Winds of change for Irish village bisected by Brexit border

Published Mon, Mar 11, 2019 · 09:13 AM

[PETTIGOE, Ireland] In a sleepy village bisected by the Irish border, the local post office is flooded with applications for Irish citizenship as the Brexit endgame looms.

Pettigoe's Irish postmaster James Gallagher said the applications doubled soon after Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in 2016.

"Since then it seems to be doubling every year."

"It's up even in the last few months. Since new year's we had another 40 or 50 percent on last year again," the 60-year-old told AFP as he greeted customers at the counter.

Residents of the British province of Northern Ireland are entitled to citizenship of the Republic of Ireland under a 1998 peace accord that brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence in the region.

Since that time, village life has brought Pettigoe's two halves together across an invisible border that could become a hard frontier once again if Britain crashes out of the EU on March 29.

Gallagher's office -- twinned with a British Royal Mail office only open on Monday afternoons -- gets a third of its business from the other side of the village.

The majority of his lottery tickets are sold to the British, he said -- a hangover from a time when Ireland offered the lottery but its northern neighbour did not.

Such quirks are typical in the village.

In the north the post boxes are red, to the south they stand green. The Irish side, by a stroke of luck, has all of the pubs.

On its morning rounds, the red Royal Mail van crosses briefly into the Republic -- the quickest way to complete its British route.

Surrounded by craggy outcrops and panoramic loughs, Pettigoe is bisected by the Termon River which flows along the territorial dividing line.

One stone bridge is marked with a barely visible arrow -- the only demarcation of a border that has become the main point of contention between Britain and the EU.

Village life was not always so calm.

During the decades of sectarian violence known as "The Troubles" Pettigoe was bombed several times.

Local mechanic Mervyn Johnston, 79, a specialist in tuning Mini Coopers for rally competitions, used to serve in the British army's Ulster Defence Regiment and had his garage blown up twice.

"It was a bit hectic for a few years," he said.

"I don't think it'll ever come back to as bad as it was."


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