Did ya miss me?

Hello, my lovely readers!

It has come to my attention that I have been.. neglecting you. All of you. I’m awfully sorry for this- especially since the last post I wrote was pretty personal and unhappy, and then I went and disappeared for almost a month without so much as a by-your leave. Awfully inconsiderate of me, I have to admit. 

There've been a LOT of these.
There’ve been a LOT of these.

So, where have I been? If you’re worried that I went off the deep end or decided to throw in the blogging towel, it’s okay. I just got a new dayjob (hurray!). As I’ve been out of paid work for months, this is both something I’m really happy about, and a bit of an adjustment. As it turned out, it didn’t leave me with any time (or spoons!) for writing while I dragged myself up the new-job learning curve. Continue reading “Did ya miss me?”

Did ya miss me?

Help Yemi Get Citizenship

We’ve spent weeks here banging on about our Orbit kickstarter and asking you all to help us get this place started with your sweet, sweet cash. I know that the last thing that you want to hear is another request for financial help. But this one is important. And it’s incredibly time-sensitive:


My name is Yemi. I was born Lagos in Nigeria. When I was 12, my parents left Nigeria and landed in one of Ireland’s Direct Provision Centres.

I’ve got my permanent residency in Ireland, but I am barred from voting and am unable to even leave Ireland unless I get my citizenship. I’ve been trying to get my citizenship in Ireland, as I’m currently eligible (since 2006), but I need a few things in order to get that.

First, my GNIB card, which everyone who has permanent residency must have, needs to be renewed. It costs 300 EU and if I do not get it renewed by April 30th, I risk messing up my citizenship application and possible legal trouble with an Garda Siochana (the Irish police).

Second, I need 900 EU for my citizenship application and another 60EU for my Irish passport.

Any money collected above my goals will go to helping my younger brother get his GNIB renewal and citizenship.



Yemi’s been living in Ireland since she was 12 years old. It’s bloody ridiculous that despite having permanent residency for ten years, she still has to worry about getting deported if she can’t come up with €300 to renew her residency card every year. It’s even more ridiculous that until she gets that citizenship she can’t even leave the country.

Nobody should be deported from their home for financial reasons. (Actually: nobody should be deported from their home. But that’s a bigger issue.)

Please check out Yemi’s GoFundme. If you can afford to help, please do donate. If you don’t have the spare cash, please share.


Help Yemi Get Citizenship

An Incomplete List Of Gendered Injustices Against Irish Women- and the people working to change them. Part One.

Happy International Women’s Day! While today is for celebrating marvellous women and their achievements, here in Ireland we still have a long way to go before women have equal dignity, autonomy, freedom and respect.

This list isn’t exhaustive. This series of posts details issues that I was able to brainstorm from my room in ten minutes on an A4 sheet of paper. There are undoubtedly far more things that I haven’t even considered.

But here’s what I’ve got.

1. Repeal the 8th Amendment

The 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution provides that:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

This means that without a referendum to change this, no Irish government can legislate for abortion in any case where the pregnant person’s life is not at risk. The chilling effect provided by the Eighth is probably why Savita Halappanavar is not here with us today. It means that if you die while pregnant, but it is possible for your body to be kept metabolising until the fetus is viable, your doctors must do so. Pregnant people who receive diagnoses of fatal fetal abnormalities are forced to travel to the UK for terminations. And to smuggle their wanted children home in the boots of their cars if they want to give them a burial.

It also means that any risk to a pregnant person’s health that doesn’t threaten to kill them is not grounds for a termination. No matter what that will do to their bodies.

Not all pregnant people are women. But most are. And the Eighth Amendment’s purpose is to control women’s bodies. It needs to go.

You can find out more about the campaign to change this hateful provision at Coalition to Repeal the Eighth. Continue reading “An Incomplete List Of Gendered Injustices Against Irish Women- and the people working to change them. Part One.”

An Incomplete List Of Gendered Injustices Against Irish Women- and the people working to change them. Part One.

Those People With Their Fancy Cars: A small case study in how we normalise the exclusion of the Other.

CN: anti-Traveller racism, discussion of processes of dehumanisation and marginalisation of the Other.

