David Crock­ett and Bor­der farm split by wild fron­tier

With land strad­dling Derry and Done­gal, farmer is un­sure what Brexit means for his busi­ness

The Irish Times - - Home News -

When you ask Derry farmer David Crock­ett what Brexit might mean for him, the an­swer is clear. “I won’t be able to turn left at the end of my lane.”

Stand­ing at the farm­yard gate, with the an­cient hill fort of Gri­anán an Aileach look­ing down from the hills beyond, it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell where one county – or one ju­ris­dic­tion – ends and the other one be­gins.

In­stead, Crock­ett has to point the Bor­der out. “That green field in front of us, that’s in the North, and the one beyond it – the yel­low one – that’s in the Repub­lic,” he says.

His fam­ily – dis­tant rel­a­tives of fron­tiers­man and politi­cian Davy Crock­ett, who died in the Bat­tle of the Alamo dur­ing the Texas rev­o­lu­tion in the 1830s – have been farm­ing this land since be­fore a Bor­der was even a no­tion in Ire­land. Crock­ett’s grand­fa­ther, who like many oth­ers moved into Derry from Done­gal in the 1900s to work in the city’s shirt fac­to­ries, bought the land in 1911.

When Ire­land was par­ti­tioned in 1921, so too was the fam­ily farm.

“When par­ti­tion came my grand­fa­ther went into those fields there to bring the cows in, and there was a po­lice­man stand­ing at the gate,” Crock­ett says. “He said to my grand­fa­ther ‘That’s the last time you’ll do that’, and from that day on he had to close off that gate.

“It was just like Brexit, be­cause no­body knows what’s hap­pen­ing or what’s go­ing on . . . Par­ti­tion af­fected him hugely be­cause he ended up ef­fec­tively with two farms, and that’s how I have to op­er­ate still.”

Live­stock

His grand­fa­ther had to buy live­stock on both sides of the Bor­der, and keep the an­i­mals – and their pro­duce – on the re­spec­tive side of the line. To this day Crock­ett has draw­ers in his desk la­belled “NI Sheep” and “RoI Sheep”.

“I work with two dif­fer­ent farms, two dif­fer­ent banks, and two dif­fer­ent de­part­ments of agri­cul­ture,” he says. “Even though those cat­tle are in fields be­side me, if I want to bring them into the North, I have to go up to Raphoe, which is about 15 miles away, and an in­spec­tor comes and charges me to im­port them in, and then I bring them in here and a depart­ment man comes and charges me another £10 or £12 to look at them.”

Crock­ett re­calls his fa­ther hav­ing to pay a fine to get his trac­tor back af­ter it was seized by cus­toms of­fi­cials.

“The Bor­der meant you had to duplicate ev­ery­thing,” he says. “If you went across with a trac­tor you could have been stopped by the Free State cus­toms for il­le­gally im­port­ing a trac­tor, so for the farm out there we had to keep the ma­chin­ery out there.

“You could have kept the trac­tor here [in the North], but you had to go through the cus­toms post at nine in the morn­ing and be back in again be­fore five, and farm­ing doesn’t work that way.

“Some­times my fa­ther was caught, and the trac­tor taken in, and he had to pay to get it back out again, sim­ply be­cause he’d been work­ing late and hadn’t got back across the Bor­der in time.”

Army check­point

The Crock­ett farm over­looks the main Bun­crana Road, which runs from Derry out to the Bor­der at Brid­gend. Just be­low them is Coshquin, once the site of a huge Bri­tish army check­point.

In 1990 lo­cal man Patsy Gille­spie and five sol­diers were killed when he was forced by the IRA to drive a car con­tain­ing a bomb into the bar­rier.

Dur­ing the Trou­bles a whole net­work of mi­nor, “un­ap­proved” Bor­der roads were closed off with spikes or con­crete blocks, or sim­ply blown up to pre­vent unau­tho­rised cross­ings – in­clud­ing the road at the end of Crock­ett’s lane.

“In the 1970s they put the spikes on, sim­ply be­cause they [the IRA] used to shoot from the road down at the army in the check­point, and then it was easy to get away over the Bor­der in a car,” he re­calls.

The spikes are long gone now, and the only in­di­ca­tion that a driver has crossed the Bor­der is the change in the road signs.

With both Ire­land and the UK part of the Euro­pean Union, Crock­ett was able to move be­tween both farms with greater ease.

“I have cat­tle out in the Repub­lic which are Free State cat­tle, but I have the silage in here in the North, and I can put it into the feeder wagon and go out and feed them with it in the morn­ing.

“Be­fore we were in Europe I couldn’t have done that . . . Ev­ery­thing is re­garded as Euro­pean, so even when the in­spec­tors come and look at your crops, they’re all work­ing to the same Euro­pean stan­dards.”

Crock­ett is a union­ist – although he votes SDLP in lo­cal coun­cil elec­tions “be­cause a union­ist wouldn’t get in here” – and he voted to re­main in the UK’s Brexit ref­er­en­dum last year, and his fa­ther did the same.

“My fa­ther was 93, and I had to get him into a wheel­chair and take him in to vote,” he said. “I’d just been on a cruise with my wife for our 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary, and I’d met all th­ese English peo­ple who said they were vot­ing out and who didn’t be­lieve me when I talked about the im­pact it would have on peo­ple liv­ing on the Bor­der. They said ‘What bor­der?’ and thought I was just a stupid Ir­ish man.

“I came home and told my fa­ther ‘They’re go­ing to vote out’, and he said ‘They couldn’t’, and I said ‘Well, every vote will count’. So he said, ‘You get me into a wheel­chair and I’ll go in and vote’. He was de­ter­mined to vote be­cause he knew the im­pli­ca­tions. He’d lived through it be­fore.”

In­cred­u­lous

Crock­ett is still in­cred­u­lous that any farmer in North­ern Ire­land could have voted to leave the EU. “I told them it was like a turkey vot­ing for Christ­mas, and I think they’re start­ing to re­alise that now. I think if there were elec­tions to­mor­row they would vote to stay in.”

The best part of 18 months on from the Brexit vote, Crock­ett still has no idea how the Bor­der will work when the UK leaves the EU. That un­cer­tainty, he says, has be­come a fea­ture of daily life.

“No­body knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen. When you’re look­ing at some­thing like the sin­gle farm pay­ments, or do­ing busi­ness with the banks, they don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen ei­ther.

“I think it will be dis­as­trous for agri­cul­ture in the Repub­lic.”

Does he see any way of mak­ing it work?

“One way round it would be for the Repub­lic to be­come part of the Com­mon­wealth ... Even though [the UK] wouldn’t be in the Euro­pean Union, all of Ire­land would still be in the Com­mon­wealth.”

Af­ter more than 100 years, the Crock­ett fam­ily may be forced to pick a side of the Bor­der, although their choice may be dic­tated as much through cir­cum­stance as through Brexit.

“My son is farm­ing now and most of our ground is in the Repub­lic sim­ply be­cause the city is ex­pand­ing out to us so the land is all build­ing land,” he says. “Even the other day, peo­ple were out ask­ing about putting roads through here.”

Crock­ett says he does not want to leave his land and farm some­where else.

“I’m happy liv­ing here, where I’ve al­ways lived, and my son will farm out in the Repub­lic,” he says. “I have known noth­ing else than this Bor­der here.”

‘‘ I work with two dif­fer­ent farms, two dif­fer­ent banks and two dif­fer­ent de­part­ments of agri­cul­ture

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TREVOR MCBRIDE.

Farmer David Crock­ett: is still in­cred­u­lous that any farmer in North­ern Ire­land could have voted to leave the Euro­pean Union

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