IRA resumption could bring down Kiltyclohger's bridge

 

NOT MUCH in the way of excitement happens in Kiltyclogher and the people who live there would like it to stay that way.

The Co Leitrim village is jammed up against the Border, a position that now and again has caused it to hold its breath and cross its fingers.

Back in the 1970s a few bombs were set off by unknown people at dead of night in Kiltyclogher.

Whoever the bombers were, they blew up the dance hall behind Phil McGowan's pub where Sinn Fein occasionally held social gatherings.

Another night a bomb ripped through the technical school and nobody could figure out why.

But for the most part excitement, of the good or bad kind, isn't part of the way of life in Kiltyclogher. A touch of normality is what most people there would most desire because for a long time that has been denied them too because of the Border which divides the river that circles the village.

After the ceasefire, normality began to make its presence felt again, gradually and almost grudgingly. And then the bomb went off in Canary Wharf and it was time for Kiltyclogher to hold its breath again, cross its fingers, and hope.

Not long after the Troubles flared in the 1970s, all the roads leading from the village to the North were closed. At first, the British squaddies across the river in Fermanagh blasted craters in the roads to make them impassable but the local people immediately filled the holes. Then the soldiers blew up the main bridge out of the village, cutting off north Leitrim's main artery into the North.

The other three roads from Kiltyclogher to the North were blocked by massive blocks of steel reinforced concrete. It meant that where once people could drive across the river to Fermanagh that might be only a mile or two away, they were forced to journey as much as 50 miles to cross to the North at Ballyshannon or Blacklion.

A narrow footbridge was built to replace the main bridge and on Sundays 40 or 50 Protestants from Fermanagh would drive down to the river, park their cars in the North and walk across the river to attend service in the Church of Ireland parish church in Kiltyclogher.

The first footbridge was a rickety wooden structure and one night in 1978 when Eddie McCaffrey was crossing it on his way back to Fermanagh he was swept into the water and drowned. Peter Brennan died the same way on his way back from Kiltyclogher on a night in 1981.

A memorial stone has been set up on the Northern side, commemorating the two men and blaming the activities of the British army for their deaths.

The ceasefire wasn't long in place before the main bridge was rebuilt by the British and the concrete obstructions removed from the other crossing points.

The British government moved faster to restore some semblance of normality than the authorities on the Southern side. Months passed before the rough and potholed road approaching it from the South was repaired.

Publican John McGowan says the reopening of the roads from the North has made a noticeable difference. "It's a quiet place around here, but the opening of the bridge is definitely making a difference," he says. "People are starting to come back.

"I've met people from across the Border that I hadn't seen in 25 years.

The dance hall that was blown up in the 1970s, when John's father, Phil, ran the pub, is at the rear of the premises. "We never found out who did it and we don't talk much about it," says John.

"There hasn't been much trouble around here. The Catholics and Protestants get on well together on both sides of the Border and help each other out on their farms.

So far, since the end of the ceasefire, there's been no move to cut off neighbour from along the Border at Kiltyclogher. But Tracy McGriskin, a university student home on holiday, the troops are definitely back.

"You mightn't notice them too much but they're back again on the Border," she said. "You can see the helicopters again too. It's a pity.

"There's a good mix of Catholics and Protestants here and great relations between them. I'd be afraid that if the roads were closed down again it would damage the strong community spirit that you find here."

Lorcan Rooney, a retired health board employee, who lives a few yards from the dividing river, is aware of deeper and wider divisions.

"A lot of people around here were greatly disappointed when the ceasefire was called off because of the consequences it might have for us living here on the Border," he says. "But the border of the mind is what really matters. No matter how many land borders you get rid of, the border of the mind can still be in place and that's the worrying thing. What we need is neighbourliness, comradeship and trust."

A statue of Kiltyclogher's most famous son, Sean Mac Diarmada, an executed signatory of the Easter proclamation, stands in the middle of the village. His back is set firmly against the Border at the bottom of the hill behind him. There are some who still remember his words: "Damn your concessions, Britain give us our country."