Southern Border Counties

The partition of Ireland and the recent conflict have had, and continue to have, a profound impact on the Protestant communities in Ireland’s border counties.
The minority population had to come to terms with a new state in which some did not wish to reside and in which they have not felt fully included or valued. Over several decades, a decline in the Protestant population and sense of vulnerability and isolation reinforced the belief that the community should keep their heads down and keep to themselves. This difficult situation became more entrenched as the sectarian violence of the Troubles fostered an atmosphere of intense suspicion, fear and silence. The closure of cross border roads during the Troubles led to further isolation with many cut off from their friends, neighbours and in some cases they would have to take a considerable journey to attend their regular church as the direct route may have been closed.

Engaging Protestants living along the border in the Peace Process remains a challenging but essential task if a genuinely shared society is to be realised. The Peace Impact Programme is making important inroads with many of those who previously saw the Peace Process as irrelevant to them.
Orange Lodge Member Alan Madill speaking at an IFI event
Albert Allen, Programmes Director for Tyrone – Derry and Donegal Action (TDDA) based in Raphoe, says the Fund support is helping to break decades of self-imposed silence and build an understanding of border Protestant experiences among the majority Catholic community.

“When we designed this programme we were conscious that there was a certain amount of ‘silent sectarianism’ in the county. Evidenced not by direct discrimination, but rather that the majority community can sometimes seem oblivious to the needs of the minority.  This, together with pressures felt by Protestants in Donegal during upsurges of violence in the North has led to a certain amount of “keeping their heads down”.

“However Protestants in Donegal have in the main, good working relationships with their Catholic neighbours while just across the border in areas of Tyrone and Londonderry/Derry where community tensions during the Troubles were very high, there is still evident community polarisation.” 

“Yet, perhaps because of this community polarisation and the awareness that there is still a major gap to bridge, there appears to be a greater willingness among Protestants in Northern Ireland to get involved in the Peace Process.”

Angela Graham of Drum Development Association agrees. “This is the first time we would have dealt with peace issues,” she says, “It is challenging working with Protestant groups because they are so diverse. It is difficult to reach consensus on issues.”

Her project in Drum village, Co Monaghan is reputed to be the only wholly Protestant village in the Republic. It used IFI support initially to promote activities and events. It provided equipment and some musical instruments for two local marching bands, Drum Accordion Band and Mullaghboy Accordion Band from neighbouring Co Cavan and to Drum Village Development Association. 

She says, “Previously we had little opportunity to interact with the Catholic community. Not everyone wants to get involved even yet, but there have been successes such as a picnic run in the village which had 1,000-1,500 people, including IFI board members.”
The first event of the project, organised by Mullaghboy Accordion Band, was a well attended cross- community barbecue. This event took place in September 2014 and the special guest for the evening was the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys. 

For Alan Madill, Deputy Master of Cullies 14C LOL, resistance to cross-community interactions can be traced to misunderstandings of the Orange movement and Protestant culture. Through the County Leitrim Orange Order Peace Impact Project, he has led a number of initiatives aimed at debunking the myths and identifying common ground.

He says: “The idea was sparked because we knew that many people had a poor impression of the Orange Order given the controversy that sometimes surrounds the organisation in places like Belfast. We all get tarred with the same brush.

“We wanted to make ourselves more widely known in the community. We are a minority within a minority, having only 30 Orangemen in the county and two Orange Halls. 
“We also produced a leaflet outlining what the Orange Order stands for and held a number of events in our Orange Hall. We wanted to show people who would never have darkened our doors that there is nothing offensive in the hall. 
Former MLA Nelson McCausland pictured with members of Drum Accordion Band
Dancing classes were organised by Drum Accordion Band as part of the PIP project
“I think we have opened the eyes of many as to what we are, and more importantly what we are not. We are not a sectarian, Roman Catholic-hating organisation, but simply a group of people who get together in a fraternal body. We are also a community organisation”.

In the last year the project developed and published a book, ‘Leitrim, A County At War’, which details all those who died in the Great War and gives a glimpse of what life was like back at home during that period. It’s an important step towards identifying shared heritage and common narratives.

Despite enduring a significant share of violence related to the Troubles, there is a feeling that the story of Protestant border communities is not recognised or viewed as being important. It is an issue that TDDA sought to address as they hosted a number of workshops on such themes as: Protestants and the Irish Language, leadership, parading, victims and survivors, the role of churches and cultural organisations in peace building and the attitudes of Protestants in Ireland. Ex-combatants and security force members were also participants in the process.

Albert Allen from TDDA adds: “The story telling sessions, where victims and survivors related their experiences during the Troubles, were very powerful and quite moving. They showed what some people had come through particularly in the North and how terrible the community divisions were.”

He acknowledges that engagement with a community which had learned to keep its head down requires various approaches and the change, both in attitude and behaviour, takes time. 

“Overall there was a very good take up of the programme with excellent attendance at events - we attracted around twice as many people as we had anticipated. However, the process of peace capacity building overall can be quite slow. We at TDDA have been involved in delivering programmes for eight years in Donegal and we feel we are only really at the point where we have built solid relationships laying the ground work for further development. This is surely not surprising as the work of unravelling hundreds of years of hurt and conflict is not going to happen overnight.”

Contacts for this project:

Gwen Lanigan

Area: Louth Monaghan East Cavan
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 00 353 87 6304380

Catherine Ryan

Area: Sligo Leitrim West Cavan
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 00 353 87 0626406

Mary Moy

Area: Donegal
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: 00 353 87 3544924

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