I wrote a blog this week about growing up along the border in Ireland. Then I rewrote it and then I deleted it and wrote it again and again and again. It is something that has been in my heart over recent months with the conversations about what type of border is needed in Ireland with the UK moving out of the EU. I am not a keen political operator and to be honest, there are parts of this landscape I don’t understand and haven’t delved into enough to fully engage with it. I shied away from politics when I was at university as we were encouraged to NOT talk about it. Living in Derry and Portrush during the years when we are traditionally meant to develop opinions on governments’, and whether we are right or left wing, just wasn’t supported. The on-going challenges between sides were always cited as the reason and as students and residents in Northern Ireland we confronted these regularly. There was always an underlying sense of fear and being on guard in amongst the partying and youthful self-expressions of living away from home from the first time.
I moved to Monaghan Town when I was 11 years old. It was 1989 and it was nine years before peace came about in Northern Ireland and the hard border was removed. Spending my early years in Dublin, I didn’t fully understand or comprehend the situation in Northern Ireland or in the border counties. I certainly don’t remember it ever being talked about and it was only when I moved closer to the border that it suddenly took up residence front and centre in my life. It was a time of education for me. I didn’t really get why, when we travelled into the North, we had to stop at a checkpoint with fully armed military patrolling it, questioning our intentions of traveling to a different county and then searching the boot of the car or why we would be shushed from speaking. At first it felt like being in a movie and there was an element of excitement. That feeling radically changed and I soon realized this wasn’t a movie; it was now my reality.
They say that the feelings of fear and excitement are very close in their nature and that it is the absence of breath or the attitude to either that determines the one we live in. Having lived on both sides of the border, I can safely say that fear and mistrust were overriding no matter your attitude back in the days before peace and even in the years that followed as the transition was not the easiest one. I look at these quotes and wonder if the author ever lived in a place where conflict was at the heart of its community.
The thing to realize is that this became normal life. Living in this way became part of the everyday. Evacuations, bomb scares, police banging on the door at various times of the day and night, name calling, stones thrown, breaking glass, armoured vehicles, random checkpoints, avoiding certain parts of town… it all became “the norm” and there was an immunity that came with it.
“In the place of stillness, rises potential. From the place of potential, emerges possibility. Where there is possibility there is choice. And where there is choice, there is freedom.”
Those of us who have lived on the border had years of having to get on with day-to-day life and deal with the reality of having no choice but to live with the restrictions imposed on us. We finally found freedom and were given the gift of choice in 1998. The relief and elatedness of this freedom allowed for fear to dissolve. The ‘norm’ shifted to now living in trust and faith. The immunity we had developed to deal with living in an area of conflict melted away. And yet here we are now, asking our immune systems to mobilize once again, against the old deep seeded fears of what the past entailed, and I feel there is a collective question of ourselves as to how we live into a future that continues to be of possibility no matter the border?
As we stand together on both sides now, in stillness, waiting for resolution, there is a collective holding of breath for the impact of this decision on our lives and the lives of our children. This is an old narrative that has been healing and like some illnesses it seems she has been in remission and has reared her head to see if we, as a people, are willing to step up, to share our stories and feel into the fear that sits inside so that we can move through it and trust that none of us want to revisit the days of old.
I believe the ‘ASK’ is for us to continue to walk the path of potential, to recognize that we are no longer willing to accept that a border comes at the cost of peace in our land. We breathe together and collectively recognize that no matter what border they deem as politically correct for our country, we are already one. We are of this land and we choose to be a part of the greater collective striving for a peaceful and better place to live and be a part of.
Brexit: A cry from the Irish Border
‘Jacob Rees-Mogg you're right. You don't need to visit the border... you need to have lived here.’ Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea explores the real impact of Brexit and the uncertainty of the future of the Irish border in a short film written by Clare Dwyer Hogg.