Monday 23 September 2019

Write side... with writer Darach MacDonald


Darach MacDonald
Darach MacDonald
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Darach MacDonald on his Brexit travelogue Hard Border - and a world of secret roads and smuggling.

What sparked your interest in writing a Border travelogue?

I grew up in Clones, Co Monaghan. I saw first-hand the Border's impact on communities. At one time it was a thriving market town, but it suffered decline because it was cut off.

Did your family straddle the frontier?

Yes, my grandmother lived in a house right on the Border in Kilrooskey. My father used to say that she slept with her head in the Free State, and her backside in the North.

What is your first Border memory?

I was a toddler when steel girders were driven deep through the road's surface at the Aqueduct Bridge at the edge of Clones.

So did people have their own secret routes?

My uncle's farm was cut off when the road was spiked along the Border. He built a small link road through a corner of a field so that he could get to town. He called it the Khyber Pass.

Was there a lot of smuggling?

Anywhere there are customs duties, you will have smuggling. As the Northern Ireland minister Lord Gowrie put it: "The Border is an economic nonsense; anyone with initiative can laugh all the way to the bank."

So what happened during the Troubles?

There was an air of menace. There were lots of unexplained events, such as the murder of the Fine Gael senator Billy Fox - one of the most shocking incidents.

Was there a heavy British Army presence?

The army presence was a real disincentive to cross the Border. Young women going to work through security checkpoints had to suffer misogynistic abuse from young squaddies with guns.

So are you optimistic about Brexit?

I don't think a good outcome is possible. The best Border we have had in Ireland is the one we have now. Any change will be seen as regression.

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