RTE Television

TV50: The Border - The Great Irish Divide

Bernard Loughlin walks the roads and villages of the Border under the shadow of watchtowers and army sentries talking to local characters and well-known personalities: Declan McGonagle, Desmond Leslie of Castle Leslie and Michael Harding, exploring whether the border is a state of mind as well as a political and geographic entity. Produced and directed by Paul Cusack, in this documentary, Bernard Louglhin, writer, commentator and the first Director of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig House in Co Monaghan, walks the highways and byways of the Irish Border exploring the invisible line which represents the great 'Irish Divide' between North and South.

What is a Border, Bernard wonders, as he visits Castle Leslie. There he meets its whimsical lord, Desmond Leslie, who shows Bernard the patch of land in his great estate which is situated in both Northern and Southern Ireland, and in counties Monaghan, Cavan and Armagh.

Declan McGonagle, then of the Derry Art Gallery and now Director of the National College of Art & Design in Dublin, talks to Bernard of the impact the border had on the artist. "There is a sense of being at the edge of some sort of boundary which is not just a physical or geographic boundary.that some contemporary artists really respond to." This has led to an enrichment of the arts in Northern Ireland, he believes.

But the border is a real and painful entity for some. It is July 1989 and the Orangemen are out in force, marching and preaching. The camera takes us into the crowds watching the parades with pleasure or trepidation. We meet the Rev Sam Workman who speaks passionately of his unionist vision of Ireland.

Bernard meets Eilish McAnespie, whose brother Aidan was shot by a British soldier as he crossed the border heading to a Sunday GAA game. He talks to witnesses to the random sectarian killing of a school bus driver in Derrylin. "The killers honked their horns and cheered in triumph as they drove away," we are told by a disbelieving witness. The Border has seen much pain.

In fact, for younger audiences, who are used to driving the motorway to Belfast without sometimes being aware that they crossed 'The Border', this programme will be a revelation. The length of border tailbacks, the heavily armed soldiers, the barbed wire fences and barriers and the ever-present surveillance helicopters droning above in the sky, keeping careful watch to prevent the next ambush, the next bomb blast, will be totally unfamiliar. Now the tailbacks and the special surveillance towers have all but disappeared.

And life goes on. This is a hugely historic area of Ireland whose peoples have been interacting and intermarrying for hundreds of years. The hundreds of small roads winding back and forth between the two parts of Ireland testify to this interconnectedness. 'The Troubles'' is only one part of the story of these lands. And so now, viewers can look back at this documentary as truly historic as we watch from a more peaceful era of reconciliation.

TV50: The Border - The Great Irish Divide
  • RTÉ One, Wednesday 25 July 2012, 11.40pm