Children of the Ceasefire: Reflections on the Border II

Irish. Northern Irish. A global citizen. Three ways in which I described myself in my previous blog post. In describing this, I highlighted my concerns to being constrained to one certain identity. However, as discussions on Brexit intensify, so does the issue of the border and these constraints of identity. I am a holder of an Irish passport. I play and follow Irish sports.  I have studied at an Irish university. I have been christened with an Irish name. I am free to say I’m Irish, whilst also being Northern Irish; but I feel uneasy that a border may minimise this freedom.

Hard, soft or controlled by technology – any sort of border is dangerous to the future of the peace we have already progressively campaigned for. It is not the border, but what it symbolises. In a society in which a shared narrative is encouraged in order to deal with the past, a border raises the ‘us’ and ‘them’ conversation again.  Division through symbolisation is rife in Northern Ireland, so rife that a person’s nationality can be guessed with the telling of what area they come from. Union Jacks and tri-colours hang proudly on our streets. Flowers distinguish our political views, the poppy or the Easter lily. Football jerseys hinting who is a catholic or who is a protestant. What the border will symbolise, is division, highlighting a difference between Nationalism and Unionism. As well as this, for many nationalists, a border will symbolise a disconnection from Ireland and the Irish ideals they cherish. What it will also symbolise, is a lack of progress and revision into memories of the past, of army check-points and of watch-towers – a reminder of violent times.

‘When Brexit happens, the UK will have its own time-zone’ and ‘When Brexit happens, we will no longer be able to drive in Ireland with our UK licences’ are two of many statements I have heard recently, whilst we laughed of these ridiculous suggestions. But the problem is, these statements join the many others used to scaremonger the masses about Brexit, and in this case the border.

Whilst easy to laugh at, behind these stories is a cold, hard truth. Brexit is happening and things will be different. In my acknowledgement of ridiculous statements, brings light to Arlene Foster’s recent comment that there never really was a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. In making this comment, one of those elected to speak on Northern Ireland’s behalf has de-valued the extent of our conflict and the efforts made in peace-making and peace keeping. It especially brings anger to those both Nationalist and Unionists living alongside the border, whose lives have been hindered by its presence. Echoing this, is concerns in parliament that Northern Ireland should not be treated any differently than the rest of the UK. Although, what these politicians are forgetting is that Northern Ireland is different and, in this difference, it is fragile. It is in the recovery stages of over 30 years of violent conflict, whilst trying to give recognition to the different national identities that consume it.

However, in all my pessimism is a glimmer of hope. Brexit and the discussions of the border have also highlighted the power of the Good Friday Agreement. It has exemplified the strength of British-Irish relations when it comes to issues concerning Northern Ireland, each having shared concerns over the region. Working together to try find a solution to how Brexit can have minimal impact to our peace agreement and transitioning society. Joint in discussions on the best ways to regulate goods, and to ensure the cost and the flow of trade isn’t hindered too much. Questioning the very issue of a border.   

My experiences of the border are only positive; Sunday drives to Monaghan to go shopping, stopping for diesel along the way taking advantage of the cheaper prices. Dressed in my county colours, full of hope and nerves heading to an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. Achieving my goals and studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Family trips to Galway, Mayo and Sligo. I have been able to travel peacefully and freely.

For me, the border means nicer tasting Tatyo crisps, a text on my phone making me aware of the roaming charges and a moment of confusion trying to work out the difference between miles and kilometres.

I am a child of the cease-fire, and I am fortunate these are my only experiences of the border, unlike my parents and my grand-parents who have seen it in a completely different context. What scares me, is that someday, my views on the border might replicate those if this issue is not treated more cautiously.


By Seanín Little.

Image by Eric Jones and licensed by Creative Commons.

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