Ireland's problems are deepest on the Border
WALKING THE BORDER:The death of a young soldier led EDWARD BURKEto walk the Border. Here, he reflects on his recently completed journey
THE FINAL DAYS of my walk were very different to the beginning. In Donegal, I spent long hours walking through mountains, forests and bogland, lingering over sparing encounters with the people who lived and worked there. Towards Newry I basked in the hospitality of the Turkington family, and their Corvan relations.
I was also joined by my friends Anthony and Annaïck, who came up from Dublin to ease the weight of my pack and the length of the horizon. The busy towns and fields of Armagh banished any feeling of solitude.
When I crossed back into Monaghan and visited the village of Glaslough and Castle Leslie, noisy Range Rovers and a Jaguar roared up the drive for the next wedding. I found a quiet corner in the courtyard café where I was joined by Jack Leslie, fourth baronet and 95 years old, with a twinkle in his eye brighter than his amethyst ring. Leslie was anxious to know whether I had seen the best of the estate and the surrounding countryside.
Walking through south Armagh, I met the same courtesy and helpfulness that has marked my walk along the Border. One local man told me that Crossmaglen was “just a normal town with a square”, a statement that perhaps outdoes grand speeches on how much the peace process has changed Ireland for the better. But Crossmaglen appears proud of its Republican past. I walked by a large “IRA” notice pinned to a pole on the Newry road, beside a neat house and garden with a statue of a sitting Buddha.
Three weeks after I left the Donegal coast I caught my first glimpse of the Irish Sea on the afternoon of July 29th. I climbed over the Fews Mountains and Slieve Gullion, past the ancient Dorsey and Dane Cast ramparts built by the men of Ulster two millennia ago.
As the plains of Louth and Meath and the sea beyond came into view, a squall of rain whirled in from the east, drawing a hazy curtain on the south. I walked on to Newry and the end of my trek along the Border.
Ivor Turkington was there to meet me at the edge of Newry. It is now more than two years since Ivor and his wife Marie lost their son Neal, a lieutenant in the Royal Gurkha Rifles who was shot dead by an Afghan soldier who turned on his British Army advisers. My Border walk has been in support of the Neal Turkington Nepal Project.