You know Lewis’s Law? It’s the one that says that comments on any article about feminism justify feminism. I was reminded of it- in a very different context, of course- when I woke up this morning to the following set of Tweets responding to my last post.

The tl;dr for my last post, to get you up to date:

Irish settled people’s bigotry toward our Irish Travellers is all-pervasive, considered socially acceptable, and utterly vile. We act as though treating Travellers as if they were subhuman is perfectly okay. In a housefire last week, ten people from two Traveller families died in a housefire, and their neighbours’ homes were destroyed too. The next day, relatives of the deceased were refused entry to a bar where they went to get lunch. And residents around the area picked for emergency accommodation for the survivors have been blockading the site to prevent their temporary homes being built.

Back to those tweets.

This set of replies is a perfect example of Lewis’s Law. It’s long, but I think that it’s useful to read through it because what we’ve got here is textbook. And by ‘textbook’, I mean that if I were teaching this stuff I’d have already set my students analysing these. This is how prejudice and marginalisation are normalised. This is how we do it. Take a look at the entire sequence:

Continue reading “Those People With Their Fancy Cars: A small case study in how we normalise the exclusion of the Other.”

Those People With Their Fancy Cars: A small case study in how we normalise the exclusion of the Other.

Courses, schemes, and who is valued: a letter from social welfare.

Yesterday morning I got a letter from social welfare.

I’ve been signing on for a little while. This summer, I had to give up my teaching job. I kept on losing my voice for days or weeks on end- something my doctor informatively called “recurrent laryngitis”, which I gather translates as “I kept losing my voice”. I’m not sure why it happened. The waiting lists for tests are months-long, and a few weeks of not speaking cleared things up. But I’m still not willing to go back to teaching and risk being unable to speak again. Time to move on to something new.

I’ve been more or less unemployed since then, aside from a column here and there. These things happen. Yes, it’s been a tough few months. But I have some ideas for where I’d like to go next. I think it’ll be okay.

Let’s get back to that letter yesterday morning. It was about a new apprenticeship program that’s being run to get people into IT jobs. I was invited to an information session and aptitude test this morning.

Let’s get something clear: I strongly support people on the live register having access to subsidised education and training. I think it’s essential. And from what I saw this morning, this apprenticeship program seems like a great idea.

But let’s get to this morning, shall we? Continue reading “Courses, schemes, and who is valued: a letter from social welfare.”

Courses, schemes, and who is valued: a letter from social welfare.

Dublin’s 2015 March for Choice: in pictures.

Sometimes I feel like Ireland’s reputation is unfairly overshadowed by our history. Conservative, grey, under the thumb of the church. And yes, there is a truth to that. But there is also a truth to this. Yesterday’s 2015 March for Choice was huge. The sun shone. Women took to the stage and shared their stories.


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The history of pro-choice in Ireland has often been difficult. I remember a few short years ago: countless winter vigils for our dead. Standing huddled in the cold and the dark. We wouldn’t stop until Savita had something resembling justice. Seem times it feels like we’re always responding. Yet another tragedy. Yet another woman dead. Or locked up until her pregnancy is done. We’re always on the defensive. Continue reading “Dublin’s 2015 March for Choice: in pictures.”

Dublin’s 2015 March for Choice: in pictures.

Anna? Gender fluidity is a thing. You and I need to talk.

Hi Anna,

You and I don’t know each other. I mean, you probably don’t know me. I know of you, of course- I was a teenager a year out of the closet back when you were one of the only out Irish women I’d ever seen on TV. That was a fairly big deal.

I know that it’s not fair to expect you to always know everything, or to never get things wrong. I get that we put huge expectations on our own community- especially when, like you, they’re well known. And as someone who’s recently started seeing my name in print(ish) I get how vulnerable that can feel. Particularly when, as a woman and as an LGBT person, you’re expected to hold to a higher standard of awareness than almost everything else.

That can be exhausting.

But I’m sure that you also get how exhausting it can feel from the other side. After all, you were one of the first openly gay Irish women on TV. I’m sure there were days when someone wrote an ill-iinformed (or outright malicious) column about you. Or about people like us. I’ll bet there were days when the last thing you wanted to be was the country’s token lesbian ex-nun.

That can be exhausting, too.

