Tuesday 6 March 2018

Borders: The Rule of the Land by Garrett Carr

I spent my teenage years with the bitter strife and regular outbursts of violence along the Irish border as background noise on the news, while occasional terrorist attacks struck nearer to home. Had these things receded into a semi-legendary past in the minds of the UK's voters? At any rate, Garrett Carr's The Rule of the Land introduces itself as follows:
"In the wake of the EU referendum, the United Kingdom's border with Ireland has gained greater significance: it is set to become the frontier with the European Union.
To uncover its secret landscape, with a troubled past and an uncertain future, Garrett Carr travelled Ireland's border on foot and by canoe. This invisible line has hosted smugglers and kings, runaways, peacemakers, protesters and terrorists, revealing the tumult of a border, changing the way we look at nationhood, land and power."
Carr's promotion of his book in the Guardian makes for interesting reading as he describes the border today:
"The line [of the Irish border] itself is invisible, although usually following a feature, often a hedgerow or stream. I found many unofficial crossing places, wooden footbridges and new paths, and I felt north and south were getting to know each other again. There were also major road bridges that were so fresh they weren't yet on Ordnance Survey maps. "For years and years I lived in a cul-de-sac," a woman told me at her front gate, "but the new bridge was put up and I can go either way now." The Good Friday agreement is 20 years old, and the bridge across the Blackwater river, only a few hundred feet from her house, was then eight years old. She could remember when it was opened. "It was bizarre really," she said, "I'd dander over and meet people I hadn't seen in years." Ireland's border has been associated with crime, be it smuggling or terrorism. I can report my most dangerous encounter was with a goat."
Thanks to the EU, the activity once criminalized as 'smuggling' had become perfectly legal commerce and the incitement to terrorism had been removed. In a single, brilliant paragraph, Carr sums up the freedom from personal and community-based identity provided by the EU umbrella.
"You did not have to pick one of two sides any more. Most people moved towards areas of consensus, the value of peace and an open border. "Sure there is no border any more," one farmer told me. Strictly speaking this was untrue, and he was actually pointing towards the border at the time, where it ran with a river along the bottom of his field, but it was true enough that he could make the claim with confidence. The border is not there is your identity prefers it absent. on the other hand, if your identity depends on the border, then it is there for you." 
Now, the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Irish region of the UK are presented with an impossible conundrum: the border which MUST exist and which MUST, at the same time, be intangible and invisible. As John Crace, also in the Guardian said, jokingly, yet with almost inevitable accuracy:
"So it took Yvette Cooper to get forensic by pointing out that the prime minister's solution of the Northern Irish border had been to propose that 80% of traffic should be allowed to get away with smuggling cows, pigs, grenades and guns."

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