Belfast Telegraph

Couple whose love survived border barrier fear return of checkpoints following Brexit

Walter and Margaret Pringle who live close to the Monaghan-Fermanagh border
Walter and Margaret Pringle who live close to the Monaghan-Fermanagh border

By Rachel Farrell

A couple who recall queuing at the border on their wedding day have said any form of physical infrastructure must not return.

Walter Pringle spent three years travelling from Clones, on the Monaghan-Fermanagh border, to meet his then girlfriend Margaret, who was living in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. They married in 1975.

Walter (71) recalled the difficulties he faced, navigating the rural roads.

With the prospect of a hard border returning as Brexit nears, the Pringles are nervous for the future. Walter, who has spent all his life in Clones, said: "I have too many memories of this road being closed with what we called 'spikes', they were steel girders. We just cannot even get our heads around thinking what it would be like to have this road policed again.

"I'd rather die. I've had a good life up to now. I don't want to go there. We can't go down the road of a divided Ireland ever again, because of economics, because of politics, whether it's European or British politics or whatever."

Just three miles from that border, or "only a mile and a half as the crow flies", lies the Pringle's family home.

Inside is Margaret, the woman Walter married after those three years of cross-border treks.

In 1972, Margaret had moved to Dungannon to pursue training as a deaconess in a Presbyterian church. Love was also in the air, but the path was far from smooth.

"For three years it was a continual issue of crossing the border in order for me to come to see her, or for her to come up home to see me," Walter added.

"Even the day we were married, I can remember us queuing at the border. It didn't matter who you were, we queued for ages. You had to allow yourself that extra hour or whatever."

Travelling across the border, facing checks by "soldiers you couldn't tell were real soldiers or people pretending" and traffic delays were a daily reality for the Pringles and thousands of others living along the border in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.

One moment stands out for Margaret, when their car was pulled aside by the Army. The Pringles had their two children in the back seat. "We knew, we could understand what was going on. But for the kids, for the car to be pulled in, it was scary," she recalled.

The idea of a return to those days is "unthinkable", said Walter, while admitting it has dominated his thoughts recently.

"At the time I wasn't aware so much of the danger, even though it was horrific. My southern-registered car parked in Dungannon, as I spent time with Margaret where she lived. For some reason, I wasn't as scared as I should've been," Walter added.

"Heading back home, I can't remember ever having checked underneath the car. I was a sitting target in a southern registered car, coming every Monday night, it was such an easy target if anyone wanted to have a go at a southerner.

"My poor mother, living here and staying up until I was home before 10 o'clock. No way can we ever anticipate the idea of checks at the border again."

Margaret recalls hearing the bombs going off when she lived in Dungannon, but says the reality didn't sink in until a relative of hers was killed.

Billy Fox, a Fine Gael member in the Dail and a distant cousin of Margaret, was shot dead by IRA gunmen in March 1974. "I remember I was off with the flu or something when my boss shouted up at me to see if I was awake. 'Something awful has happened', she said.

"That was the start of it sinking it for me, someone belonging to the family, and across the border too. It was beginning to resonate with me."

The pair recently took part in a "romancing the border" storytelling night hosted by the Monaghan Community Network.

Couples from all walks of life and both sides of the border met up to discuss their stories of love, heartbreak and tales of sneaking out to meet each other. It was set up in the early 90s in response to the Troubles coming to an end.

Brexit hasn't been a key topic of conversation among many of the members, but the question of border checkpoints has.

For now, all anyone can do is wait and see how it plays out.

"I keep thinking to myself, hopefully it won't go back to what it was like. That it'll be a modernised one with maybe just cameras, more linked in with produce crossing the border, opposed to political risks and that kind of thing," Margaret says.

"I hadn't really given it much thought until about a fortnight ago when it was becoming more likely to have a hard border. Then you begin to really think back to all those years."

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