Strabane Customs Post on the #Strabane#Lifford bridge modernised in the 1960’s became an established feature of local life. The British-Irish borderline ran through my identity and my life – swinging between the stamp of fear and the pleasures of peace. Persistent poverty in rural #Donegal after Partition meant continued depopulation in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s, when many sought work in Scotland, England and the US or moved into Northern Ireland in search of work as both my Donegal parents did. In the 50’s, a bomb in Strabane’s unemployment centre brought back memories of the Civil War and “Black and Tans” terror to night-time stories. Daytime, I rattled holes in my home-made frock when I borrowed my brother’s ball-bearing cart to play with my best friend, the son of the Protestant RUC constable next door – a good playmate for my Enid Blyton inspired imagination of British identity. Impossible for such children today as the “Troubles” meant more segregation in social housing in Northern Ireland in the 21st Century than existed in my childhood – not less.
Citizens in Northern Ireland of all persuasions were aware of some of the advantages of a strong Labour Party in post-war UK. High unemployment in Strabane was offset by social housing, free education and health care. Without a student grant, I wouldn’t have made it to Queen’s University Belfast in 1968 and onto the streets to demand Civil Rights for all including ONE MAN, ONE VOTE. Challenging the binary Catholic Nationalist versus Protestant Unionist divisions helped make me a feminist later and sowed the seeds of awareness of vested interests in binary opposition.
Civil rights campaigns in NI were hijacked by sectarianism. Paramilitaries emerged manipulated by criminal gangs and politicians. Polarised violence came to our doors, homes and streets with many innocent casualties. Post-traumatic mental health problems persist and take on a new shape with each generation. Young people growing up in “the Troubles” experienced what Derry poet and novelist Susannah Dickey describes as “perceptions of identity which are often reductive and binary.” Is there a route to a more plural and diverse society on both sides of the border?