The riddle of the Irish Border, by Anthony J. Quinn


The riddle of the Irish Border, by Anthony J. Quinn

Anthony J. Quinn is an Irish author and journalist. His first novel, Disappeared, Daily Mail crime novel of the year. Undertow, the latest instalment in the Inspector Celcius Daly series has just come out in hardback.

If you’ve lived most of your life along the land boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as I have, you understand there never was ‘a hard border’ in the sense of a static line or barrier. Instead, the border has existed as something much more restless and porous, a blurred zone of dead-ends and fleeting corridors that offer different limits and opportunities to criminals, police, and the ordinary people trying to live pragmatically in its shadow. Part of the reason lies in its higgledy-piggledy nature; there are no straight lines or sharp demarcations along its 310 miles. On the map, it resembles a parody of a border, a drunken scrawl through the counties of Ulster, a riddle in the landscape.

For almost a hundred years, the border has tried hard to make itself into a fixed landmark, extending its shed-like customs posts across the boggy hinterlands of Ulster, even levering itself out of the dangerous South Armagh landscape in the form of watchtowers and army bases erected on hill-tops.

Yet even in the darkest days of the Troubles, there were homes where you could walk in from Northern Ireland through the front door, and leave by the back door into the Republic of Ireland. In other houses, mobile phone coverage fluctuates between national and international calls from room to room. Then there were the so-called ‘concession roads’, which were a 1950s attempt to deal with the bewildering nature of the border: they were free of checkpoints and customs huts, but drivers using them “were obliged to keep their wheels turning until back in their own jurisdiction”. Despite the best efforts of the police and HMRC, smugglers and criminals continue to exploit the economic and tax differences between the two jurisdictions, and improvise escape routes out of the border. In the last five years, Northern Ireland police in hot pursuit of suspects were forced to end their chase at the border on a total of forty-seven occasions. The border’s disorientating track has spawned a host of crimes in its wake; fertile ground for violent gangs and authors to exploit.

Undertow is available now in hardback and ebook.