So: I’m going to take your column on Jonathan Rachel Clynch and gender fluidity, and the questions you ask in it, in good faith. You’ve said that you need to educate yourself. Let’s take it from there, and I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned over the years with you. A quick caveat before I begin, though? I’m not a trans woman, or an AMAB (don’t worry, I’ll explain that one) trans person. I’m just a bog-standard converse-wearing cis queer, whose social circles include enough trans people that I’ve had to do a lot of learning over the years. So if I say something and it’s contradicted by a trans woman or a genderfluid AMAB person? Don’t quote me, quote them. Continue reading “Anna? Gender fluidity is a thing. You and I need to talk.”

Anna? Gender fluidity is a thing. You and I need to talk.

In case you thought anti-choicers gave a toss about women. Or children.

And they say that we’re the ones who don’t care about children?!



This is what happens when women speak up. This is what happens when we tell our stories.

Remember: this isn’t about preventing abortions. It is perfectly legal for pregnant people in Ireland to travel overseas to access the medical care that our country refuses to give us. In 1992, the country was asked to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to our constitution, which specifically allows pregnant people to leave the country for abortion. It was passed by a 2/3 majority.

There has never, to my knowledge, been a serious effort to repeal the Thirteenth Amendment.

They do not try to prevent people from having abortions.

Instead, they silence them. Call them murderers. Tell them to kill themselves or their children.

There is nothing pro-life about anti-choice. It is stone cold misogyny. Nothing more. Nothing less.
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In case you thought anti-choicers gave a toss about women. Or children.

Neural Tube Defects: Systemic Problems and Individualised Answers.

Yesterday in the Irish Times, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, had something to say about folic acid. Up till now, you see, women people planning to become pregnant have been advised to take folic acid supplements daily. Ireland has a high rate of neural tube defects– which cause everything from spina bifida to anencephaly- the majority of which can be prevented with folic acid.

As of yesterday, this advice has changed:

“Up to 50 per cent of all pregnancies are unplanned, but a baby’s crucial neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant,” Dr Mahony said. …“Women who are sexually active should start taking the vitamin daily even if a baby is the last thing on their mind”

Taken at face value, this seems like good advice. If you’re at risk of getting pregnant, then taking a simple step to prevent painful or fatal birth defects seems sensible. And from a purely medical standpoint, I can see her point. Unplanned pregnancies happen! If I were at risk of getting pregnant and thought there was a reasonable chance I’d keep any pregnancy that resulted, I would seriously consider adding some folic acid to my daily routine. And I’m sure that, as a medical practitioner, Dr Mahony sees more of the suffering that neural tube defects can cause than most.

However, this doesn’t mean that Dr Mahony’s perspective- while important- is complete, or that she fully understands the context in which she speaks. Because medical advice is never given in a vacuum, and in this context Dr Mahony’s well-intentioned advice is ill thought-out, ignorant of context and in certain cases may be actively harmful.

Let me explain. Let’s go to the beginning.

Sex is not PIV.

Not every sexually active woman is at risk of becoming pregnant. This may seem obvious to you and me, but it’s important. Not everyone who can get pregnant is a woman. Not every woman can get pregnant. And being sexually active does not necessarily imply engaging in acts that could lead to pregnancy.

Again, this may seem obvious. It may even seem irrelevant. But our society-wide glorification of one kind of sexual act- penis in vagina intercourse (PIV)- over others is a problem. It’s based on a heteronormative ideal that says not only that sex between cis men and women is the only “real” kind of sex, but that even between cis men and cis women, only one act ‘counts’.

When Dr Mahony says “all sexually active women”, and really means “all people with uteruses who regularly engage in PIV”, she’s not just using a neutral kind of shorthand. She’s using a shorthand that actively erases groups of people- queer women, some trans men, cis women who can’t have PIV, infertile women- who are already marginalised.

Sexually active is not a synonym for potential parent.

It’s a small point. On its own, it wouldn’t be a such a big deal. So let’s start getting towards the meat of the problem, shall we?

Some of us know what we want.

Not every person who could become pregnant would want to stay that way.

Dr Mahony correctly points out that half of all pregnancies in Ireland are unplanned. A simple sentence, yes, but one which leaves out what is possibly the most important factor in all of this: unplanned is not the same as unwanted.

