North/South

Padraig Rooney

At the end of the 1960s, just as the Troubles were starting, I learned to drive in a blue Volkswagen on the minor roads criss-crossing the Irish border, my father on tenterhooks in the passenger seat. Undignified by markings, these roads remain unlabelled and unnumbered on Google Maps. If they had names, they were for townlands, grand Plantation houses or abandoned highways: Bessmount, Mullaghmore, the Old Armagh Road. Visibility was poor and the verges treacherous. Tractors, often with trailers or muck-spreaders or a horse box, might block the road. Herds of cattle had to be chaperoned back to where they belonged, or set loose in no man’s land. There were potholes galore. The roads were inclined to flood because the water table was near the surface. It was poor rushy land, trapped between hills in the floodplain of the Blackwater River. Turloughs – small lakes – emerged after heavy rain.

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