208 ways to leave the EU

Map under construction

The sun always sets in the South

The Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast on April 10, 1998. This peace agreement between the British and Irish governments established a new form of power sharing in Northern Ireland between the Nationalists - who strive for a united Ireland and the UK-oriented Unionists. This historic political deal, brokered by President Bill Clinton, Senator George Mitchell, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, the Republic of Ireland's Taoiseach, brought an end to the Troubles. The agreement stipulated that Northern Ireland would remain part of Britain until a majority of its citizens voted otherwise and called for a complete disarmament of the IRA and Loyalist paramilitarie. However the DUP has yet to full embrace the spirit of cooperation. Splinter groups such as the New IRA sporadically engage in hideous acts of violence against what they call an unlawful occupation of Northern Ireland by the UK.

Before the global financial meltdown in 2008, while political ties continued to strengthen, North and South grew closer to boost their development, and with success. The Celtic tiger was born though the impulse of lofty EU development schemes as of the mid 1990's. The crisis of 2008 hit the economy hard in the South, but was even more disastrous for Northern Ireland that has yet to gain a full political say and serious British investments.

While sectarian divisions are still alive in some form or other, with the peace wall in Belfast as standing proof, several local initiatives have been set up over the years to deal with old trauma, lost friends and family and to get together the younger generation in building bridges. During my travel along the border, 99,9% of the people I met on both sides adhere to the idea that north and south are two hands of the same body, acknowlediging that the current border is a virtual one and that there is more in common than that which would separate the two regions. It is a shared and overlapping territory that encompasses and cuts through farmland, houses, families, careers and trade.

Lough Foyle

Unresolved disputed territory and another Brexit saga in the making. It was my starting point for a journey of 1900 KM of border territory along the 500km Irish and Northern Ireland border, visiting most of the 208 official border crossings between the Republic of Ireland (EU) and UK's Northern Ireland (soon not longer to be a part of the EU).
William Lynch

Foylemore Oysters

Foylemore Oysters was founded by William Lynch over 30 years ago and it faces now severe economic consequences over a hard border. William travels the border several times a day to run his business. With his oysters in high demand all over the world, BREXIT will do him no favours in securing his legacy - a business that he wishes to see continued by his sons. Although the UK claimes Lough Foyle to be 100% British, this matter has hardly been settled with the Republic contesting it since the border was first drawn up.  It is one of many fishing problems caused by Brexit. When the UK eventually does leave the European Union, what fishing regulations will be put in place and how will it impact the local fishery and of course William Lynch's company that relies for the cultivation of its oysters and the logistics involved to move smoothly over country borders. Brexit would be financially disastrous for his business with high rising costs, and logistical difficulty to export this world renowned product worldwide. It will also have a knock on effect on the employment of his men, and he reckons this will become the reality for other businesses impacted by Brexit.

The border crossings around Derry

Fifteen or so of the 208 official border crossing as determined by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are to be found around Derry. Derry used  to be a thriving business hub for textile, whiskey and trade in general due to its access to the river Foyle, Lough Foyle and the sea. The textile industry reached its peak in the 1920s, before the partition, employing around 18,000 people.

Thomas who owns a B&B in Derry took me around in his car and taught me how to spot border crossings. Not an easy feat as border crossings could be as little as a couple of metres apart and sometimes found  in a cascaded south-north-south-north arrangement.

He mentioned that besides the speed signs in KM, the quality of tarmac - inferior in the North - a small bridge, creek or river could indicate one's passage from the South (Republic of Ireland) into Northern Ireland (UK). Besides the obvious smuggling that took place, many farmers created non-authorised roads with their tractors, during the Troubles when "spiking" and blowing up roads were common practice by British troops. This would enable the farmers to easily reach parts of their farms and cattle instead of taking long detours (up to 15 miles in some cases). Every farmer has a story to tell of filling up road-craters and lengthy delays at checkpoints.
Republicans - for whom Ireland should be one unified country will never use the name Londonderry but would refer to it as Derry. Londonderry is the official name. Oddly enough it borders the South, west of it.

Muff would be the the 2nd official crossing after Lough Foyle. A typical border town with petrol stations situated near to the border. It still has an abandoned customs house - a reminder of days by.

An bandoned railway station on the former Derry - Strabane line. It crosses the river Foyle about 20 min out of Derry. To the left of the bridge the river belongs to Northern Ireland (UK). To the right river runs through the Republic of Ireland (EU), also referred to as the Free State by the older generation in Ireland. Out of Lough Foyle the border meanders along with the river. In 1957, the Government of Northern Ireland unilaterally ordered the GNRB to close most of their lines west of the Bann within Northern Ireland.

