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Broken connections

Accounts of living near the border frequently describe the effects of the difficulties of crossing the border in terms of being cut off from or trying to keep in touch with family and friends across the border. All along the border people had relatives on the other side. For many people, visiting them was made difficult because of the customs restrictions which made simple things like bringing presents on Christmas visits or for weddings a problem, and since relatively short journeys were made much longer by the requirements to use approved roads and later by the road closures. Travelling to family and social events was made more difficult both because of long journeys and the requirement to cross back over the border before a certain time in the evening or pay to travel later.

The border interrupted the everyday encounters between people in the streets and shops of villages and towns that led to and sustained friendships as people on one side of the border gradually visited the towns or villages on the other side less and less. Over the decades people struggled to keep in contact with family and friends, sometimes managing to despite the difficulties, but often losing or being much less in touch.

Though some people recall continuing to travel to where they used to socialise despite the border, many others report that the social networks shaped by the traditions of local people visiting the shops, pubs and dances of particular villages or towns, were disrupted and often destroyed the border cut off them off from their nearest towns and villages. In some areas cross border marriages continued to create family links across the border but in many areas this declined as travel became more difficult.

The border cut across these family and social connections and effectively separated localities and regions that had been closely interconnected through economic, social and family networks. Many towns and villages that had been the centre of these networks that spanned the county boundaries were cut off from large parts of their social and commercial hinterlands by the border. People who had lived in once busy market towns watched them decline as customs restrictions meant people no longer travelled to shop in them if it meant crossing the border.

The town of Clones in Co. Monaghan on the border with Co. Fermanagh is most well-known example. But many other towns and villages were affected in this way – Belturbet in Co. Cavan, Kiltyclougher in Co. Leitrim, St. Johnston in Co. Donegal. In other places villages that were once closely linked were cut off from each other though the road closures of the Troubles. Longstanding connections between the villages of Garrison in Co. Fermanagh and Rossinver in Co. Leitrim, that were three miles apart were broken especially once the main road that ran between them and all the other local minor roads that crossed the border nearly were blown up in 1972. Since there was no approved road at all on the border between Co. Leitrim and Co. Fermanagh, travelling by car between the villages would mean a drive of twenty miles via the nearest approved crossing points.

Whole regions shaped by their historical, cultural and economic interconnections were affected by the border. The city of Londonderry/Derry was cut off from its hinterland in Co. Donegal from where large numbers of people used come to work in its shirt factories, hospitals and other industries. Despite the historical and family links between the city and Donegal, people report the sense of difference and sometimes resentment that people in Donegal now feel toward people from the city.

Sometimes longstanding links survived despite the border. Despite the border people in north Co. Louth talk of feeling more connected to Ulster, and more linked to Newry in Co. Armagh, than to the rest of Ireland. Many others record the strong Ulster identity of north-east Co. Cavan and the orientation of the region to the adjoining areas of Co. Fermanagh and to Belfast, Newry and Armagh and the negative consequences of the border for this area. At the same time some cultural, sporting and social organisations continued to be organised on a cross-border basis and church congregations sometimes managed to attend services despite their parishes being divided by the border.

With the reopening of border roads has begun a process of restoring old relationships affected by the border has begun. People talk of catching up with family and friends they hadn’t seen regularly in years. New connections and relationships are also developing through funding for cross-border initiatives. There are accounts both of people adapting very quickly to the new openness of the border and of the long time it will take to really address the impact of the border and questions of identity and division in the borderlands.

Talking about the Kiltyclogher end then you see, our parish was divided. The church was on one side and, em, nearly the majority of the parishioners were on the other side . . . Getting to church, at a time was very difficult, and for, for some time we used an old Methodist church on the Northern side. And of course we could go round this way, you see, to it [crossing the border from Blacklion into Belcoo and from there to Cashel] and the people could drive to it. But, em, for, for some years . . . our Kiltyclogher parish church wasn’t in use at all . . . And then we gradually got – in the summer time, we got using it because the parishioners said they would, they’d walk across the craters, you see, and, em, I used to meet – eh, we’d go to church early, and I’d leave my husband at the church, getting things ready, and I would do a shuttle service between the, the border and the church. It wasn’t that far, but for elderly people or, or small children or that, eh – in fact, see that Belleek clock there . . . when the border opened up again they gave . . . me that, as a reminder . . . But then one of the – there were two roads there, there was one at, eh – leading into Kiltyclogher, one is from Cashel and one is from Kilcoo, and the Kilcoo one is the one we used to use first, where they used to walk across, but then they put a footbridge across the Cashel one, so one was the, the footbridge went across, the people could drive fairly near to the border, through a rubbly road, you know . . . but at least they could drive, and they could walk across the footbridge, and I . . . would meet them on the, on the other side . . . If it was a wet Sunday, you know, where oh, you were trying to bring as many as you could of them . . . That was the one thing, our numbers never . . . altered because of the, of the Troubles. No. People – I think people felt they weren’t going to let that, you know, stop them, eh, but it would have stopped all shopping and everything . . . people from Cashel and Kilcoo would never have gone into Kiltyclogher to, to shop, they just came, eh, on a Sunday . . . for that time."
Kathleen Richie, Blacklion, Co. Cavan