Some Student Experiences of the Rally for Life 2017

The Rally for Life was held in Dublin on 1 July 2017. Although we are not affiliated with the organisers, some of our members went along to show our support for the overall pro-life movement and for retaining the Eighth Amendment in particular. It is estimated that this year’s Rally for Life was the biggest ever, with some estimates putting the crowd size at 70,000 people. Below are the experiences of a few of our members who went along.


The evening before the Rally for Life, some of us got together and made posters. This was really fun and it was great coming up with different slogans to show a side of the pro-life movement that isn’t as obvious as it could or should be, e.g. pro-life feminism. 

The next day at the rally, so many people talked to us about our signs. Some were curious, some were hostile, but most thought they were fantastic! I would definitely recommend anyone who goes on a pro-life march to make their own signs and banners. It really catches people’s attention and it helps to show some of the different elements that make up the broader pro-life movement.

Some of the posters made by our members for the Rally for Life 2017

Bhaineas ana sult as an Slógadh ar Son na Beatha. Ní rabhas ábalta creidiúnt an méid daoine a bhí ann—thart ar 70,000! Atmaisféar leictreach agus cairdiúil a bhí i gceist. Tá áthas orm go rabhas ann. Bhí na cainteoirí go iontach. Bhaineas taitneamh as Vicky Wall ón eagraíocht charthanachta Every Life Counts go speisialta. Labhair sí go tochtmhar féna hiníon Liadán.


I’m not a big fan of Youth Defence, Family and Life, or Precious Life. I hate rallies. But I decided to go to the Rally for Life this year. Why? Well, partly because it was the last annual rally before the referendum, but that’s only a very small part of why.

I signed up because of that, but was feeling like dropping out until this event page was put up on Facebook.

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The description for the event was:

In addition to having a Rally in Belfast this year we will continue in our tradition of opposing the lie that is the Rally for Life.

Last year we countered them with a Rally and we outnumbered them. This year we will hold our usual static protest at the Spire, let’s outnumber them here too.

Join us to counter the lies.

I had second thoughts again though.  Then I saw a video by Rally For Choice Ireland. Again, as a non-rally person, all the actual recruitment materials put out by the pro-life rally’s organisers left me cringing or cold. It was pro-choice materials that encouraged me to go. I probably still would have backed out though if I hadn’t seen this:

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No way, I thought, am I going to let them outnumber us. So off I went.  I am glad I did go. It was good to see other young people there, and I am glad that I did my bit.

I was very impressed by the Every Life Counts speaker. The personal testimony speech was moving, and powerfully humanised unborn babies with life limiting conditions

But I did find Bernadette Smith’s speech was unnecessarily aggressive and sectarian. Pro-choice people aren’t our ‘enemies’.  While it’s great that there were Catholics at the march, there were people of other faiths (or none) at the rally too. That should have been highlighted, not obscured as it was by some parts of her speech that made it sound as if this is a Catholic issue, which it is not.

One thing I learnt from this rally, and from the counter demo is that we don’t just want to appear numerous—that alone can have mixed effects. After all, when I was under the impression that the counter demo might be bigger than it was, that was what pushed me to go to what they were protesting against. If a big crowd is threatening something you see as very important, its size won’t sway you. It will galvanise you. We want to look unmenacing. We don’t just want to make it clear that ‘pro-life bigots’ won’t go away; we want to make it clear that that’s a good thing.  It’s not just a matter of standing firm against the tide, it’s a matter of showing that we do want progress and an increasingly compassionate and more caring society, and how retaining the 8th amendment is part of doing that.

In particular, I think it’s important to continue to understand where Repealers are coming from, and to remember that they’re fellow activists who also want to improve society for the better but disagree about how to do that. The counter-demonstrators seemed unnecessarily aggressive, and they said things about us that aren’t true. But We all got out of bed Saturday to stand up for a cause we believe in  – not the same cause that’s true, but that we all cared enough about something to do something about it is something we have in common.  Besides, they don’t represent everyone in the repeal movement, and learning to engage with the less extreme pro-choice people are is something that we will need to do in the coming months to win them over.  Whatever we do, we shouldn’t repeat Rally for Choice Ireland’s mistakes!


I marched for that very thing that enables us to inhabit space together—life. I marched for the reality that living together involves tasting and seeing that life—whether potential or actual, baby or adult sized—is good. I found that protesting to protect the unborn child surpasses a campaign and demands the provision of tangible solutions to pregnant women in crises. I found that ‘pro-choice’ is a term that makes life and freedom seem mutually exclusive. I would argue that the latter cannot occur without the former. In the buzz of chanting and the the myriad of bobbing signs, I distinguished a grassroot undertone. We will fight to protect the 8th.


There was a small counter rally of about 100-200 people gathered on O’Connell Street. They were dwarfed in number by the enormous pro-life crowd. Most of them were wearing black, so contrasted sharply with the colourful and vibrant Rally. We were quite near the top of the march, so their shouts and chants were quite loud. I can’t imagine they were able to keep up that level of volume for very long, considering the length of the Rally, which had to be moved from its original route because of how big it was! Some of the people in the counter rally were really aggressive and targeted individual members of the Rally for Life to hurl abuse at. Some of us were told that we can’t call ourselves feminists because we are pro-life. We were told that we don’t care if women die, that we are racist, sexist, homophobic and religious fundamentalists. This is obviously not true. The Rally for Life was so diverse, with people from all around the world, men, women, all orientations, all faiths and people of no religion at all. It’s annoying that for the most part the only pictures that made it into the media were pictures of old men and pictures of people with posters bearing religious slogans. That wasn’t my impression of the Rally at all. There were loads of young people there. Walking past the counter rally was actually invigorating. It united the pro-life side and made us all really happy to be there together, standing up for the right of everyone to be born no matter if they’re not perfect! I am not sure what counter rallies are supposed to achieve. I don’t think anyone’s mind was ever changed by being shouted at and being cursed at. The only purpose seemed to be to intimidate us, but it definitely didn’t work! If anything the counter rally made me pro-life, so I’m glad we got to walk past it!


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