Killae Water Reservoir in Altaghaderry Carrigans, Co. Donegal is one of those real life border issues where the border gets wet feet. Half of this drinking water reservoir lies in the Republic, the other half in the Northern Ireland/UK. Shaun Doherty on the left is the voluntary unofficial caretaker. He is a pensioner who used to work in a whiskey distillery. The little metal square plate at his feet in the image is where the actual border runs through.
Robin is a retired construction engineer. He lives in Northern Ireland. When I met him he was walking on Dundrean back road. He explains that Ireland, traditionally, was very bad at naming roads. A house would pop up and a road would be named after the person living there.

His family has been in ireland since the 1800s and he totally identifies as British. Although he speaks with a distinct Irish accent, he admits that nobody in his family has Gaelic blood running through their vains. He is one of the few not going for an Irish passport as foreseen under the Good Friday Agreements. Brexit, however and putting up a hard border - for him - remains a decision on the wrong side of history, though he can understands the sentiment of some.

Following the Brexit movement applications for Irish passports have skyrocketed. I wonder, if there are/would be enough passport applications filed, and under the premises that a passport holder automatically is considered a national as a result, unification might already be a fact de facto ... ! ?

The border between County Donegal (South) and County Tyrone (NI)

Visiting the border starting in Clady and heading west into Co. Donegal is not a straightforward undertaking as there aremultiple border crossing scattered throughout the landscape. The further you go out west the more rugged and stunning the landscape becomes. The furthest point west on the border is the entrance of Killeter forest. A pine tree forest with wind turbines. After that point, the border heads back east towards Co. Tyrone and back South towards Pettigo, passing by Lough Derg's old pilgrim's road.
County Tyrone Colours (Gaelic Football). A desolate countryside north of Killeter. I just saw one car in the space of two hours. A to the North facing border crossing and an abandoned house. Going further east towards Co. Donegal, thecountryside slowly becomes more rugged and another small stone bride and another one forlorn in the bogland marks the border. The last image is the bridge near Kelly's farm. The most western point of the border. Time for a warming seafood chowder at the Smugglers Inn, Rossnowlagh .... another 25 min drive but oh so worth it.
At the entrance of Killeter Forest I met Seamus Mcgrory, 56 years of age. He is from the South. The border crossing, a little unassuming stone bridge over an even smaller stream (Lichenae) marks nevertheless an important smugglers's route during the troubles. Whenever the British army would again blow up the road the IRA would fill it up again with stones from the Kelly's farm house, infamous for being in the old days a smuggler's hub (The Kelly's left in the mid 60s).  However the army blew up another bridge in order to stop the IRA from transporting the stones. Seamus believes that unification would be a good thing but he is not sure it will happen in his lifetime. 
Nigel Hemphill - 20 years old. Works on Howard Pollock's farm. I met him on Grahamstown Road in the North around the Castelderg region. On the question of a hard border he immediately replies: "that would be bad for the sheep". Getting them to the South where they graze and back would become a problem. Farming is done in the North but the grass is literally greener in the South where the farm has fields too. 
Noel lives on Seegronan Road Co. tyrone. The border is located at the "Point" and it is the end of the road basically with another both trees and fields behind. Noel is a retired trucker and he recalls that smuggling of cattle and foodstuff was a big thing during the 1930's. Less so during the Troubles. Accessibility is difficult since the country roads locally are nothing but hardened roads fill of ditches and tire exploding holes. 

From Belleek all the way down to Belcoo

“But in what country have we been?” - John Montague

Belleek is one of those - dare I say it - typical towns were there is more than one border and they can be found within 50 metres from each other. You know, just around the next corner, ... and the next. And than there is Pettigo, same thing and one might actually end up in Lower Lough Erne at the end of the road near Boa island / Lusty Beg. About 20 min out north east of Pettigo I ended up in Lettercran where there are 2 border crossing literally next to each other. it was a wet evening and Roseline, 94 years of age recalls her smuggling years when she would by tobacco at Tommy Haughey's Shop in the South. The ruins of the shop are still there. From there on I took the  the second border-crossing back. The border  zigzags for several kilometers over the main road until it reaches Pettigo again. It would be an interesting wall indeed, if trump would get his way ... On the road between Beleek and Pettigo near the the Cross, a border pub, there are the overgrown remains of a railway bridge on the border with Republic. 

