You can recall the time of the ‘unapproved border crossing roads’? Large signs were erected, with the legend: ‘motor traffic between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State is prohibited on this road’.
I don’t think I’d ever have gotten to know the lanes and byways so well but for that prohibition. It seemed like my patriotic duty to find out and cross each and every one. We did it for sheer defiance but others had the wisdom and enterprise to ferry disallowed goods across both ways for some economic benefit. Smuggling was the term applied by the authorities and none disagreed. Personal gain and patriotism became synonymous, much to the delight of participants.
At periods of ‘Troubles’ a new element was introduced. Armed sentinels to dodge! In the late 60s and early 70s we socialised in Dundalk at weekends and I shall never forget the first time, on our return, with drink taken, we were made to disembark to be searched and questioned by the young Tommies. My companion who was a bit of a wag approached a nervous young recruit wielding a rifle almost as long as himself.
‘Here!’ he asked the soldier. ‘Is that a real gun?’
He was told it was.
‘Is it loaded with real bullets?’
‘Well, keep me covered!’ said Brian.
‘I’m going for a p**s!!’
With literally thousands of routes to guard from Carrickarnon to Derry City, the task was impossible. With bouts of hysterical Unionist outrage (widely published in the press) that terrorist invaders could so easily cross from the Irish Republic, ridiculous measures – the spiking, then the blowing up of, then the blocking of roads with massive concrete emplacements – were at times attempted. These were so easy to counter, farmers for example having filled in ‘blown-up’ roads as soon as the Army retreated, that a strong propaganda coup was handed to those who rebelled. It also allowed the latter to perform a useful service for the community and thereby gain mass approval.
We used to take the Upper Fathom Road to Omeath, and smile condescendingly at the long line of vehicles in the traffic jam below, held up by the huge Security Post at the Victoria Locks. We would have our day-out, our quota of cheap drink and cigarettes on our return via the same route, while hundreds of others observed the letter of the law and disavowed the ‘unapproved route’. Of course we also had a story to tell of how bravely we had defied the authorities.
There were penalties infrequently applied to those who were caught smuggling.