Living with the Border

Living with the Border – an eight part Radio Documentary by Tom Brady.

The Border is deeply symbolic and politically significant. But for those who live or have lived near the political boundary, it is a matter of ordinary efforts of dealing with its practical presence in everyday life. This became more difficult during the period of the troubles from early 1970’s to the mid-1990’s when crossing the border meant being subject to both Customs and Army or Police checkpoints.

Paramilitary violence was at its height and there were casualties on all sides. Border crossing points were reduced, unapproved roads were blocked and watchtowers were erected. However daily life for the Border people had to go on, and the stories of the participants portray this in a light-hearted way.

Living with the Border is a series of eight half-hour programmes documenting the life and times of people living and working along the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Tom Brady’s shows are light-hearted but also capture fascinating stories from a broad section of people, particularly the unheard voices of farmers, business people, train drivers, public representatives and teachers who lived and worked both sides of the north Louth Border.

How the border came into being.

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 came into effect on 3rd May 1921 and provided for self-governing parliaments for Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, thus partitioning Ireland. The Irish Treaty contained a provision that would establish a Boundary Commission, which could adjust the border as drawn up in 1920. A Tripartite Boundary Agreement was signed in December 1925 delineating the borderline.

‘Northern Ireland shall consist of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry, and Southern Ireland shall consist of so much of Ireland as is not comprised within the said parliamentary counties and boroughs’.

A Commission consisting of three persons, one to be appointed by the Government of the Irish Free State, one to be appointed by the Government of Northaern Ireland and one who shall be Chairman to be appointed by the British Government shall determine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants, so far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions, the boundaries between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, and for the purposes of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, and of this instrument, the boundary of Northern Ireland shall be such as may be determined by such Commission’.

The border reshaped political and social realities across the entire island. For those who lived in close quarters with the border, partition was also a personal occurrence and implicated on everyday life. Mundane activities such as shopping, visiting families, travelling to church, farming (with some farms straddling the border), were often complicated by customs restrictions, checkpoints and cratered roads etc.

The border cut off natural hinterlands, separated communities and neighbours that had lived together for years. While the hardships people suffered as a result of the border have been well documented, these programmes intend to look at the funnier side of living along the border.

1. Pat McCourt
Pat is a former Businessman in Dundalk and his stories centre around his dealings with Catholics and Protestants across the Border. Prior to the troubles, bus loads of shoppers’ from Northern Ireland came to Dundalk to buy goods, especially on the 12th July, the day of Orange Marches in Northern Ireland. Pat served on the Dundalk Town Council and he will talk about Crowe Street incident in 1978. He attended funerals of those killed on blood Sunday on 13/1/1972 in Derry. He also talks about unapproved and approved roads in relation to the Customs and Excise work that he did.

2. John McGuinness

John was a Bus Eireann driver on tours to Northern Ireland, before, during and after the troubles. The railway line at Kilnasaggart Bridge directly on the border was regularly bombed and he had to passengers from Dundalk to Newry and back by bus. He drove the bus across the border when other drivers refused. John drove his bus across the Border at the time when Judge Gibson and his wife were blown up in a bomb on the main Dundalk to Newry Road (he saw the smoke of the bomb). A mob in Dundalk tried to hijack the bus he was driving as they were on their way to attack Dundalk Garda Station in 1972 (the station was attacked and cars burnt and petrol bombs were thrown into the Garda Station).

3. Joe Mulligan
Joe is a retired Principal Teacher of Sheelagh National School near Crossmaglen. The school in the Parish of Crossmaglen. Joe remembers what life was like as a teacher in a Border School, prior to, during and after the troubles.

4. Joe Quinn
Joe had a shop in Hackballscross (next to Crossmaglen) for a number of years. He is native of Co Offaly and lived in America for a time. He is related to Brian Cowen, former Taoiseach. John moved to Hackballscross as his late wife was from the area. John will tell us about his first impressions on coming into contact with border, how currency fluctuations impacted his business, running two currency tills and his views on Brexit from EU.
5. Mona Daly
Mona was brought up in the border town of Carrickmacross. Her father was a businessman and she recalls her memories of crossing the border with her father on business. Mona lives in Dundalk and she talks about what the realities of family life and how she feels the people of Dundalk and the area have a different outlook on life because of their experiences of checkpoints, low flying helicopters (go by in twos for safety), young armed soldiers, flags, identity and the fear of travelling into parts of the North etc.

6. Leonard Hatrick

Leonard Hatrick lived in Ardee for 60 years emigrated to England in 1972 for a while before returning to Ardee. He joined CIE in 1981 and talks about his time as a train driver.

7. Brendan Coughlan

Brendan Coughlan is a native of Kilbeggan. He worked for many years as a Customs Officer at Dublin Port, Clones in Co Monaghan before coming to Dundalk in 1966.

8. Tom Brady

In the final part of the series, Tom recalls his own memories of border living

  • as a young Sargent in Longford he was unexpectedly stationed in Hackballscross as a result of the escalating tension along the border following the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972
  • he has extensive knowledge of the Co Louth border and tells us the names of the border crossings
  • the attack on Dundalk Garda Station in 1972
  • the 1975 Loyalist bombing in Crowe Street, Dundalk
  • riots in Dundalk and in Oriel Park in 1979 when Dundalk fans clashed Linfield fans who were marching from the car park at the Harp Lager Brewery waving Union Jacks
  • 1984 he extradition of Dominic McGlinchy, INLA who was handed over to the RUC officers on the borderline
  • In 1986 Peter Robinson was charged in Dundalk Court House and a riot took place on Clanbrassil Street. Tom sat in court next to Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley when they appeared in Court in Dundalk
  • March 1998 the bodies of provisional IRA Members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar were brought through the town on the way to Belfast and a month prior t0 the signing of the Good Friday Agreement

About the producer

Tom Brady is a retired Superintendent An Garda Siochana. He had 40 years unbroken service mainly in Border Counties and a wide knowledge of border policing, prior to, during, and after the violent campaign of conflict in Northern Ireland from 1969 to Good Friday Agreement on April 10 1998.
Education and Qualifications

BA Honours in Public Administration with Diploma in Adm Science (Institute of Public Administration) 1983/87.
BA Honours in Borderline Studies in DKIT from 2005/2007.
Teaching Diploma in Security NUIG 2009.
Research Interests.

Tom was one of the researchers in a Gallery of Photography Archive Project (from 2005/2006) dealing with personal stories and experience in nine border counties during the troubles. The book titled ‘Borderlines’ was published in 2006.