In Beleek, more or less perpendicular to the mainroad Jonny Cunningham historical expert on the region and book writer showed me Doland's road where Brandon and a land with a yellow sports sportscoat were walking their dogs. During the troubles this road was reduced with concrete blocks and only 1 car could (barely) pass at the time crossing the border. Taking the direction of Bundoran I headed south bound where the border cuts through Lough Melvin and continues over land, passing Rossinver,  Kiltyclogher and finally meandering through Upper Lough Macnean into Blacklion and Belcoo.  On the road to Kiltyclogher the regular cues of identifying border crossings becomes more challenging and a lone farmer out for a walk was able to point me in the right direction - "somewhere around that second tree in the distance".

On a pier looking over Lough Melvin, I met Susan Huggins from Cork. Her dad had passed away earlier in the year and she came to the pier to reflect and enjoy the peacefulness of the Lough... Until I arrived with my ton of gear. She is tired about hearing about Brexit. She feels that the population was manipulated and the referendum result a not informed decision. She believes that the people on the border will be impacted the most and that it will be the end of free roaming. Perhaps that argument might have swung the decision in favour of the remain camp.

Just across the bridge over the river Erne in Belleek, there is the old "Battery" fort on the hill in the South. The fort was used during the Troubles around 1970 as a snipper point by the IRA for shooting police  officers just across the border. Belleek over its history has been part of the Republic, the UK and in 1924 it went back to the South. Nowadays it is UK territory. Also her smuggling was common practice. Interestingly most of the bridge is situated in the South and the border runs diagonally across its width. Now there are several genesis stories to explain this oddity. Allegedly it was the result of the hydroelectric dam that caused a shift in the river's course. The more "obvious" story that goes around is that somebody had one drink to much.  Ryan, 25 and a Northerner,  just started a new job with Vodaphone in the Republic. He is salesman in a territory that covers both countries and he is going to become a husband soon, at least when he can find a good housing deal, either North or South, with a preference for the South although the healthcare is rather expensive in the Republic as compared to Northern Ireland (UK) where the NHS is basically free. This is one the hard arguments against unification for many people up north. It would just cost them too much.

Lilly is Ryan's cousin. She is seven years old and a natural born photo model.
Paul and daughter Caitlin. Paul is a farmer living along Manger Road (Belleek), a small country road. Brexit for him, as a farmer is, as it is for many farmers I met, a sensless political gaffe with major financial implications. It is estimated that after Brexit farm subsidies will drop by 60% over the course of 10 years following separation from the EU,  as EU farm subsidies will be cancelled in the process. Farm has been a sustainable business but very dependent on EU's capital injections. And you know what, Irish farm produce being it spuds or beef, it is of top notch quality and taste. Nobody in their right mind wants to see this go and with it the livelihood of so many people up north. 
This is Megan, 11 years old. Now, Megan would be caught up, following Brexit, in a family situation that kind of reminds me somehow of North Korea. Her father is from Blacklion (Republic), her mother is from the North. They live on the other end of the bridge (the border) in Belcoo. Her granny and cousins still live on the other side in Blacklion. On the question what she thinks about Brexit, she admits it is all too complicated. However on the questions of unification I get a "yes please". She would hate the fact that she needs a passport to visit her relatives. The bridge that connects Belcoo with Blacklion is clearly a bridge of troubled water.

The border in County Cavan

Me: "Where are you from, Pat? The North or South? Pat: "Yes"

Going into county Cavan, my aim was to visit the border crossing in Derrylinn - Ballyconnell. Historically the border would run through the middle of the house of the Murray brothers. Nowadays the house is gone and is replaced by Cassidy's Filling Station. Interestingly, the small windy country road just across the main road connecting the North with the South runs alongside Quinn's cement factory, leading up the hill onto a fenced off dead-end and a massive quarry pit- also Quinn's -  situated in the North. The view on county Cavan is wide and absolutely stunning, but you will have to take my word for it as a picture would never do it justice.

Arriving in Swanlinbar I realised there are about 5 "official" border crossing around this small town. During the Troubles, Swanlinbar also had its share of troubles. On 8 December 1974, Loyalists paramilitaries bombed a Catholic church St. Mary's. Lucky nobody got injured.  While driving around, came across a border crossing with yellow bulldozer monument. The bulldozer is tribute to the borderbustlers; men and woman  who from every corner of Ireland who joined the struggle to keep border crossings open, defying the British forces to keep them closed. When talking to border people as far as North Monaghan, it became apparent that a closed border due to Brexit will only "bring the bulldozers back out again".

