, and my Dad in particular, have come to support Yes.

Here’s our story.

It says in the paper…

It starts one evening in 2006 with my mother reading the social pages of The Sunday Tribune at the kitchen table. She reads a paragraph that makes her call Dad over.


“Take a look at that. Is that our Nicky?”

Dad reads the passage.

“It can’t be. Surely not?”

It was a report on a rugby tournament in which the Emerald Warriors RFC had participated.


Emerald Warriors

Now, we knew that Nick played rugby. But we didn’t know that he played for the Emerald Warriors; we didn’t know that he was their spokesperson and we definitely didn’t know that it was a club for gay men.

Yet here he was quoted in the article, giving the club’s reaction to their hard-fought defeat.

Maybe he was just doing them a favour, we thought. A publicist for hire.


Dad went next door to ask my aunt about it. He came back about an hour later and told us that, yes, Nick is gay.

Dad laughed, probably because it was the only thing he could do. All these years and none of us had ever realised what seems so obvious now. When you’re not looking, you can’t see.

An Irish family

This news was all the more surprising because my Dad’s family is, on paper, as traditionally Irish as any I’ve come across.

He and Nick are just two of fifteen brothers and sisters. Yes, fifteen.


My grandfather fought in the War of Independence and, by Dad’s account, he was a proud, patriotic and stern man. He died in 1973, leaving my grandmother to raise their young family in Carlow, a duty she bore with great strength and resilience.

The eldest brother had already left home to join the Christian Brothers and Dad left school shortly afterwards to work and support his mother and younger siblings. Nick was only four at the time.

In the decades since, the siblings have helped each other in any way they can and at every turn. They’ve built each others’ houses, tended each others’ gardens and taken care of each others’ children. And they always come together in unity at times of great joy and sadness.

That’s the Costello family.

Fifteen brothers and sisters, born of a man who had a modest hand in the liberation of the country and a woman who stoically carried them all through good times and bad, always emphasising the importance of their togetherness.

Ireland flag people

The times they are a-changin’

However, the family’s roots in rural Ireland, paired with the religious devotion of my grandparents and the socially conservative culture which my Dad and his siblings were born into, was bound to have an effect.

When chatting to Dad about this, he says that the Ireland of his youth was barely aware of homosexuality and if it was mentioned at all, it was with disgust. Among men in particular, it was simply unacceptable.

He still sees this today in his conversations with some men around town. They’re stubborn 'No' voters and their opinion is informed by the same attitude that made the idea of living anywhere but Dublin pretty unpalatable for Nick.

Dad’s own views on this have had to evolve.

Before that evening with the Sunday Tribune, he’d been living under the assumption that the family was uniformly straight. A few years later he found himself at the civil partnership reception of Nick and Stuart, in the company of all their gay and lesbian friends.


From L-R: Ronan with his uncle Nick and Nick's partner, Stuart

For a man born in rural Carlow in the 1950s, educated by the Christian Brothers and brought up to be the archetypal man’s man, this was a surreal experience.

Yet he and the rest of the family have embraced it.

“I’m voting 'Yes' because I believe in equality for all my family, not just some of my family and it should be a given that this is extended to everyone else,” he says simply.

I was nervous before ringing him to ask if he’d be ok with me writing this piece, knowing that he’s a private man. I shouldn’t have been.

“If it helps Nick, if it helps anyone, then it’s the right thing to do.”

Modern Family

So this traditional Irish family has become a very modern Irish family.

It began with a husband and wife who mirrored the country around them, Ireland of the 1940s, and its members today reflect the new Ireland of 2015.

Like so many in our society, my Dad and his straight siblings have had to adjust their view of the world. They see the happiness that being open has brought Nick and Stuart and they see that the world is no worse, no plagues have been set on us as a result of their union.

Nick and Stuart have talked about emigrating if this referendum falls. We want them to stay.

This family is saying Yes. We hope your family will too.

Rainbow flag

Ronan Costello is 26-years-old, from Carlow and is one of an army of grandchildren.