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21 January 2010 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Border busters challenge Ireland's 'Berlin Wall'

BY MÍCHEÁL
Mac DONNCHA

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the process of German reunification began. Irish republicans were quick to point to the fact that while this was happening, the partition boundary in Ireland was being reinforced by the British Army and RUC, with the help of the government in Dublin.
After Partition was fully imposed in 1922, communities along the frontier between ‘Northern Ireland’ and the Free State were disrupted as roads were closed or destroyed, towns cut off from their natural hinterland and sometimes even family farms split up. Following the start of the conflict in 1969 the process was renewed with the British Army blowing up bridges and placing concrete and steel barriers on cross-border roads.
This process was always resisted and communities often reopened the closed roads. But after the Hillsborough Agreement of 1985, collaboration between the British and Irish governments was stepped up, including the closure of more roads and bridges and the construction of a network of reinforced barracks, hill-top forts, spyposts and checkpoints along the Border.
In the late 1980s community resistance to the closures was also stepped up. A grass-roots movement of communities became known as the Border Busters and organised acts of resistance where local people used machinery and their bare hands to reopen the roads and rebuild the bridges. People travelled from around Ireland and abroad to take part and the British authorities became increasingly concerned.
While the world watched the events in Germany, the censored media in Ireland largely ignored the events along the Border here. On 14 January a crowd of 80 people had almost completed the reopening of the border crossing at Ballagh Bridge on the road between Emyvale in Co. Monaghan and Caledon in Co. Tyrone. A large body of RUC members disembarked from two helicopters and fired a volley of plastic bullets indiscriminately at the crowd of men, women and children. One young man, 19-year-old Kevin Connolly of Augher, Co. Tyrone, was hit on the forehead by a plastic bullet and was hospitalised in Monaghan with a fractured skull.
That same weekend 11 people were arrested on the Border near Derry city when they attempted to open a bridge linking Shantallow with Co. Donegal. Sinn Féin Councillors Eddie Fullerton (Donegal) and Mitchel McLaughlin (Derry) were among those arrested by a force of British Army and RUC which was deployed in over a dozen armoured vehicles. At Sloane’s Bridge on the Monaghan/Tyrone border British soldiers crossed into Co. Monaghan while gardaí and 26-County troops co-operated with them in destroying the bridge that had just been repaired by the local communities. Monaghan Sinn Féin County Councillor Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin condemned this collaboration.
Undaunted by the attacks, the Border Busters returned to work on more crossings between Monaghan, Fermanagh and Tyrone on 21 January 1990, 20 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

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