In Northern Ireland, a Fragile Peace Is Threatened

Uncertainty over Britain's exit from the European Union has reopened wounds from a troubled past

The tranquil beauty of the borderlands today is a welcome departure from the decades of violent confrontation that once characterized its 310 miles of twisting, lightly populated territory. During the Troubles, British soldiers patrolled the land, doing battle with the forces of the Irish Republican Army.

The European Union has decided to continue negotiations with the United Kingdom over its departure. Many hurdles remain before Brexit’s final implementation, and few are more vexing than what to do about the border between the U.K. province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In Brussels last week, the European Union agreed that the U.K. has reached “sufficient progress” on key areas of negotiation, including the border. But many questions remain. On the ground in Northern Ireland, there is great unease about what the Brexit decision means for this still divided part of the United Kingdom.

Beyond the toolshed lined with scythes and harnesses and just before the landscape melts into a brilliant expanse of green, a slow-moving stream runs along Mickey Flynn’s property. It marks a wee bit of the border, as Flynn puts it, and like the rest of the 300-odd miles dividing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it’s free of barriers or controls. Outside Flynn’s front gate, cars gun it up the hill, leaving the village of Forkhill in a fog of dust as they head south over the border. With two currencies in their pockets, the people of the borderlands commute to jobs, dance at clubs, visit family graves; in short, they live their lives on both sides of the border.

For a country long defined by violence, this normalcy is rightfully prized. During the dark days known as the Troubles, Northern Ireland was convulsed in a guerrilla war of ambushes, kidnappings, revenge killings, and bombings. On one side was the Irish Republican Army (IRA), fighting for a united Ireland and an end to British rule, and on the other, the British Army and its allies in law enforcement deployed to keep the peace, as well as loyalist paramilitary groups battling the IRA. Crossing the border meant a gantlet of soldiers and customs officers, strip searches, and long delays.

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