Ireland, too, is divided over how to vote in Friday's referendum

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NEWBLISS lies eight miles south of the border with Northern Ireland. It was settled in the 17th century by Murray Ker, a Protestant Scot from rocky Lanarkshire.

Why Newbliss ? "When they saw these rolling fields they thought they'd walked into their own hymns," a Scottish researcher once told me.

Historically and topographically these counties, Cavan and Monaghan, belong to Ulster. Demographically, they are a mix very similar to Fermanagh and Armagh - but a peaceful one. In The Black Kesh pub, I've heard both national anthems played at the end of a Saturday night. The garage where you buy drink takes English and Irish money.

In 1922, these counties were excluded from Northern Ireland by a line drawn by the Boundary Commission. Everyone here knows that if the ink had flowed another way, there'd be villages in these shallow quiet valleys where every house would have lost someone - just like twenty miles away, in exactly similar valleys.

Helicopters would shadow the glossy Friesians, who gaze at you down every lane; fluffy Alsatians would pop from the hedges beside British boys with rifles. These are some of the day-to-day external tokens of things you hope might stop over the border - if there's a "Yes" on Friday in the referendum.

But "Yes" feels a long way off. Ingrid Adams, whose husband Gerry Adams plays accordion in the Band of Drum Orange Lodge - the only place in the Republic where Ian Paisley has a church - isn't sure how she'll vote. Like many, she's confused by the Republic's Amsterdam Treaty referendum, also happening on Friday. "It's bad enough being asked to make up your mind on one question, let alone two."

Ingrid works at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, set up 20 years ago on the border in the midst of the Troubles. It gets money from both Arts Councils, Northern Ireland and the Republic. Artists, writers and composers from both sides come and work here.

The house was left to the Republic by the Protestant theatre magnate Tyrone Guthrie, who died in 1971 after outraging everyone as Chancellor of Queen's University, Belfast, when he told matriculating students of 1969 that, as the educated elite, they should ignore "that senseless border down the road". The centre keeps Guthrie's tradition of equal employment for Protestant and Catholic. "My own wish", said the Belfast-born Director Bernard Loughlin, "is for the reintegration of Ulster's nine counties within a federal Ireland where the decency and respect I see here could prevail in a new Beneluxembourg of the North."

Every emotional and technical issue for Friday is a crown of thorns: like the TV theatricals over released prisoners. I've heard the clause which amends Articles 2 and 3 in the Republic's constitution attacked from both sides. "It means giving up our claim on the North! It's legalising partition!" said the Dublin-born Deidre, marshalling a Nationalist "No" vote. "It means a foreign state has territorial interests in my country," said John Hunter from Antrim. "It's the first step to a united Ireland."

"I must look at the leaflets", said Ingrid. "Some people are saying, Don't vote at all. If we don't vote `yes', we'll be sitting here with no change. But - well, I don't know how I'll vote."

Newbliss has new lamp-posts. "Peace Process money,", says Eddie, driving me from the bus. And there are new pavements, also laid with money from the Special European Programme for Peace and Reconciliation that has brought millions into these border counties already. So here's one tangible result.

Maybe "Yes" won't mean new bliss, exactly, even here. But new light - or a new footing, equally under everyone's shoes - seems a handy little omen.