Just over a year ago I gathered up some leftover leave days and cycled across the north of Ireland. I started in British Northern Ireland and, after crisscrossing the convoluted border voyaged on through the county of Mayo to the Atlantic coast of the Republic of Ireland.
Enniskillen left a strong impresssion of old enmities with its statues and overbearing castle and I moved westward on the same evening to a wonderful B and B. This cosy place, run by a farmer’s wife and on the verge of a grand old estate, was a home from home: I felt welcomed and cherished as their guest. The evening was spent in great chats with the owner, a successful farmer whose family boasted a long heritage in the area. The farms of his many uncles had gradually come into his ownership and included land all around the estate. His health had recently suffered but he was still actively working his land : I witnessed this the following morning when detouring across the Florence Court estate and chatting to a local lady, only to meet him out on the quad bike checking his bounds. Another cheerful talk and goodbyes and away I went.
The British exit referendum was imminent, thr UK was midway between 2 general elections in two years and the conversation was turning to how these two neighbours’ fortunes might change in the years to come. All views were expressed in the many friendly interchanges I had along my way; perhaps the clearest consensus if there were any, being that we were all moving into uncharted territory. (As I write this a year later nothing has changed and it seems likely that this will run and run…..)
The border is sometimes a tangible obstacle like a river. There, on a bridge, it may be easy to see where guard posts once stood, and where they might be built again. Multiply the required numbers of men for 2 shifts or more per day by 2, then by all the bridges and more major roads and you begin to appreciate the enormous and costly task reformation of a ‘hard border’ would comprise. A heavy price to pay for a release from ‘red tape’.