Friday, October 10, 2014

The Confusing Division in the North

This is one of the roads we traveled in Northern Ireland. "Road" is generous.
The surface relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is a curious thing. There is no border that I saw and when I asked about a border, I generally got a a tiny smile and a change in subject. They were partitioned by British Parliament in about 1955 during The Troubles when people in the North wanted to bring everybody together in opposition to England.

I don't know if that indicated a sensitivity to the topic or a simple unfamiliarity with why there is no sign of a border. These are separate countries, not just states in a single country. They have different histories and have not always liked each other, primarily, I think because of religion (the north is primarily Catholic, the south Protestant).

In Northern Ireland, it's miles for the highway signs and pounds for money; Irish Republic uses kilometers and the Euro. Those simple differences can be both confusing and inconvenient for a traveler and maybe even for a citizen. Kenny Martin lives near the dividing line in the Irish Republic. My guess is that has to keep two kinds of money with him, depending on where he's going to spend it and he would need to pretty quickly be able to translate kilometers into miles (and kilograms into pounds--the weight, not the money).

Sarah McCloy, who was born in the North and attended a tiny protestant elementary school there until she was "six or seven" had to leave when her school was bombed and destroyed. She was raised in England and studied elocution. She has more of a refined British accent than an Irish brogue, but she is Irish through and through and harbors no obvious ill will toward those who hated her when she was a child. The healing seems genuine among the Irish, but the border? I just don't know.

Sonya and I kept both pounds sterling and Euros with us, but our rental car (a little tin bomb that oversteered radically) showed us how fast we were going in km/h, while signs in the north gave speed limits in mph. we had to translate on the fly or simply follow the other traffic's speed. We were later told that the Irish like to speed.

We're in Scotland today where everything is uniform, including the school children in their blazers and pleated, tartan skirts. That will make it a smudge easier to negotiate and give us a little less to think about.

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