Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May Fermanagh visit: History shows Belleek has resilience to overcome any battle

PSNI and gardai in Belleek yesterday
PSNI and gardai in Belleek yesterday

By Gerry McLaughlin

She came, she saw and we watched from our Press pen with our pens waiting for morsels.

Security was tight around the historic Belleek Pottery and the building was cleared out at 4pm - almost an hour-and-a-half before Prime Minister Theresa May's visit as curious tourists boarded buses with pieces of the famous parian china.

The Press was put into a section and was told there would be no questions or interviews.

At around 5.30pm, a sweeping cavalcade of nine police motorbikes swooped down the main street.

They turned sharply into the entrance of the historic pottery.

Mrs May, who was wearing a black dress and leopard print shoes, stepped out of her car where she was greeted by Belleek Pottery managing director John Maguire and former First Minister Arlene Foster, who arrived 10 minutes beforehand.

A woman in the crowd shouted "Any progress" as the Prime Minister began a tour of the Pottery.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley arrived five minutes later but did not speak to the Press either.

This was an historic occasion.

The Prime Minister was visiting a village that lies almost half in Donegal, so she got a snapshot of the problems around Brexit.

If she wanted a real example of how difficult a hard Brexit could be, she could see it first hand in this verdant village.

Less than 600 metres from the pottery, there were two customs posts about 200 metres apart.

These posts, a northern and a southern one during the Troubles, were either bombed or burned out on a number of occasions.

Locals fear that history will repeat itself and that dissident republicans will see them as two sitting ducks.

That represents a terrible past that Belleek does not want to return to.

Meanwhile, on the Battery Fort in Donegal, 200 metres from the pottery across the river Erne, there is an Irish tricolour flying high, just in case the Prime Minister forgot where she was.

That fort was the scene of many bloody battles over the years, dating back to Oliver Cromwell, and a more recent battle between the IRA and the British State and its forces in Ireland during the War of Independence in 1920/21.

The fort towers over Belleek and the IRA used the wooded area around the fort to attack the then RUC station in the village during a period from the early 1970s to the late 1990s, when it was known as "Snipers Hill".

In an ironic twist, yesterday was the 31st anniversary of the last British soldier to be shot dead in front of the Carlton Hotel in Belleek in 1987.

The village is the final frontier, the most westerly part of the United Kingdom and owing to its strategic location on the river Erne, has been the scene of many bitter battles.

It suffered badly during the Troubles and the Carlton Hotel was the second most bombed hotel in Northern Ireland after the Europa in Belfast.

Indeed some farmers have farms that straddle the border, so many question how could they have a form of customs in the middle of a rushy field?

It is just 40 metres from Belleek Pottery to the Donegal border in the centre of the bridge of Belleek.

It then becomes Fermanagh for 100 metres and Donegal snakes back in again at a border supermarket conveniently called "Straddles".

Business currently flows freely between the two jurisdictions and there are around 60 businesses in and around Belleek that has proved its resilience, despite the Troubles.

As the Prime Minister left yesterday, one businesswoman was defiant, saying: "We beat the Troubles and we will beat Brexit."

Belfast Telegraph


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