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Ivan Little

Brexit witching hour passes quietly in Belcoo and Blacklion

Ivan Little


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Protesters on the border on Friday evening

Protesters on the border on Friday evening

Frontier: Ivan in Belcoo

Frontier: Ivan in Belcoo

Protesters on the border on Friday evening

Hold the front page. For the breaking news from the new frontier that appeared between Europe and the UK on the Cavan/Fermanagh border on Brexit night was that few people seemed bothered about partition's latest parting of the ways.

Hundreds of people may have attended parties or wakes in Britain, but in Belcoo in Fermanagh and Blacklion in Cavan, 11pm on Friday passed with a distinct absence of upbeat celebrations or downbeat farewells.

And at the witching hour the streets were deserted. The only other thing missing was the tumbleweed. Even the hardy band of protesters had gone.

Ninety minutes earlier a couple of dozen of them gathered on the stone bridge that separates the two villages, the two counties and the two countries to hold one of six demonstrations along the border.

Some of the others attracted national media attention. Not so the Blacklion/Belcoo protest.

Leitrim guest house owner JJ O'Hara, who is one of the leaders of the Border Communities Against Brexit lobby group (BCAB), conceded that fears of a hard border had receded. But he added that there were still concerns about the future, particularly over what the 11-month period of transition will bring.

He said: "We are very worried about what a new trade deal - if one is ever agreed - will mean to people along the border. I think it will be impossible to get things sorted in just 11 months and we could be left in limbo.

"So our campaign is far from over. We will be keeping up the pressure on the administrators on this island, in England and in Europe. We have support from people right across the border region - unionists and nationalists."

Parties and protests to mark Brexit in Northern Ireland [Photos] Close

Jim Wells joins Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast for a Brexit Celebration event. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Jim Wells joins Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast for a Brexit Celebration event. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Jim Wells joins Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a Brexit Celebration event. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Jim Wells joins Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a Brexit Celebration event. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Pro-Brexit activists celebrate at Stormont as the UK leaves the EU.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Pro-Brexit activists celebrate at Stormont as the UK leaves the EU. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st  January 2020 - 

Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a ‘Brexit Celebration’ event.

The United Kingdom is on the final countdown to leave Europe, more than three years after the nation voted for Brexit.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st January 2020 - Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a ‘Brexit Celebration’ event. The United Kingdom is on the final countdown to leave Europe, more than three years after the nation voted for Brexit. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st  January 2020 - 

Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a ‘Brexit Celebration’ event.

The United Kingdom is on the final countdown to leave Europe, more than three years after the nation voted for Brexit.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st January 2020 - Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a ‘Brexit Celebration’ event. The United Kingdom is on the final countdown to leave Europe, more than three years after the nation voted for Brexit. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st  January 2020 - 

Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a ‘Brexit Celebration’ event.

The United Kingdom is on the final countdown to leave Europe, more than three years after the nation voted for Brexit.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st January 2020 - Pro-Brexit members of the public gather at the front gates of Parliament Buildings, Stormont in Belfast tonight for a ‘Brexit Celebration’ event. The United Kingdom is on the final countdown to leave Europe, more than three years after the nation voted for Brexit. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Members of Border Communities Against Brexit arrive with their new poster at Stormont in Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Members of Border Communities Against Brexit arrive with their new poster at Stormont in Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sinn Fein activists calling for a border poll, stage a demonstration outside Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit Ireland. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Pro-Brexit supporters in Parliament Square, London, as the UK prepares to leave the European Union, ending 47 years of close and sometimes uncomfortable ties to Brussels. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Pro-Brexit supporters in Parliament Square, London, as the UK prepares to leave the European Union, ending 47 years of close and sometimes uncomfortable ties to Brussels. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

PA

Protesters from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit take part in a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Protesters from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit take part in a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

A countdown clock is projected onto 10 Downing Street, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm, ending 47 years of close and sometimes uncomfortable ties to Brussels. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A countdown clock is projected onto 10 Downing Street, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm, ending 47 years of close and sometimes uncomfortable ties to Brussels. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

PA

Protesters from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit take part in a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Protesters from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit take part in a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

Declan Fearon from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit during a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Declan Fearon from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit during a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

Damien McGinnity from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit during a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Damien McGinnity from the campaign group Border Communities Against Brexit during a demonstration in Carrickcarnon on the Irish border, ahead of the UK leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

PA

A count down clock is projected onto 10 Downing Street, when, at 11pm, the UK will leave the European Union after 47 years. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A count down clock is projected onto 10 Downing Street, when, at 11pm, the UK will leave the European Union after 47 years. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story POLITICS Brexit. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

PA

For me Brexit night was a tale of two villages and travelling in and out of the EU in the space of a couple of hundred yards.

I had gone south for a long-arranged birthday celebration in a restaurant in Blacklion, the village that, ironically, my father's family left to move north during another political upheaval in the 1920s.

But I was staying in a hotel in Belcoo, where I saw what local people insisted was a rare night-time spectacle - PSNI officers.

Two of them stood in a doorway not far from the bridge and a 4x4 police vehicle arrived soon afterwards. On the bridge itself a Garda car stopped just feet short of the border demonstration and the solitary officer inside watched the protesters, who watched him wondering which police force would do what if something untoward happened right on the frontier. Which it didn't.

By 11pm there wasn't a police officer in sight and there wasn't a soul on the streets as Brexit became a reality. The pubs in Blacklion and Belcoo weren't busy either.

The joke was that people were at home watching Arlene Foster on RTE's Late Late Show.

Inside McNean's restaurant Brexit was barely on the menu for conversations, though some Northern Irish customers jokingly enquired if they might need passports to get back across the border.

Hundreds of anti-Brexit campaigners have taken part in a number of demonstrations along the Irish border in opposition to Brexit. The anti-Brexit protests organised by the Border Communities Against Brexit group and Sinn Fein were held to mark the UK leaving the European Union.

Award-winning chef and owner Neven Maguire had said that a hard border would be a disaster for him because so many of his staff and his suppliers as well as his customers were from north of the border.

The restaurant has put Blacklion on the map but the village doesn't exactly have the air of a boom town. The number of shutdown shops and pubs is depressingly striking.

On Saturday morning Belcoo and Blacklion woke to the new post-Brexit dawn, questioning what all the fuss had been on the TV the night before.

One man in Belcoo put it all into perspective. "I was in bed by 10.30," he said. "I'm proud to say I slept through Brexit."

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