THE RULE OF THE LAND: WALK­ING IRELAND’S BOR­DER

Countryfile Magazine - - Lazy Days - Ni­cholas Crane, BBC pre­sen­ter

Land­scapes are in­scribed with many kinds of lines suit­able for adop­tion by peri­patetic scribes. Water­sheds and rivers, A-roads, coast­lines and bi­o­graph­i­cal ‘life-lines’ will all pro­vide sto­ries aplenty, not least be­cause they are con­duits of hu­man con­nec­tions; con­duc­tors of com­pelling themes.

But bor­der­lines ex­ist to in­ter­rupt hu­man nar­ra­tives. They are ruled to di­vide. So a book about a bor­der walk has to work on the weak links: the gaps and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties where to­pog­ra­phy and bor­der­ers out­wit po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

The Rule of the Land ap­pears as fears rekin­dle that the soft­ened distinc­tion be­tween north and south will re­set as a hard di­vide. The os­ten­si­ble mis­sion is to com­pile a map of the bor­der and its as­so­ci­ated fea­tures and the book does in­clude maps of a suit­ably idio­syn­cratic na­ture. For in­stance, ’Barry McGuigan’s route to first club’ shares a car­to­graphic spread with sketched road­blocks and ob­ser­va­tion towers marked ‘OB’ – the au­thor’s acro­nym for mil­i­tary fea­tures re­lated to Oper­a­tion Ban­ner.

But this book is less about map­mak­ing than the du­al­i­ties in­her­ent in a bor­der jour­ney. It’s like read­ing two par­al­lel ver­sions of the same story, and goes well be­yond the ob­vi­ous North/ South, Protes­tant/Catholic du­al­i­ties. Es­tates are paired with bun­ga­lows; land­lords with ten­ants; sol­diers with civil­ians. A pas­sage about the agree­ment that re-opened bor­der cross­ings ex­plores the in­ge­nious word pair­ings – ‘peace process’, ‘weighted ma­jor­ity’, ‘power shar­ing’ and more – that helped to find com­mon ground be­tween two sides im­pris­oned by po­lar­i­ties. This is a poignant, funny, mem­o­rable read, lay­ered with ideas.

A lorry is searched on the bor­der of Northern Ireland and the Ir­ish Free State, 1925

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