It was always here. Well, actually it wasn't, it was put here in 1921, but I only showed up in 1975 so that's a mere detail. It was always here. Here was 'Northern Ireland', technically in the United Kingdom, and there was 'The Republic of Ireland,' a mystical, free place were Gay Byrne was the President and you didn't need a licence to drive. 'It' is the Border and it has been running like a scar between the two Irelands my entire life, reminding me that I am not really from either one.
At first, it was just a physical entity. Something that must be crossed in order to get to the beach. Sweating in the back seat while British soldiers with impressive guns enraged your father with unnecessary questions.
Then, those slow, silent yards until the auld fella felt far enough from the checkpoint to exhale the expletives he'd been choking on. I won't repeat them on a Sunday, but it's suffice to say that he felt no one from another country should be standing in the middle of his, deciding whether he gets to swim in the sea or not. I felt his pain. It entered my gut and grew with the rest of me.
After the British checkpoint, there was half a mile or so of No Man's Land before the Irish Customs post. Once you'd been waved through that with a biro or a clipboard (on one glorious occasion, an arm with a teapot was extended through the window), you knew you had finally crossed the Border into the Irish Republic.
And this was where the confusion started. Who was this boy in the back of the car? Well, I knew I wasn't British, that was the lads back at the checkpoint with the guns and the accents. So I must be Irish, right? If only it were that straightforward.
You see, no matter how hard I tried to feel Irish in Ireland, Ireland felt different. Wonderfully different, granted, but different all the same. I felt different. For starters, I was now the fella with the accent. Then there were the signposts in a different language and the postboxes in a different colour and my dad kept telling me the Guinness was better. Try explaining to a six-year-old why the crisps have the same name but are still totally different.
A fella in Mayo once told me that if you looked carefully at Mr Tayto on the bag in the North, it was pretty obvious that he was Protestant. But much more than any of this physical stuff, it was a feeling. It was a projection from inside myself. I wanted it to be different. I needed it to be. For what is the point of crossing a border, if you don't find yourself somewhere else?
There is a romance about the South for those of us from the North who are Irish. It's a place we escape to. It symbolises hope and change and what might have been had we not been cut off. The reality, I have found more often than not, though, is that to my mates in the Republic, I might as well be from Mars. That's just what happens over a hundred years when you put a border in the middle of a country.
My first exposure to what I'll call the 'cultural border', came on Sunday evenings at my granny's house in the Fermanagh backwoods.
For here, on a footstool beside the range, I stared in wonder every week at the single biggest gulf between yours truly and the people of the Republic - RTÉ. We couldn't get it in Enniskillen, not without the notorious 'special aerial'. We weren't quite close enough to the Border. Debate raged between a mother denied The Late Late Show and a father who didn't want to put a 20-foot metal pole on top of the house for fear we'd all be electrocuted.
It wasn't electricity I feared being conducted into the house, though. It was Glenroe. It was Fair City and Where In The World? and no matter how hard I tried to keep convincing myself that I was as Irish as they come, the shameful truth crept into me - I was a BBC man.
I didn't want to watch Biddy and Miley, I wanted to watch Del Boy and Rodney. I didn't know anything about inner-city Dublin but twice a week I immersed myself in inner-city London because I was in love with Justine Dean from Grange Hill.
I didn't grow up with Bosco, I learned to count watching Play School. I wasn't just from a place on the Border trapped between two political states, I was trapped between two national broadcasters.
For some in the North, it seemed almost a duty to watch RTÉ. A small act of defiance, maybe; a patriotic duty, certainly. My grandmother wouldn't watch anything else, except for the snooker. She loved Jimmy White. I remember after he lost a final and her heart was breaking, it being pointed out to her that if he hadn't been any good with a cue, he'd have been over here in a uniform with a rifle.
There were lads in my school from south Fermanagh who wore BBC denial as a badge of honour. "What are you watching British propaganda for?" But for myself and my friends in Enniskillen that is what we watched. Because that is what was on the TV. And, shock horror, a lot of it was brilliant.
It was shows from the BBC and Channel 4 that fired our imaginations. Red Dwarf, Vic and Bob, Top Of The Pops, Later... with Jools Holland, Doctor Who, The Word, Our Friends In The North, The Fast Show. Father Ted, lads? Let's not forget it was the Brits who first gave us Ted and Dougal.
We are what we eat but we are also very much what we watch and read and listen to. Over the years, I learned to appreciate the benefit of dual input but there was certainly confusion sown early on. I distinctly remember in my early teens feeling like I was from somewhere I couldn't quite define and it was the radio and TV stations and novels that did the sowing.
I just didn't feel Irish enough for the Irish. It wasn't until I moved to England that I felt the full package. Of course I did, because we are all just Irish in England, right? That goes for Ian Paisley Junior as much as it goes for me.
The other thing that I learned in England was that the north and the south are always different. Yorkshire and London are as culturally far apart as Cavan and Paris. The north/south divide is common all over the world. America, France, Italy - you name it.
Yes, it somewhat complicates it if you cut the place in two and have a violent conflict in one half for 30 years, but we would all do well to remember that we'd have been very different anyway. Cork and Dublin, anyone? We're still all Irish. If we choose to be.
So now the Border is centre stage again. The blasted thing is everywhere. Centenaries, Brexit, Covid-19 regimes, a Border poll, anyone? Whether it disappears in my lifetime or not, you can't change the past, so I, for one, would like to thank the Border before its possible early retirement. For, its close proximity gave me a right to treasures from both sides.
Friel is mine but so is Shakespeare. John Peel whispered directly in my ear when I wasn't listening to Dave Fanning. Billy Bragg means as much as Christy Moore. Joseph O'Connor wrote books just for me but so did Colin Bateman.
Whatever way I skin it, I'm a very lucky boy.