The Border is part of our landscape. A line drawn on a map a hundred years ago, dividing counties, communities, farms and even houses, its presence is not just physical but plays in the psyche of those living along it.
The grim checkpoints and towers that once made crossing the Border a terrifying experience no longer stand out like scars on the the landscape but Brexit has put a renewed focus on the Irish Border.
‘The New Frontier: Reflections from the Irish Border’ is an anthology of writing, fiction, essays and poetry which sees a new generation expression what the Border and borders in general, mean to them.
It’s edited by James Conor Patterson, who says that the idea for the collection comes on the back of the Brexit vote in 2016.
“A lot of the news reports from the times featured broadcasters from the BBC or Channel 4 coming over and doing reports and vox pops on what was happeningon the Border and the impact which Brexit would have.”
However, he points out that “one of the things that was absent was people from the Border themselves giving their perspective and their lived experience of what the Border means to them.”
He was also aware that the Centenary of Partition was looming and thought that it would be a good opportunity to gather together writers from both sides of The Border as it stretches from the east to west coast.
"I knew I wanted to do something to mark that centenary as some of the nuances and complexities would get lost in that narrative.”
"There are writers from both sides, from Newry, South Armagh, South Down, Derry, Monaghan, Louth, Cavan, from the whole run of The Border,” he says. “I wanted to get the perspective of what it means to them.”
He was delighted that 27 writers agreed to contribute to the anthology.
Getting names such as Pat McCabe (The Butcher Boy, Breakfast on Pluto) was a big coup, but he was equally determined to give voice to up and coming younger writers.
The result is a rich and eclectic collection which show that the legacy of The Border lives on long after the Good Friday Agreement.
There’s a number of writers from Dundalk included among the contributors.
The German writer Marcel Kruger who has made his home in Dundalk, writes of walking along the border, mindful of bulls, sheepdogs and farmers with shot guns.
His essay ‘A Topography of Wounds’ sees him visiting Faughart Graveyard and musing, not only on the Irish Border, but the borders of his native country.
“The Irish Border: its eastern lands have a very different atmosphere to anywhere else on the island,” he writes. “It is the first place I have considered ‘home’ proper; not because I blend in well, I am still the ‘German living in town’, but beause it feels like here I have direct access to the violent fault lines of Irish history.”
That violence, which may still visit those who stumble upon something which they shouldn’t see, is brought to life in Luke Cassidy’s short story ‘A Good Turn’. Like this Dundalk author’s debut novel ‘Iron Annie’ it’s written in the local vernacular as the hapless Paudie goes off the beaten path in search of sunlight.
Novelist and poet Conor O’Callaghan evokes memories of summer escapades in the post-war years in his story ‘The Duck’.
Dundalk’s reputation as El Paso and its pubs where republicans could hang out safely are name checked by Dean Fee is his story ‘Border Bars’.
Patterson believes that there is “a hopeful note in the book” but stresses that there’s an underlying message from the contributors that the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement must be protected.
Most of his family are from the Newry area although he was born in Coventry, where his parents had gone to escape The Troubles. They returned to Newry in 1995, a year after the first IRA ceasefire.
He writes in the introduction to the book how his mother was interrogated for three hours by the Special Branch when they arrived in the port on their way back home.
His grandmother Maureen Patterson (nee Clarke) is from Culhane Street in Dundalk, and he has been a frequent visitor to the town over the years.