12 January 2012

Watching the Border

The French Geographic Journal EchoGéo has just published a paper where I discuss my map, The map of Watchful Architecture 1.0. The paper is online at this link. It is illustrated and in English. Apart from details from my own map the paper is also illustrated by this Crown Copyright map, below. It shows Division H, the area under the supervision of Brigadier Peter Morton when he was sent to head up 3rd Para in South Armagh during the Troubles. Dealing with the border was a major part of his duties. The border along Division H was not so long, most of it within view of Slieve Gullion, a peak 273 metres tall. Yet it had 43 cross-border routes.

Click on the map for a closer look.

The perforated border was a security problem for Morton's troops. It was a convenient escape route for attackers. It was not well marked, leading to the occasional southern straying of the troops themselves, causing diplomatic incidents with the government of the Irish Republic.

During those years many political figures were calling for the complete sealing of the border with a fence or wall that would then be patrolled and defended. Morton, who daily felt the effects of the open border, nonetheless rejected such ideas. In his memoir of his time in South Armagh he remarks that such a construction would have been "against democracy." This makes best sense in the context of the time. Winston Churchill's use of Iron Curtain metaphor was still reverberating across Europe. The closed border to the east and Berlin’s division were powerful political symbols. The government of the United Kingdom was not going to build anything comparable to that Soviet instrument.

In 1976, shortly before Morton’s deployment to Northern Ireland, Margaret Thatcher made a speech to the Finchley Conservatives. It was to become a well-known speech as it was when the soon-to-be prime minister embraced the term Iron Lady. Who better to do battle with an Iron Curtain? In the speech she said “Socialism is the denial of choice, the denial of choice for ordinary people in their everyday lives … Socialists don't trust the people. Churchill did. We do.”

The border area between Armagh and Louth. A detail from The Map of Watchful Architecture 1.0. Other views of the map illustrate the full paper at EchoGéo.

The military operation in Northern Ireland during the Troubles never did involve a large-scale sealing of the border. However, especially in South Armagh, many towers and checkpoints were built to guard over the area. We trusted people, but some people needed watching.