Saturday 19 October 2019

Joe Kennedy: 'How Customs laid down law on hard Border in the past'

A disused customs guard hut directly situated on the north-south Irish border in Newry, Northern Ireland. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
A disused customs guard hut directly situated on the north-south Irish border in Newry, Northern Ireland. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Joe Kennedy

In the early 'hard Border' days of Saorstát Éireann, Customs and Excise laid it on the line about tobacco and drink - and hard drugs - for British holidaymakers who were attracted to our green and pleasant land, where fresh air, wild sports of the west and traffic-free roads were primary attractions.

"Journey to the ocean fronts of Achill and wild Donegal and let the breezes from the broad Atlantic clear the cobwebs from your brain," said a guide book, simply called 'Ireland', with a gold-leaf shamrock on the cover, and costing the enormous sum of sixpence from a London publisher.

Some travellers from Britain may have disembarked at "Londonderry", described as "the key to Donegal and the west" from a nightly steamer service.

Derry as a jumping-off point for the west?

Traditional, of course, and continuing then in spite of the recent divisions of territorial partition - but most went to Dublin or Cork on what are now described as ferry services advertised as fairly luxurious.

Customs and Excise regulations between the Free State and Britain were probably still something of a novelty in 1926 but Dublin Castle nevertheless placed a list of instructions in the travel book. They were boldly asserted.

Importing narcotics was a definite non-starter, along with dogs (except from the Isle of Man and Channel Isles), and also "foreign reprints of registered copyright works".

Was this a hint of books censorship to come?

The list of "principal articles prohibited" has its fascinations: extracts of tea, coffee, chicory and tobacco were out, as were, understandably, arms, ammunition and explosives (except under licence).

Also, "prepared opium, cocaine, morphine, ecgonine" (an alkaloid found in cocoa leaves - a new one for me) and "diamorphine (heroin) and raw and medical opium."

Then there is a listing for "saccharin in passengers' baggage". Don't ask.

Dutiable goods included the usual tobacco, wines, spirits, watches and curious items such as playing cards, matches, soap, candles, boots, shoes and personal clothing, blankets and rugs.

And bedsteads - the mind boggles - cars, motorbikes and gramophones; records were tax-free.

The travel guide, which I found in a pile in the The Secret Book and Record Store, run by Dermot Carroll in Wicklow Street, Dublin, is a smart publication with the usual scenic photographs, but well written by anonymous scribes, lots of hotel advertising and steamer routes and some colourful prose about places no longer considered 'resorts' but which obviously were once popular.

Kingstown, aka Dún Laoghaire, is described as "one of the most fashionable holiday resorts in Ireland... where the health-giving qualities of air have been specially praised by the medical profession".

That should interest many of today's residents.

The majority of visitors "enter the Free State through Dublin via luxurious oil-burning steamers of the B&I Line", with passengers from London "being met at Liverpool by attendants with motor vehicles which convey them to the boat".

Those were the days.

Irish Independent

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