THE RULE OF THE LAND: WALKING IRELAND’S BORDER
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