Let me say that again. Unplanned is not the same as unwanted.

Sometimes people aren’t planning on getting pregnant but if it happens, would be happy to consider continuing the pregnancy. Sometimes people would love to be pregnant and have a kid, are working to prevent it because they’ve other plans right now, but know that if it happened, they’d change those plans and work something out.

And sometimes people know full well that they don’t want to give birth. Maybe they are certain that they don’t want to be parents. Maybe they’d love to be parents but they have overwhelming reasons why now isn’t the time. Maybe there are medical reasons why they should definitely not carry a pregnancy. Or maybe, for reasons which are entirely their own and none of our business, they are either certain or fairly sure that a pregnancy that happened isn’t one they would continue with.

Unplanned isn’t the same as unwanted. Unplanned isn’t the same as unfeasible. And yet Dr Mahony conflates the two.

In a vacuum, this mightn’t be a problem. Again, we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a society where the assumption that women don’t know what we want- and that the default state of having a uterus is womanhood, and the default state of womanhood is (desired) motherhood- is ubiquitous. And this idea- that you Just Don’t Know What You Would Do If You Got Pregnant- infantilises women, assuming that we don’t know our own minds and are incapable of making decisions about our future. Many of us know perfectly well what choice we would make if we got pregnant, thank you very much.

For those of us who know that we would carry to term, or for those of us who aren’t sure? Folic acid could be a great idea.

But some of us know that we don’t want to be parents. Or we know that we don’t want to, or cannot, carry a pregnancy to term.

Unplanned is not a synonym for dangerous. Or for impossible. Or even for unwanted.

We Do Not Have A Choice

Until now, what we’ve been talking about are mainly annoyances. It’s annoying when ‘sexually active’ is equated with ‘fertile person having PIV’. It’s irritating when people assume that women all secretly want to be mothers.

If this were only about irritations and assumptions, we could deal. But this advice comes in a context where pregnant people legally do not have the choice over whether to remain pregnant or not. According to Irish law, if I become pregnant and don’t want to be, I can be sent to prison for fourteen years for “intentionally destroying unborn human life”. And so can anyone who helped me to terminate. (Side note: this includes letting you know how you can safely access abortion pills online).

I said above that an unplanned pregnancy is not the same as an unwanted one. In Ireland, they are the same, because you have no right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In Ireland, consent to PIV sex is, legally speaking, equivalent to consent to parenthood. There is no distinction. This means that EVERY sexually active person with a uterus is nothing more than a potential vessel.

In this context, the reason why every sexually active woman should take folic acid is this: If you’re having sex, you have no choice in becoming a parent.

In this context, telling all sexually active women to take folic acid daily (every single day, for decades of their lives!) just in case that get pregnant even though they’re trying their damnedest not to? Can only be described as sinister: Do not forget for a second that your body belongs to us.

Of course, it gets worse.

Sometimes, we really do not have a choice.

Let’s imagine for a second a fertile uterus-bearer whose sex life features what, if you know them, will be an entirely unsurprising absence of chances to get pregnant (hello there!).

That doesn’t mean they won’t get pregnant. When at least 1/5 of us have been sexually assaulted (without even taking into account coercion), our risk of pregnancy is often not something that we can decide for ourselves. And remember again that in Ireland, having been raped is not considered legitimate grounds for terminating a pregnancy.

Does this mean that every fertile uterus-bearer, regardless of whether they’re having consensual PIV sex or not, should take folic acid daily? After all, the life of the unborn in Ireland is already prioritised over the health, well-being and choices of a pregnant person.

Individualised Answers Don’t Solve Social Problems.

Okay, you could say. Those points make sense. But queers, childfree women, and people who get pregnant following assault don’t constitute the majority of unplanned pregnancies. We’re outliers, and isn’t it important to get information and advice to people who need it? After all, neural tube defects have risen by a massive 27% in the last two years, at the same time as folic acid intake has fallen. We can sort out our hurt feelings over terminology after we prevent dozens of kids being born with serious impairments.

