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Thursday 8 December 2016

Consigning Border divisions to history

Initiative seeks to identify local communities' needs

Jim O'Brien

Published 01/06/2010 | 05:00

The summer rain was pouring down as I drove along the once familiar border roads. It was evening time in and out of Monaghan and Fermanagh. The colours of the road markings at the verge went from white to orange and back to white again. Ironically, the orange lines told you that you were in the Republic.

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Almost all the man-made additions to the landscape speak of two distinct sets of footprints in this place. Every few minutes symbols and signs remind you that you are crossing an international border.

The magnificent community centre at Corcaghan, on the outskirts of Monaghan town, is packed for the launch of the 'Community Sharing Project'. There's a mix of Northern and Southern registrations in the car park. As I sign in, I notice that the names of many of those before me are from Loyal Orange Lodges from Donegal to Armagh.

Deep

From the moment Breege Lenihan, coordinator of the Co Monaghan Community Network (CMCN) begins to speak, one realises that this border is deep and there is more to it than road signs. However, tonight in Corcaghan, they are not talking about the burdens of the past, rather the practicalities of the present and hope for the future.

Mary Mullin, chairperson of the CMCN, begins the proceedings with a welcome and then reads out a list of apologies that sounds like a veritable who's who of Border society. Ministers, MLAs, TDs, two bishops, various ranks of lower clergy and local councillors all regret they cannot attend; it is not like such characters to pass up a full hall and a feelgood project.

As the night goes on, though, it becomes clear why the political caste and other representatives of the ruling classes have passed up on the event: things have moved beyond rhetoric, beyond the 'hand of history'; the glitter that attracts them has faded and has been replaced by the mundane stuff of ordinary life.

Initiatives

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Robert Wilson and Pauline Walsh, both cross-border community workers with the CMCN, explain that the project is about simple initiatives that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. One is entitled 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' and brings people together to talk about themselves and their traditions; about what divides and unites them.

Visits by mixed groups are planned to Dan Winter's Cottage in Loughall, where the Orange Order was founded, to Kilmainham Jail, to the site of the Battle of the Boyne and, just in case people might be tempted to consign their differences to history, there is a visit to Drumcree and the Garvaghy Road.

As Robert and Pauline describe the project, the picture of one of the Orange brethren stretched out on a couch during a visit to Áras an Uachtaráin comes up on the screen and brings howls of laughter. To show that Ireland has become a totally different place, there is a visit planned to the Islamic Centre in Belfast.

Andy Pollack, director of the Centre for Cross-Border Studies in Armagh, is called on to give the keynote address and speaks of cross-border cooperation as "doing things that make sense".

"Does it make sense to have cross-border healthcare? Does it make sense to have cross- border animal health policy? Does it make sense to have cross-border education?" These are some of the simple questions that Mr Polloack asks the audience.

Having crossed the border three or four times to get from Cavan to Monaghan, I feel there is only one sensible answer to these questions.

Tea

I joined William Moorcroft, chairman of the Co Armagh Grand Orange Lodge, and David McMullan, a community worker with the lodge, for a cup of tea. They came with a bus load of Orangemen and women from Armagh.

"This would not have happened five years ago," says William, looking around. "Many people I know have lived all their lives a few miles from here and never crossed the Border until relatively recently. The beauty of this project is that, from an early stage, it names the elephants in the room, religion and politics, and while we explore our differences we don't change our views but we respect the differences."

Things are now being done and words are now being exchanged where they matter; on doorsteps and in sitting rooms, in local halls over cups of tea, and at the ditches and dykes where farmers at either side seek to clear the drains to relieve the water that's flooding them both.

Driving home I realise that it doesn't matter that the colour of the road markings are different, that there are miles and kilometres, euros and pounds.

I can travel freely between North and South, and there is nothing to stop me.

Irish Independent



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