The New Frontier. Reflections from the Irish Border: True North

Complex and timely collection offers visions of decoded or reimagined borders

A former customs guard hut: In his introduction, James Conor Patterson’s view is the Border “has done more harm than good” – but not all his contributors need agree. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty

A former customs guard hut: In his introduction, James Conor Patterson’s view is the Border “has done more harm than good” – but not all his contributors need agree. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty

Early in her powerful essay, The Silent Treatment – one of a series of arresting new texts brought together by James Conor Patterson in The New Frontier: Reflections from the Irish Border – the Fermanagh writer Maria McManus captures the reality of life in a society that cannot function properly.

An unwanted visitor comes to the family home: “a man is screaming like a wounded animal at our door in the night-time”. This is the countryside near Belcoo, on the Fermanagh-Cavan border, where doors cannot simply be opened – not at midnight, not without a calculation. This might be an ambush; the family might open the door to face death. Eventually, the decision is made to open the door – and now another problem looms. The howling man is a member of the British security forces – but nobody will come to look after him. No ambulance, no police, no paramedic – not to these borderlands, at midnight. The social contract, then, has not simply broken down; rather, it never, in any normal sense, existed here in the first place.

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