Last month Alliance multi jobber Naomi Long challenged OFMDFM on peace lines on 40th anniversary of troubles. In fairness it was not a bad idea and she did not pretend that this could be done quickly. It did, however, set me to thinking about the fact that the lack of peace walls where I was brought up or indeed where I live now never prevented effective community segregation. That is of course a little unfair but there is a major element of truth therein.
Large parts of rural Northern Ireland are divided pretty completely on sectarian lines: sometimes there are no or almost no members of one community in a given area. Sometimes a Union Jack, Ulster flag or Tricolour marks out the area for the benefit of outsiders but very frequently there is no such clue: for the locals none is needed; they all know. Even if there is a mixed community many or even most people can recite which side each house’s inhabitants or even which side each field’s owners are and indeed many of the older locals can recount if in the past it was sold wrong.
In part this is down to separate schooling, largely separate leisure and cultural activities, to high levels of religious observance in rural areas and, hence, people’s friends being drawn from one community or the other. There is of course mixing but people know what to say and to whom from a very young age.
Naomi Long may decry peace walls scarring Belfast but a much more subtle though little less complete form of separation occurs in the country.