Friday, August 11, 2017

Something there is that doesn't love a wall

Garrett Carr's book, The Rule of the Land, is quite simply beautiful. It is written with style, immediacy and depth. The author has a novel idea: to walk along the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and to map and describe the detail along his journey. He relates memories from his childhood traveling with his father across the border into the north to buy cheaper goods and then shuttle them back to the south through customs. His father and others risked such trips despite the 'Troubles' and the presence of British troops then at border posts. Now, as Carr undertakes his journey, he reflects on the history of the borderland and its future, challenged by Brexit.

He begins his journey by boat paddling into the Carlingford  Lough in the east and ends when he reaches Lough Foyle above Derry/Londonderry. In between these two seas Carr tells us the stories of Ireland. He relates conversations with borderlanders he meets along the way. He tells us stories of achievement and conflict both recent and ancient. He sketches and photographs landmarks from prehistory and modern industry. And he weaves all of these tales into a poetic odyssey. 

The borderlands have witnessed both tragedy and human ingenuity. And the forensics are there to prove it. All the facts lie buried and preserved in the bogs, which the author crosses during his trek. Seamus Heaney's observation of the bogs' role as a  chronicle of history is the Bard's truth. 

Since the end of the 'Troubles' with the Good Friday Agreement, the borders have opened. Best they should remain that way. As Carr muses at the outset of his journey, (my summary of the author’s words) ’If only the Lighthouse in Lough Calingford could turn like a spool and gather up the border's twisting black line across the island, it would be a benign act indeed.’

Buy, read and savor this book. Borders the world over beware.

David Hillstrom