Border village fears return to past with Brexit

PSNI and Garda officers stand exactly on the border in Belleek ahead of Prime Minster Theresa May's visit. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Gerry McLaughlin in Belleek

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

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

The press was told there would be no questions or interviews.

At around 5.30pm, in brilliant sunshine, a cavalcade of nine police motorbikes swept down the Main Street, built wide in Plantation times so that cannon could be mounted to repel invaders.

Mrs May stepped out of her car where she was greeted by pottery managing director John Maguire and former First Minister Arlene Foster.

A woman shouted “any progress” as the Conservative leader began a tour of the building, where she was meeting around a dozen local businesses.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley arrived but did not speak to the media either.

The prime minister was visiting a village that lies almost half in Donegal, so she was given a clear idea of the complications posed by Brexit.

Less than 600 metres from the pottery, there were two customs posts about 200 metres apart. Both were either bombed or burned out on a number of occasions during the Troubles.

Locals fear that history could repeat itself in the event of a hard Brexit, a past that Belleek does not want to return to.

On the Battery Fort in Donegal, 200 metres from the pottery and towering over the village from across the River Erne, a tricolor was flying high, just in case the prime minister forgot where she was.

The fort was the scene of many bloody battles down the years, from the days of Oliver Cromwell to the War of Independence, and the wooded area around it was used to attack the then RUC station in more recent times.

Belleek is the final frontier, the most westerly part of the United Kingdom.

It is just 40 metres from Belleek Pottery to the Donegal border in the centre of the village. It then becomes Fermanagh for 100 metres before Donegal snakes back in again at a border supermarket called “Straddles”.

Business currently flows freely between the two jurisdictions and whatever difficulties people have faced, they have always proved their resilience.

“We beat the Troubles and we will beat Brexit” said one businesswoman.

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