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Trains, planes, automobiles and the road less travelled

To anyone who is wondering whether their flight will be affected by volcanic ash this week, I would say, wherever possible, take the boat and train.

It happened to me last Wednesday. Dublin Airport was closing down. I didn't even go there to try and catch my Air France lunchtime flight to London City Airport. I made my way to Dublin Port and caught the ferry to Holyhead.

Obviously, not everyone can, in all common sense, just catch a boat when the planes aren't flying. It would be impractical to look for a boat to Italy, or Bulgaria, or to the United States.

Airline travel is here to stay and we will have to find imaginative ways around the volcanic ash hazard — which also seems here to stay, at least episodically, over the next while.

But some of the imaginative means of transport will be alternative methods of transport; like the four Belfast businessmen who, during the April volcanic eruption, took a taxi to London. Good for the cabbie, who earned himself £600; good for the Larne-Stranraer ferry business.

When you've got to go, you've got to go — and you've got to find means of going. Boat and train journeys can be more relaxing than flying. Since ferries and trains are less vulnerable to hijack, sabotage or terrorism, security measures are much less stressful. Journeys over sea and land also allow the traveller the sense of perspective that they are quitting one country and moving towards another.

And that sea journey out of Dublin Bay is redolent of so many collective and historical memories — the old mailboat that carried so many emigrants to and fro.

Travel through north Wales is |a Dylan Thomas experience, |with the high mountains and |unpronounceable names of |train stations passing by in the summer mist.

Similarly, on continental Europe, one cultural landscape gradually changes into another. This kind of travel prepares you better, psychologically, for the displacement that movement entails.

I am not advancing a romantic notion that we should accept the end of the jet age. No, business and modern forms of transportation must go on.

But I suggest taking a more pluralist approach to the movement of peoples. There isn't just one way to go, there are many.

There will, obviously, be longer term effects and cultural fallout from the Icelandic volcano. Both Britain and Ireland will become more geographically conscious of being islands.

I would hope that Ireland's enhanced consciousness of being an island would have an anti-partitionist effect. I deplore the way that the volcanic ash story is reported as if it were a political event, dividing ‘Northern Ireland' from the ‘Republic of Ireland'. It is an event of nature, and geography, not politics. Ireland is one island, |containing a plurality of cultures; one can be a pluralist anti-|partitionist.

The volcanic ash experience will, surely, prompt a revival and a renaissance of trains, which are an excellent form of transport within any island. It may even encourage the creation of a tunnel between Ireland and Britain, like the Channel Tunnel.

And it would be useful to do a study on whether a bridge from Ireland to Wales would be viable — like the amazing Oresund Bridge, which runs between Sweden and Denmark. Oresund has become almost a country in itself, being literally a bridge between nations and thus neither one nor the other.

Exploring alternatives to air transport is going to be a learning experience and some human behaviour may have to adjust to a wider sense of collective co-operation. The ferries from Ireland and the trains travelling through Wales and England were full to brimming last week and I expected someone to mention ‘the Blitz spirit'. But life today is more individualistic than communitarian and everyone was too busy communicating through their iPhones and Blackberries to get involved with fellow travellers.

There's a plus side, of course, to all this individualistic technology; on the high seas, I received a mobile message from my son: “You have a lovely brunette granddaughter — just born.”

No wonder the bay of Dublin seemed bathed in an opal beauty.

Mary Kenny is the author of Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy (New Island Books)

Belfast Telegraph