Pat O'Brien, in the middle of the image,  is 63, doesn't believe in coincidence and is - as he put it - of Scottish royalty descent. He runs a second hand bike repair shop on the border near to Castle Sanders. Pat and John, Eoin's (pronounced: Owen) father are pretty sure Brexit is not going to happen. Pat explains that Castle Sanders, situated in the South can actually be entered via the North gate. His sousing runs a petrol filling station just a couple of meters up the road where the border in the shape of a creek runs - with no margin to spare- at the back of his shop.
Exploring county Cavan made me realise that volunteering for a portrait does not come natural to its population. And then there was Mary, 72 years of age. She left the country for Sweden when she was 15. She then got married to Swede and lived for 50 years abroad before returning the Ireland in 2001 to marry her latest husband. Mary tells me that unification would be nice but there would be a cost to be paid in order to make it work  in terms of health care (still free in the North) and Southern investments to reboot the northern economy. The people of the South would fear that this bill could impact prosperity in the South and they would therefore be reluctant to opt for Unification. Unification under to the Good Friday Agreement would imply a yes vote from both the Republic and Northern Ireland. A hard Brexit would on the other hand impact her retirement. Travel, outings and shopping trips will get more complicated, more expensive, and she is not looking forward to that. 
Meet Tom and Owen of the Maughan family, customers of Pat's shop and "1st Class Travellers" - yes there is a hierarchy amongst them. They had to push and there was just time for a quick portrait. I wonder how Brexit and hard borders would impact their wandering existence.

The border through County Monaghan before heading to "bandit country"

The Irish border in that separates the Southern County of Monaghan from the north is in comparaison to the rest of the border substantially longer. It runs through a diverse countryside with numerous little country roads and therefore a very large number of border crossings.
I started of with the western part of the border with the border town of Augnacloy as my first stop and from there on to heading over to the hilly Slieve Beach region and down to Rosslea and Clones, right through JP Donohue's tool shed and taking a portrait in the south from Eamonn standing in the UK.  The East of Co. Monaghan, bordering Co. Armagh ( Bandit Country ) introduced me to the start of the civil rights movement, the Lesly Family, the ruins of Tynan Abbey and the river Fan.
First stop in the north of Co. Monaghan, on the road to Clogher, is the border crossing into Mid Ulster. There I met Declan Teanor. Strading the border, he runs a family owned Truck repair business since 1990. He recalls that 30 years ago this particular road to Clogher was blown up by the British security forces and he'd hate to see it closed down again. With determination, he tells me that the bulldozers will be back to keep it op. His wife is concerned that the lose of business, partially already due to the bad exchange rate, will force them to close shop. His business is the only in its kind for miles around but customers already staying away due to the rising cost.
South East of the Mid Ulster border crossing, a couple of kilometres further east of Knockatallan in Mullagh forest I encountered Dr. Brian Smith, retired physician and bog oak sculpturer. This particular log of bog oak is 12.000 years old and was found at about 13 feet down in the bog. He explains that for every foot one needs to count a 1000 years. The wood has almost turned to coal. The sculpture represents a united Ireland with its four provinces (since the 17th century) Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connacht grouped clock-wise around Athlone (green stone in the middle). In the 1970s it was proposed in the Republican Éire Nua programme to make Athlone the capital city of a federal United Ireland. Brian believes that unification will be achieved through osmosis over time. A hard border however will do away with this vision and will cause differences and even violence too resurge.
In the direction on Rosslea further south on the Irish border, between Co. Fermanagh and Monaghan, I saw Daclan walking and pulled over. Daclan, wishes to remain relatively anonymous, so no last name or age. Interestingly however he told me he is half Irish, half Scottish, living in Scotland and visiting his relatives (mother's side) in Eshnadarragh (Northern Ireland) not far from Rosslea, a typical border town on the main road from Monaghan to Donagh in the North, Co. Fermanagh. Daclan, used to be an electrician but for the moment he is wandering Ireland and "reorienting" himself professionally. For him Brexit bears a double feeling. Although he voted remain for the sake of Scotland, he feels now that the political narrative becomes - predominantly (read: to much) European. He admits that he would perhaps vote differently next time around.
Arriving at Clones, this town has so many border crossings spread of such a small geographical area, that half of the time you have no idea in which country you are. Near Lackey bridge, I visited Marcus McCab's Hemp farm (Co. Monaghan). Kama Hemp juice (CBD) is the only organic hemp juice grown in Europe and has seriously positive health effects according to Marcus. And than there is Lackey bridge. It played an important role during the Troubles. "It cut people off from their neighbours. People from the north simply never came south. And there were a lot of killings because the killers would know how to get across and get away quickly" according to Cólm Tóbin, author of Walking along the border. The region around Rosslea is very particular in the sense that there are border "loops" such as "Burma road" on Donohue's Hill that was created by Marcus' grand father, and houses, sheds, fields and businesses that are literally on the border, they have as locals might say, "a foot in both camps".
Eamonn Fitzpatrick, 54, has been running his hardware store for over 20 years. He feels the financial pressure as the exchange rate is heavily impacted by Brexit. He tells me that the border runs through the very middle of his site. The price of fuel on the "right" is not the same as the prices of fuel on the "left", technically. In the picture he is standing in the North, I'm standing in the South.
Eamonn, explains that the truck from Dublin with fuel needs to pass at least 4 times the border before arriving at his business. "We are beyond lines fo division, although some politician may believe it differently". He is clearly angry, frustrated and afraid this political gaffe called Brexit is going to cost him and many business owners dearly.  He believes that unification is definitely in the books within a few years, though setting up a hard borders would revive unsettled trauma and would boost the smuggling business everywhere.
Heading over to the East of Co. Monaghan along the border with Co. Armagh and Co. Tyrone, I stopped for Tea and scones at Rose's Café in Caledon where I met Ann. Caledon was the epicentre of the civil rights movement granting Catholics equal rights as protestants. The trigger was a housing dispute in 1967. For a considerable time in modern history there was a clear segregation between Catholics and Protestants in terms of access to employment, housing and ......  . Ann is convinced that putting Brexit through a second referendum will end up in a remain vote.

