I associate the Easter Rising of 1916 with the marriage equality referendum in 2015. Here's why.

Dublin Castle was the scene of what many historians call the first fatality of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Then the heart of British rule in Ireland, a contingent of rebels under Sean Connolly approached its gates to be confronted by an unarmed sentry named James O'Brien, who attempted to stop them. O'Brien was shot dead by Connolly. 

Ninety-nine years later Dublin Castle was an entirely different scene as I stood near the fatal spot, this time in a colorful sea of Irish people as they hailed the historic marriage equality vote of 2015. 

It felt as if the roof had lifted off Dublin. It was an outpouring of undiluted joy. Later, walking back along the cobblestones I felt as if a portcullis has ascended and allowed me into my nation for the first time. Free. Equal. Anseo (the Irish word for 'here'). 

I also felt the presence of the dead. The people who had fought for Irish freedom like Connelly, the first rebel casualty in 1916, and people closer in time and nearer to my heart like the handsome Irish boyfriend I once had who had not lived to see this moment.

He had passed away despairing that it would ever come.

So I felt elated and heartbroken, the two together, in the same hour and same day – how very Irish - and soon enough I discovered I could barely talk.

In the famous George LGBT bar on South Great George's Street when I arrived the Irish news media were already hosting a live broadcast involving, I if remember correctly, local media bigwigs like Vincent Browne, Bosco, and at one point a visibly tipsy Elvis impersonator – or maybe it was a Jedward, it's a blur to me now.

My heart was very full. I stepped into the sequestered part of the bar that the locals call Jurassic Park, where more mature pub-goers can have a conversation and when someone eventually asked me who I was and what I was doing I found I had to concentrate to find the words.

“I'm here – I'm here to write about this,” I told someone at the bar with a shrug, as if I were not personally implicated in the great, life-transforming thing that had just happened. “Another journalist,” he nodded. “The bar's filled with them. See your man there – and the one beside him – Paris Match.”

To my surprise instead of the ole-ole-ole chant that Irish people sing in times of celebration since Italia '90, I found myself heaving a huge sigh. For a day so happy I felt increasingly winded as if I'd just swum the channel instead of surfed on all the joy all around me. 

And when I finally caught my reflection in the mirror above the bar it became clear to me: I was here, I was anseo, but my friend wasn't. 

It was grief. I was missing him. I was missing some other friends too, lost to AIDS or time. And so in the middle of the biggest Irish party I had ever seen I felt like my guts being were spun out, yard over yard.

This was grief for a lost friend, for who we might have been to each other, in a freer land. This was grief for all the people I'd known who had lived and died before this shining moment. This was grief that felt like theft.

When you imagine days of great transformation you can imagine spending them in the company of people who have taken the journey with you, who have suffered and believed like you, and who have seen the dawn break and the promise finally fulfilled. 

To protect his privacy and his families too I will not say much about my friend other than that he was tall, finely featured, kind, immensely considerate of others, the kind of son you would dream of having, and the kind of friend you would be willing to wait years to make.

When I think of his face now I recall the kindness of it, the sensitivity there. He was ten times the man all the people who daily queer-baited and abused him on the local streets were. He always counseled love and acceptance to everyone. He seemed to belong to a better place than the place he hailed from. 

I have been in its presence of love a handful of times in my life and each time it feels as if the world has been made afresh as if my greatest hopes were imminent: someone had mysteriously arrived and held a door open for me and I'd walked though into something fabulous. That was who he was to me, I think that was who he was to everyone.

So how do you thank the dead? How do you say to them that I need you to see this, I need you to prove to me that this is real? I need you to be here and I need you to help me find the peace that you once counseled to others?

I didn't have any answers then and six years later I still don't. It was late May, almost June when the marriage equality vote was cast but in my mind, it is always associated with Easter and the promise of 1916. 

It's there in the promise in the Proclamation to cherish us all equally, it's there in the arrows that went up over Dublin Castle in 1916 to come down on those jubilant cobblestones ninety-nine years later. 

So in 2015 the promise of that old, mad Easter Rising finally meant something to me. I was finally free, I was finally equal but like James O'Brien, like Sean Connelly, my old friend was not anseo. 

I am at an age now that where when I visit home I first visit the graveyards, because the most vivid, the most life-changing Irish people I knew are all now interred.

It's a strange thing to owe your life and heart to people who can not answer you. It's a strange thing to inhabit the world they promised but did not see.