Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Heavy Rain.
My older son qualified as a driver last year and has never driven in the Republic. We went into the Republic in a two-car “convoy”. My wife, self and granddaughter in one car and my son, His wife and two other children in the second car.
Omeath (population 600) in County Louth is just 5 kilometres (3 miles) across the border. There are of course no security or customs checks. In real terms, the border does not exist. How that will change when BREXIT becomes effective might well be a problem.
County Louth, nicknamed the “Wee County” is the smallest in Ireland but has two well populated towns, Dundalk and Drogheda. Like all border counties, it is partly defined by the Border itself. A Border that no nationalist, north or south wanted, there is nevertheless a cottage industry of Smuggling. Whether it was previously cattle or sheep, border farmers often availed of subsidies in Ireland and the “United Kingdom”. Simply cattle and sheep don’t know that the fields they are being driven into are in the north or south. So subsidies and grants were often claimed twice on the same animal.
In 2017, there are more sophisticated forms of Smuggling…Fuel for example. Drivers in border areas will often fill tanks on the side of the border that happens to be most beneficial. And The Troubles certainly added to a specific “border mentality”. Arguably the Peace Process is under-pinned by British authorities turning a blind eye to scams such as money-laundering. After all, the North uses Sterling and the Republic uses the Euro.
It was always like this. Across Carlingford Lough is Warrenpoint in County Down. As a child, over fifty years ago, I watched on a Sunday as seemingly old motor boats filled up with passengers, nearly all men to be taken to Omeath. The passengers landed at the (now) disused jetty. Why?
Well until the early 1980s, pubs were not allowed to open on Sundays in “Northern Ireland” and the unlikely seafarers satisfied their thirst in Omeath.
The Troubles in the North gave rise to northerners who worked in places like Newry, choosing to buy houses in Omeath and raise children away from the toxic north. As the border is now invisible, the commute is even easier now. Newry is about 10 minutes by car. There are also a lot of holiday homes in the area.
Omeath is part of the Cooley Peninsula, somewhat isolated from the rest of County Louth. A road runs from the Newry border thru Omeath, Carlingford (and close to a small port, Greenore) and to Dundalk thru Lordship. The road encircles the Cooley Mountain. According to legend, this was the mountain on which the boy Setanta, later the Red Branch warrior Cuchulain played hurling. Each year, the Poc Fada (Long Hit) Competition is held. Hurlers from all over Ireland will gather on the mountain to commemorate Setanta.
On the outskirts of the village is Calvary, a garden administered by the Catholic Order of Rosminians. The feature here is the fourteen Stations of the Cross, a shrine to St Jude (patron of Lost Causes) and an oratory constructed in 2014. There is also a small burial plot for members of the Rosminian Order.
It is a family tradition to stop at Calvary. It was one of my late mother’s favourite places.
We then drove the short 8 kilometres (5 miles) to Carlingford.