On the road to Middeltown I passed through Glasslough where the Caledon estate marks the border. For Malachy Brexit is about British politics, something that is happening on the other side of the border and not related to the South as far as he is concerned. However, I could not help but sense a certain disdain for what was happing politically on the other side, across the Irish Sea, straight into London. 

South Armagh - Bandit country ... and final stretch of border before my final destination: Warrenpoint

"There are no more bandits, just cowboys"

South East of Co. Monaghan in C. Armagh, I met  Mr. James N. is very keen on not being photographed, though he agreed to stand on the little stone bridge crossing the river Fan. His red coat gives him away. James N. 68 is a retired milk famer in the Fane Valley 15 min from Castleblayney in the North. He used to work in Belleek in the china factory. Also for him Brexit and the hard border should not happen. As for some or many older folk they wish to remain anonymous as the memory of the troubles are not yet forgotten and a hard border for many could revive the violence.  First stop after Castleblayney is Cullaville another small border town close to Crossmaglen and home to "Brexit Fuel". Going further south east around Hackpalls cross I was invited by Francis O'Brien and his 3/5 young kids. Finding my way around the multitude of country roads and the meandering border is challenging and I 'm losing precious time. However, the border crossing at Forkill is an absolute must. The region is of outstanding beauty as it is looking upon the Slieve Gullion and its forest. The town on the other hand carries a heavy historic burden.  The former Forkhill Army Barracks site has made place for a playground and circular pathway to bring communities together as part of the peace process. The last part of the trip announces itself with roadsigns indicating Newry and Warrenpoint. The Irish Sea is near. From Forkhill I set course to the ruins of Moyry Castle another border crossing that is actually shared with one of the few  operating train tracks connecting Belfast with Dublin. At the castle I met Gary, who was checking on his cows together with his dog (a bordercolli). Gary is a 28 year old beef farmer since several years and reckons that Brexit is bad for business but not does not see unification happen during his lifetime although his parents would like to see it happen. He is convinced that the smuggling trade and other related criminal activity might start all over again with a hard border. Time to exit the "murder triangle" area all together and head for the Sea via the Jones Borough Roundabout carouselling me direction Warrenpoint. The coned structure in the middle of the Newry river marks the border. Before calling it a day I had one person still to visit.  I promised Darach Macdonald, I would visit a good friend of his. He  owns Fearons pub in Rostrevor: 94 year old Henry Kavanagh.
Francis, 56 years old, is a labourer and momentarily he is in between jobs and taking care of kids while his wife, a school teachers, is at work. On the question of Brexit he answers "shite". Customes may be put up again, "something we are used to but the troubles might come back again too".
And so I have taken my last portrait in the series. Henry Kavanagh. There is much to say, however there is one thing that stayed with me when I asked what he thought of Brexit and hard borders: although he was hard to understand but his demeanour was loud an clear: "they should leave it alone", while he looked away to the floor I could sense a heavy emotional burden; a sense as if all could become in vain. 

Sponsored by


photoblog on Brexit
Website via Visura

michelpetillo.com is connected to:
Visura site builder - build the best photography websites
Visura's network for visual storytellers
A photography & film archive by Visura
Photography grants, open calls, and contests
A newsfeed for visual storytellers