I couldn’t agree more. Let’s take a closer look, then, at whether there’s something that we can do to make a real difference. From the Irish Times, back in April:

Studies of women attending the Coombe women’s hospital show that as few as a quarter have taken folic acid before conception and that the numbers taking the supplement are declining

Another recently published study has revealed a decline in the number of food products fortified with folic acid. This means women are less likely to consume the vitamin passively in their diet.

…Prof Turner said austerity might be partly to blame, as people had less money for discretionary spending on higher-quality food products fortified with folic acid. The incidence of birth defects has also been found to be higher outside Dublin, as it is thought people in the capital spend more money on food.

And from the Irish Medical Times, also in April this year:

Renewed public health interventions, including mandatory folic acid food fortification, must be considered to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects (NTD), which appears to be on the rise, new Irish research has concluded.

…In Ireland, there is no mandatory folic acid food fortification, partly due to declining NTD rates in recent years.

…Regionally, the incidence of NTDs per 1,000 births was as follows: Dublin (0.76), mid-east (1.06), mid-west (1.09), southeast (1.25), southwest (0.95), border (1.34), midlands (1.46) and west (1.09). “It is possible that socio-economic differences on food expenditure in households may explain the disparity as Dublin households have up to 20 per cent more disposable income on average compared with other regions,” the authors speculated.

…They stated the findings of the study should serve as a basis on which to review the issue of folic acid fortification, which was postponed in 2008.

Tl;dr? We can take several things from this:

  • Neural tube defects have been rising in recent years, and this is likely related to reduced intake of folic acid.
  • Urban/rural and socioeconomic divides affect a person’s likelihood of having sufficient folic acid. Rural and poorer people, who have less disposable income and choices about what food they buy, are significantly less likely to get enough, and significantly more likely to have kid with NTDs.
  • Foods can be and are fortified with folic acid. Discount foods are far less likely to be fortified than their high-end counterparts.
  • Mandatory fortification was considered but the issue was postponed seven years ago and, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been looked at since.

Even that’s too much? The people who are most at risk of having babies with NTDs are the women with the least resources. They’re the same people who have the fewest options for pregnancy prevention (contraception ain’t free, and the most effective forms are often the most difficult to access).

Education Is Not The (Primary) Problem

Let’s imagine that every person in the country knew that we should be taking folic acid for NTD prevention in the weeks before and after we get pregnant.

Even if we all knew that, we would still find ourselves in a situation where the most marginalised face higher rates of NTDs than the rest of us. Education is one part of this puzzle, yes. But education doesn’t change the fact that without mandatory fortification, those of us who shop at discount stores will have lower levels of folic acid than those who can afford to go somewhere more fancy. It doesn’t change the fact that even with this information, in the real world the majority of us who aren’t intending on having kids are highly unlikely to remember to prioritise our non-existent potential offspring over our day-to-day concerns.

I mean, let’s get real here: one of the reasons that many of us are already on long-term hormonal birth control (and why typical use of birth control pills leads to much high failure rates than perfect use)  is because remembering to take a pill every day is a giant pain in the ass. It’s a pain in the ass when you have an immediate reason to do it. It’s a pain in the ass when you live with a chronic medical condition that requires it. When you’re asked to do it for the health of a potential baby who you don’t want to have and mightn’t keep anyway? Sure, some people will do it. But there is no way that everyone will.

And because of that, we will continue to have a situation where the most marginalised people suffer higher rates of NTDs than their more privileged counterparts. That will continue. But there’ll be one essential difference: we’ll be able to tell them that it’s their fault.

We’ll be able to tell them that it’s their fault because we told them that this would happen. Because, yes, in every individual case a person could have made the decision, although they didn’t plan on getting pregnant, to take folic acid. On an individual level, it’s easy to assign blame and to force people to live with that guilt.

But on a systemic level? Individual decisions might be the responsibility of individuals. But the fact that we know that marginalised groups are more likely to suffer because of those decisions is not.

The fact that socioeconomic factors are at play here matters. It matters that the most affected here would be poorer women who can’t afford to travel for abortions, who might not have access to healthier food, who might not be able to afford the (negligible to many of us but not all) cost of supplements- or who might want to spend that money on something else instead, because when you’re broke or poor, your decisions have to be immediate. It matters that we are having this conversation in a context where pregnancy and womanhood and fertility are not neutral topics but ones where women have increasing restrictions placed upon them and are publicly shamed if they don’t live up to those. It matters that we’re in a context where the types of foods that used to be fortified with folic acid aren’t anymore, so a social problem again becomes individualised.

