Thousands of Irish citizens who live around the world have chronicled their journeys back there this week to vote on Friday in a divisive referendum on legalizing abortion.
Using the hashtag #HomeToVote on Twitter and Instagram, Irish people living abroad have shared stories about their journeys and explained why it was important to them to vote. Some traveled relatively short distances, like from London and Edinburgh, while others returned from as far away as Istanbul, Los Angeles and São Paulo, Brazil.
The issue of whether to repeal the country’s Eighth Amendment, which would overturn Ireland’s near-total ban on abortion, remains heavily divisive. Opinion polls have shown a strong lead for the “Yes” camp, but the gap has narrowed in recent polling.
Despite the differences of opinion, #HomeToVote has become a trending topic on Twitter and fostered camaraderie, both online and in person, among Irish people who moved away and are returning.
Eleanor Costello, who grew up in Dublin but moved a year ago to Cambridge, England, said she believed she had to return for Friday’s vote. “I’m coming home for me, for my friends, sisters and all Irish women,” Ms. Costello, 25, who works at an art gallery, said in an interview.
She said she planned to vote “yes.”
“As a woman, I have been saddened, angered, frustrated and offended by concerns and statements put forth by the ‘No’ campaign in Ireland,” she said. “I trust Irish women to make the right choice for them if pregnant.”
Sam Ryan, who lives in Brussels, arrived at the airport with his boyfriend on Thursday afternoon to discover they weren’t the only people flying to Limerick, Ireland, to vote on Friday.
“We met loads of people we know and loads more we don’t know who are also traveling home,” said Mr. Ryan, 27, who works at the European Parliament and plans a “yes” vote. “Such a great atmosphere!”
Since 1983, the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution has granted equal rights to the fetus and the mother, outlawing abortion in all cases except if a mother’s life is at risk. It is among the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union.
If the referendum passes, the government has said that abortions would be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Not all of those who shared their travel stories indicated they would vote “yes.” On Instagram, where more than 4,000 photos used the hashtag, some photos showed boarding passes and passports with stickers that said “No.”
The journeys back to Ireland this week have mirrored a similar movement in 2015, when the country held a referendum vote to allow same-sex marriage. Ireland does not allow postal or absentee voting, requiring those overseas to travel home if they want to participate.
The vote to allow same-sex marriage was approved by a 25-point margin. Mr. Ryan said he was hopeful for a similar outcome on Friday. “It was the same feeling I had when we voted for marriage equality,” he said. “It will be tight, but I think it will pass.”
For Ewan Kelly, his trip home to Dublin from Rome started around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday with a subway ride. Then it was a stop at a train station and then a ride to Fiumicino Airport, where he boarded a roughly three-hour flight to Dublin.
Mr. Kelly said he booked the flight, for about $235 round-trip, as soon as the vote was announced in March.
“I feel buoyant when I read the hometovote tweets but a lot of what has happened in the debate at home has been appalling,” Mr. Kelly, 36, who moved to Rome about eight months ago, said in an interview on Twitter. “I can’t imagine living in a country that perpetually denies you access to life saving medical care.”
He said he believed there was a cultural shift underway in Ireland, which is continuing its leftward march on social issues, fueled in recent decades by economic and technological changes
“Irish society is more self-aware,” he said. “We know when wrongs have been done and we try hard to address them.”