It is one of the delightful ironies of Ireland that here on the northern edge of Donegal we are to the north of most of Northern Ireland – yet are in the Irish Republic. The reason for that is simple. When the line was drawn to delineate the partition of Ireland, three of the counties of the historic province of Ulster were left out of Northern Ireland – to make sure that Northern Ireland would have a permanent protestant/unionist majority. So when we head for Blogstead Na Mara at Dunfanaghy, we cross the Irish border just outside Derry/Londonderry – sometimes called ‘stroke city’. The casual visitor could easily miss it. There is a slight change in the road surface, speed limits are suddenly in kph. And the petrol prices continue to be expressed in sterling but the prices are Irish – so diesel is suddenly 99.9p per litre.
I’m old enough to have seen several phases of life on the Irish border. When I was a child growing up in Enniskillen in the west of Northern Ireland, I remember the IRA border campaign of the mid-1950’s. And there was the period when crossing the border meant a long queue to get a stamp in a book. During the Troubles, it often meant a long wait, some questioning and a search. My best memory is of travelling alone with cats to Donegal on Easter Sunday evening during a foot and mouth epidemic. The Irish Police politely asked if I would take the cats out and get them to walk across a disinfectant mat.
Since the Belfast Agreement, the border has been quietly becoming like other borders in mainland Europe between member countries of the EU – hardly visible at all. Derry has gradually been regaining its position as the main town for the whole north-west of Ireland including Donegal which is across the political border.
So it is not surprising that in the EU Referendum the Foyle constituency – which includes Derry – recorded the third highest vote in the UK for ‘remain’. Nobody knows – but that vote reflects a real concern that this softening border with its confusion of fuel prices will become a ‘hard’ border between the EU and a UK which has embraced Brexit.