A Border Runs Through It


Cars queue at Belleek, County Fermanagh border crossing , 1960s. ; Dan Boyle

When I was a child, going on our annual family vacation in Donegal, we would vary our route to get there. The western seaboard route always seemed the most direct.

When travelling by public transport, the V shaped route, via Dublin, would take us through Northern Ireland.

We would travel through Fermanagh and Tyrone, exiting in Strabane. British soldiers would board the bus. They would frighten me, although not for the obvious reasons. The bravado of these men, some still teenagers, was misplaced.

Their fear of their situation only added to the tension. I could scarcely imagine living with such tension, on a day in day out basis.

Thankfully now, the past has become, definitively, another country. Travelling to, from, and through Northern Ireland has become pass remarkable. Normalisation, superficially at least, is now the new normal. But superficial is what it is at best.

Old animosities have been sidelined, and where possible, somehow buried. The distaste that dares not speak its name, is never that far from the surface.

Some have dreamt of a Brexit benefit. The fourth green field can now be reclaimed. The long held, mythical, wish to unify the island, has never been closer to attain. Except that a unitary Irish state won’t be because of a take over or a surrender.

Whatever the Republic/Irish Free State has been; whatever the Northern Ireland statelet has believed itself to be, a new Ireland can only be created by jettisoning the key elements of both jurisdictions.

While we, in the Republic, seem to have run further from the pulpit than our northern brethren, uber liberal we are not. A new Ireland would have to be pluralist, secular and tolerant.

It will, at least initially, be a poorer Ireland. New, blood is thicker than water, taxes would have to be levied in the Republic, to help meet the subsidy gap that would be created through the departure of the British government.

The other part of this fiscal concordant would be that in Northern Ireland, the level of such subsidies expected would also have to be less.

If the dream survives this reality test, then maybe change is possible. If not then we all need to get used to shouting louder at each other again.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

26 thoughts on “A Border Runs Through It

    1. Nialler

      They never left Dav, was up in Holywood last weekend and the Barracks are still occupied. Although I could be wrong but there’s about 20 security cameras running on one stretch of road leading to the golf club so I’m assuming british troops still posted there.

      1. dav

        Didn’t realise that, thank you. My fear with brexit is this – Hard border leads to border checkpoints (unarmed) leads to attacks on border check points (“we haven’t gone away, ye know”) leads to armed checkpoints leads to attacks on same leads to the Troubles part 2….

  1. Tabloid Rag

    Decent article though a lot of cliché

    I hate the way it’s assumed that the unification of Ireland is the only way forward.

    The best thing would be to keep milking the EU AND the UK taxpayer so we have to pay less to keep their snouts in the trough. NI is far more wealthy on the average than we are. Why would anyone vote to join us?

    1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

      Yeah. I dunno. I find Northerners kind of angry (whopping generalisation, I know). So maybe just leave them off by themselves. Though, as I’ve said before, I’d like Fermanagh back. That’s a beautiful county. They can have Louth.

      1. Shayna

        Oh you’d like Fermanagh back? Have you met the people there? They’d be a tad “Keep to the path, stay off them moors” types [- ‘American Werewolf in London’. Interestingly (?) it was Rik Mayall who delivered that line in the movie.] I can see the Louth aspect of your thinking – it’s a suburb of Armagh. Tyrone is the 7th largest county, by mass in the country, the biggest in The North – no consideration then for people who are better at GAA games then?
        I enjoyed Dan’s post – as usually I do. I think it was a tad naive today.
        Brexit is a panic situation that the current British PM is endeavouring to contain, despite her campaigning on the “Remain” vote (pre-PM). There is no clear strategy for exit.
        It’s probably the worst veto of the English had over The Scots, Welsh and Irish in Parliament ever (apart from Cromwell, clearly). Sterling nose-dived immediatedly, it’s worth pretty much the same as a US dollar, and a Yoyo.
        Housing crisis in Dublin – I’ve seen the pics (on BS) guys living in tents in Dub Centre emerging in the morning wearing a suit, going to work. (Crying Shed today – a horror!)
        The Ghost Estates should surely be put into play. NAMA owns the majority, I’m guessing. The infrastructure is intact, why not generate income from housing that is complete,by releasing these houses around the capital for lease?. Instead, as a previous commenter mentioned, the lack of housing is driving up prices?
        Fr. Peter McVerry does as much as he he can – he needs more resources. NAMA have houses?
        But, Dan – I’m 50 years of age – I don’t think I’ll see a United Ireland in my lifetime. Having said that, my dad, Big Seamie O’Neill, played for Tyrone against Louth in’57 in Croker in the – Ireland Semi final – The Wee county won. They went on to win The All-Ireland that year.
        As shinner as I am – I think Dan is a tad premature in his thinking.

        1. Shayna

          (My dad also said he’d never live long enough to see Tyrone win an All-Ireland, he saw two, he died in 2005).

    2. Kolmo

      Unification = 1.8 million extra tax payers..music to the ears to all the many multi-national corporations and circling vultures in the South that the taxpayers currently subsidise for being here..

  2. Dan

    Like it or not, the border will have to be reinstated and the free movement of cheap labour from North to South will be restricted. Good news.

  3. Gorev Mahagut

    Since the Isle of Man is not a member of the EU, British citizens wishing to leave the EU can do so by moving to the Isle of Man. This will facilitate their desires without the need for lengthy negotiations and legal complexities.

    Irish unity can be most economically attained by vesting the respective authorities of Dáil Éireann and the Stormont Assembly in an existing body operating in and respected by both jurisdictions. Possibly the IRFU or the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland.

    The national language must be both British and Celtic, so we’ll all be speaking Welsh from now on.

    Finally, the national anthem will have to change. I propose “A good heart” by Feargal Sharkey (in Welsh, obviously.

    Da yn arbed ireland!

      1. Gorev Mahagut

        I just checked wikipedia and apparently it was written by Maria McKee. It was about her relationship with Benmont Tench (who played keyboards in Tom Petty’s band). Feargal’s next single was “You little thief”, written by Tench, which was about his relationship with McKee. So, next time you’re breaking up with your other half and you’re having a row about who gets the music collection, apparently the answer is “Feargal Sharkey”.

      2. Shayna

        I didn’t know until recently that “Puppet on a String” was written by Phil Coulter? Sandie Shaw bare-footed out-weighed the song, and its writer.

    1. Shayna

      Have you been to the Isle of Man? They hate the English and especially hate Irish. I couldn’t think of a worse place to live. Although they did film “Saving Ned” there – the photography was fantastic – it was supposed to be the West of Ireland.

  4. Zaccone

    Its all well and good in vague theory but the economics of it don’t work at all. Every taxpayer in the Republic would have to pay an extra 6000eur of taxes a year, every year, to cover the costs of absorbing the North.

    Once thats explained to people theres no hope of them voting for unification in a referendum down South, nevermind in one up North.

  5. Fully Keen

    Let’s have a vote. I don’t want the hassle and expense of a untied ireland. Let the British tax payer pick up that tab. Let them have their professional bigot celebrations and annual gurrier riots. We can’t afford it.

  6. Dan

    Reunification would lead to 2 outcomes:
    Much higher taxes
    Large increase in the cost of pallets around mid July

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