And yes, it matters that the people who would be most likely to be negatively affected by this are precisely the people who have the least choice over whether to become or remain pregnant.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions. Not passing the buck.

This advice comes in a context where mothers and pregnant people, specifically, face incredible restrictions, shaming and stigma surrounding dozens upon dozens of their choices and are expected at all times and in all circumstances to put their children before them, regardless of how damaging this is to them.

I don’t think this will do one jot to improve people’s quality of life.  In a context where we often don’t have the choice to not become pregnant in the first place, and where as long as we remain here we never have the choice of whether to remain pregnant or not.

And this advice comes in a context where we know that higher rates of fortification of foods with folic acid makes a difference. Where we know that women with less access to income and education also have less access to food which has been fortified. And where we know that plans to make this fortification mandatory have been ignored for the better part of a decade, while austerity left us all living with far less and rates of NTDs rose.

This advice? It’s yet another stick to beat women with- an I told you so for every unlucky person who’ll hear again that she should have kept her legs shut or at the very least treated her body as if it were in a decades-long state of pre-pregnancy. A stick wielded by people who have no excuse but to know better, when they and we know that this will continue happening as long as we take the lazy route out and pretend that we can solve systemic problems with individual advice.

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Neural Tube Defects: Systemic Problems and Individualised Answers.

Guest posts: what next? What this means.

As a follow-up to last week’s Guest Posts for Equality series (read them!), I asked people to share their thoughts on two topics: what does the referendum’s result mean to them, and what comes next.

Today’s offering is a little different to the usual- two people who I’ve spoken to on Facebook who’ve allowed me to share what it felt like to be in Ireland this weekend. 


Here’s Naomi O’Kelly. Naomi  is an Irish woman based in Scotland, where she works as a community artist, storyteller and theatre maker. You can find her at Walking Around Like We Own The Place, and this is what she had to say about the overwhelming sense of joy and relief that came with the referendum- a sense that many people outside our country can’t really grasp to its full extent:

I get the impression that some outside of Ireland are sceptical about the mass emotion – an ecstatic hysteria – coming out of the country at the moment about the referendum. And I totally get that, because from the outside it might seem that the Irish people are saying, “Ok, gay folks, I now annoint you with equal rights, yeah, you can thank me later. Actually – thank me now – yeah, keep thanking me, go on, we’re great.” Ha! And I really, really want to explain to sceptical ‘outsiders’ that it’s not like that.

I think that the huge outpouring of emotion is actually about something other than gay rights. It’s about a national release from what I can only think of as ‘evil’. (Yes, a very emotional choice of word.) The Authority in Ireland is traditionally narrow minded to a very cruel extent (abortion is denied even to minors who have been raped), whereas the broader population of ordinary people in Ireland are just not like this. The roar of relief from Ireland is reaction to the fact the NO VOTE DIDN’T WIN. It’s about finally, finally, getting to say, “No, you don’t get to persecute people in my name and in the name of my nation.”

So, for me, and I think for many, it’s not only about granting a right that should, of course, already be in place (equal marriage rights). It’s about having the opportunity to do that. After this referendum, I see my own country as a place where my own gay relations can be less afraid, and I also see the hope that women will be allowed to choose what happens to their bodies. I never saw Ireland this way before, and it matters so much to me. This is BIG.

And here’s John. If you’d like to hear more about his wedding and what led him there, you can read more in this gorgeous article from Confetti. Here he is, though, speaking about what this means for his own life, and his own family:

For me, this weekend’s results meant everything. I’ve been with my partner for over 10 years and last July we had a civil partnership surrounded by our friends and family. Up until this weekend, that was the most loved I’d felt. The day we said “I Do”, I could feel genuine love and acceptance in the air from our friends and family. This weekend I felt it from every corner of Ireland.

Next up, we’ll get married. We are in no rush however as in my eyes, the day we said ‘I Do’ in July 2014 was the day I married the man I love. Now I get to say “I Do” all over again to the same man.

John CP


Guest posts: what next? What this means.