Ireland’s darkest hour

Sonja Tutty

In Northern Ireland, there are about 2,000 Trouble-inspired murals painted on houses. Credit: The Independent

In the summer of 1985, Siobhan Maguire and her friends spent an evening at a disco in the Hillgrove Hotel in county Monaghan

On the bus home, a passenger was brought to their home across the border. When the coach reached the border, it was stopped and police armed with shields and guns came onto the bus to do a security check.

Looking for anything posing a threat, the police left Siobhan alone as she was Scottish and they were primarily focused on anyone with possible connections to the IRA.  The Irish passengers then were questioned and extremely intimidated by the police.

Anxiously waiting for the bus to be let across the border, Siobhan heard the man seated behind her utter, “Scottish b*stards”.

This October has marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Troubles, meaning that at the age of 49, a majority of Siobhan’s life was made up of the daily tensions and turmoils of the Troubles. Being half Irish and half Scottish, her family spent their summers in Clones, county Monaghan, located less than a mile away from the border.

During these summers, she was often mocked for for her Scottish nationality. Likewise, spending the rest of the year in school in Scotland she endured negative comments for being half Irish, which put her in a never ending cycle of criticism.

After completing school in Scotland, Siobhan decided to move to Clones where she started her job as a clerical worker.

However, her move to such a tense area in Ireland during such a heated time meant that her social circle and general surrounding included active IRA members. She watched these friends and acquaintances entangle themselves in the nationalistic agenda of the IRA and then watched them be sentenced to prison for their involvement in explosions or attacks. Many of them are still serving out their sentences today.

Even the local electrician who did the wiring for Siobhan’s house was put under investigation for a bomb found in the town. All though he claimed the bomb was placed there by someone else, it was later uncovered that he was involved in the manufacturing and attempted detonation of it.

Surrounded by the turmoil and fear of the Troubles, it is no surprise that Siobhan moved in and out of Ireland to Scotland, but eventually permanently settled in Ireland. During her visits to Scotland, she met her then husband and had two children with him.

Siobhan eventually settled in Clones and currently lives their with her second daughter, Roisin Maguire who was born in 1997.

Roisin is now 21 years old and while she spends weekends with her mother in Clones, for the majority of her week she lives nearly 90 miles away in Dublin as a student in DCU.

Sitting across from her in the bright blue couches of the DCU library, we talked about how life for her mom has been so different than it is for her.

“I’m definitely grateful I never had to deal with border police,” she said. “My whole childhood consisted of us travelling over to Scotland which meant always crossing the border.”

While the majority of Siobhan’s life is defined by the Troubles, there is a stark difference between her experience and her daughter’s, who is able to commute to and from her workplace in Northern Ireland and between Dublin and Clones for college without the fear of unwanted confrontation or verbal abuse.

On that bus between Clones and Dublin, Roisin’s biggest worry is sitting next to someone who doesn’t wear deodorant, rather than having passengers pick up on her accent and harass her for it. Where Siobhan feared that the armed police at the border would target her, Roisin worries that the bouncer at Nubar may not let her in because she’s forgotten her student card.

However, a very real concern for Roisin is the consequence Brexit might have on the border.

“I would be worried about losing my job across the border if worst comes to worst, or that there will be difficulty in crossing when I do go to work,” she explained.

Roisin may not have friends in the IRA or an electrician who dabbles in bombing, but Brexit has brought back a certain fear or concern over the border. With Ireland and the UK constantly in talks and disagreements over the topic, it’s hard to say how things will turn out.

But, the new border can not be the same as the one Siobhan crossed in the summer of 1985.

Sonja Tutty

Image credit: The Independent