THE BREXIT deadline has come and gone and still those living along Fermanagh’s border have no clarity on what the future may hold for their communities.
In Swanlinbar, where memories of the days of a heavy military checkpoint and road closures are still raw, any feelings of uncertainty are outweighed by a strong resolution from local people that, no matter what happens, there will be no return to a hard border in their town. The parish will not be split again.
“Over the years there had been a lot of trouble with local residents being harassed going through the checkpoint,” recalled local man Dessie McManus, who used to run the Welcome Inn.
“It was in the back of people’s minds. There was always fear and dread going through it. People were waiting to be pulled in, and there was always a great sigh of relief when you were being waved through, that you were getting through handy.”
Then there were the road closures.
“There were six roads leaving from Kinawley into Swanlinbar and they were either cratered or blown up, or had large bollards put on them,” said Dessie. “Everyone was funnelled through the checkpoint.
“There were families who lived only half a mile apart and didn’t know each other.”
When his children where young, Dessie said he didn’t like taking them through the checkpoint as “it had a sort of horror for children.” This didn’t prove a problem for them visiting his parents up the road in Kinawley, though.
“My mother used to babysit them, so we would go and meet them on the border crossing where the road was closed and we’d carry them across in their carry cots across the bridge, from one side to the other,” he said.
Francis O’Reilly, from Swanlinbar’s famous Lotto-winning Spar shop, has been living on the Fermanagh side of the border for 21 years, having married a Kinawley woman, Jean. He recalls regularly being pulled in and held for up to four hours at a time at the checkpoint.
Francis, who has kept photos of the old checkpoint as a reminder of what once was, said everyone old enough in the area could remember when the roads were reopened. He stressed there was no way the people of the parish would ever see it split again.
“People will not put up with it again. We’ve moved on,” he said. “The young people nowadays, they won’t put up with what we put up with.
“Britain might want to go back 40 years, but we won’t go back.”
Dessie agreed, stating that despite the Brexit shambles “dragging on and dragging on”, the “days of the border in Ireland are gone.”
“I think Brexit has really brought it back into people’s minds,” said Dessie. “It had been off the agenda, but not it’s back on the agenda there’s a feeling, from both sides of the community, that we’ll never go back to that.”
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