I am a dripped trail of bitumen, defining the scored ground between Tyrone’s potholes and their Donegal cousins. I am a stream, clogged with black silage-wrap, dead sheep and discarded Coca-Cola bottles. I am the hunched hoodie in the Diesel Stop, two hundred yards inside the Republic, the thirty eggs for £3 or €4, whichever way you drive, the 40kg sacks of Polish coal, the mental calculation of Sterling to Euro and back, the tractors spewing mud, the shotgun-peppered speed limits, and I am always the line drawn through London before derry.
I am the queues on the Camel’s Hump, for ASDA’s cheap Christmas booze. I am DL plates in the Argos carpark and BHZ plates looking for fuel on the way home from Port Salon. I am the Bank Holidays that don’t coincide. I am Nordies jamming the roads to Rathmullan, and Free Staters waiting on parking places outside Foyleside. I am the place where On-the-runs taunted the Brits from the banks of the Mourne, and Gilanders the bastard of a Customs man, searched women for contraband butter and Gallaghers Blue.
I am the shallow river where cows were smuggled in the twilight — ‘You’d need a good lead cow for that, one who’d swim across and the bring then others with it.’ I am the imaginary marks that split Lough Foyle, leaving oyster beds and sandbanks under the Queen’s authority. I am crashed American airmen, slipped back to the North, in World War II, or as we know it here, Dev’s Emergency.
I am lookout posts, Army sangars, and memorials for old IRA men and murdered soldiers — and I’m now the grass that grows and the hedgerows unclipped, hiding the evidence of what I once was.
I am those yellow warnings — Attention/Achtung Drive on the Left Conduire à Gauche Links Fahren, and I am the committee deciding on the necessity of the backwards fada. And while we’re on the subject, I am Fáilte go Dun na nGall agus Teoraínneacha Luais Ciliméadair san Uair, and I can be Welcome to Northern Ireland, where the speed limits are in Miles per Hour, and where Northern is often crossed out with a black marker pen from the top of a Republican stepladder.
I am the debate on Unity and the last frontier of the Empire — a scribble in the dirt that can never be crossed. I am an idea, a construct of war, a barrier to peace — non-existent to some, and as much the Hindenburg line to others.
I am confusing to tourists, the end of the road works, the county line, the back-road, the farm, the field, the town, the European funded dual-carriageway. I am a sign of progress and a reminder of all our histories.
I was almost lost, almost forgotten, almost unused, and then one side of me decided to leave the other side, and now I am contentious, heated words, threats and accusations.
And yet, the joke is…
Well maybe not the joke…
If you passed over my spare scratch in the sod, you would never notice me.
You would continue, and not one stump of hawthorn would look any different.
I am redundant — never more than a notion, never more than an unconceivable line.by