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Living with the border today

You go down into Kilty from the Manorhamilton road, Kilty’s down in a little valley down there, do you know, it was a cul-de-sac, really, so, em, while, I suppose, our population has decreased, but still it’s a much, much nicer place to live since the Troubles are over and the roads are open. Especially the roads open. I still get a thrill every time I cross that bridge down here from me, you know, such a lovely feeling . . . They were delighted, they really were [when the roads opened] . . . It was great excitement, it really was."
Olive Gallagher, Co. Leitrim
And no wonder people kept fighting authority to try and open [the roads and bridges] . . . There were seventy-two attempts, or something like that, to open Lackey Bridge . . . Somebody talked about it when it opened, and I thought their, their apt description of it, that living in the environment that we lived in, and living in the area that we lived in, really, you – you would’ve become depressed had you thought about it too much, so you put it to the back of your head – but he said, it was only when the road opened, and the movement, and he started to re – greet neighbours, he said it was like lifting – that he’d had for maybe fifteen years, walking around with a bag of spuds on his back, and he suddenly felt himself straighten up. And I thought it was a great analogy, that, that, that you could just about carry a, a four stone bag of spuds on your back, but you were carrying it around every day, to the point where you didn’t know you had it, it was weighing you down, but it was there, but he felt he could straighten himself up when that went."
Donald McDonald, Omagh. Co. Tyrone
[The border] doesn’t mean a thing, now, like . . . I don’t know why it’s there in the first place . . . I mean, there’s no border there at Strabane, really . . . The only thing I find now is the euro, I can’t understand being so close to the border why they haven’t got it all one, like, you know? . . . I have to get my pension in Lifford. And I’m living here in the North. So . . . I have to change my money . . . People say, why don’t you shop out in Lifford . . . [but] I still have to pay my bills out in Strabane."
Birdie Simms, Co. Tyrone
[The currency difference] is crazy, that is the biggest mistake ever happened . . . Even now . . . I’m buying [things] in Letterkenny, you know, but I have to go through all that hassle . . . Well it seems to be getting a better deal, a much better deal, but God, I wish we had the one currency, it would be great . . . We go to Donegal every weekend, I end up opening my purse on Sunday morning to get a paper, I have sterling. I come in here to get a paper on Monday morning, I have euros. You know. So that’s a big disadvantage, you always have to check. But for diesel and that it’s fantastic, you just go over the border and fill up."
Anonymous interviewee, Co. Tyrone

Many of the features of the border that shaped people’s lives from the early 1920s to the mid-1990s have now disappeared. Regulations on car travel through the system of bonds and stamped passes were abandoned in the 1960s. The movement of goods across the border was no longer regulated through the custom system following the creation of the open market in the European Union in 1992. Closed border roads were reopened and military checkpoints were removed quickly following the paramilitary ceasefires of the mid-1990s.

For people who had lived with decades of much longer journeys because of closed roads and checkpoints, the opening of the border meant new senses of freedom. There are stories of people travelling back to places they once lived in to drive across formerly blocked roads, or locals making sure they drove across on the first day a road opened in celebration. People who would have formerly never crossed the border now travel north and south. Many older people are catching up with cross-border family and friends after decades of effective separation.

Yet the border continues to affect the lives of those who live nearby. It still marks the boundary between one political unit and another and still means that people living along the border live with the practical effects of differences in the national organisation of society – different government policies, laws, regulations and services. Many people work on one side of the border and live on the other and may be subject to taxes in one jurisdiction but not be able to avail of the benefits they bring, as in the case of people living in Northern Ireland but working in Ireland being subject to paying contributions towards health and welfare insurance but not being eligible to avail of them or reclaim the contributions. The use of the Euro as currency in Ireland and the use of Sterling in Northern Ireland means that people in the borderlands have to deal with the inconvenience of two currencies. Restrictions on ‘off-shore accounts’ in Ireland have led to people living near the border in Ireland but with saving accounts in Northern Ireland being heavily penalised. Because mobile phone networks are organised on a national basis, the existence of the border still registers in daily life in the loss of signals or expensive roaming charges for people living near and regularly crossing the border.

While organisations in the border counties of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been able to avail of EU funding for peace and reconciliation projects, there is a continued sense of the neglect of the borderlands by governments either side of the border. Many parts of the border still suffer from under investment, lack of services and employment opportunities. At the same time the border continues to provide opportunities for people to benefit from differences on either side: for people to move to and buy cheaper property across the border in Northern Ireland and commute to Dublin; for people to live in Ireland but maintain addresses and therefore access to healthcare in Northern Ireland; for people to live in Northern Ireland but take up new employment opportunities in Ireland; and for people to travel across the border to shop in towns like Newry in Northern Ireland; for people to cross the border to buy cheaper petrol and diesel in Ireland.