A collaboration with the Knockatallon Ramblers hiking club on a project which examines the potential of a slow contemplative, reflective move through natural and urban geography as an embodied phenomenon, experienced along the Irish/Northern Irish borders length, crisscrossing the borderline.
Knockatallon in Co Monaghan is sandwiched between Armagh city and Enniskillen (Co. Tyrone), in the Slieve Beagh hills. Since beginning the project I have walked with the Ramblers, and with six other hiking clubs from North and South of the border who make a habit of routing walks that crisscross back and forth from Northern Ireland into Ireland and vice versa.
Since the partition of Ireland and Northern Ireland in 1922 ‘The Border’ discourse is dominated by the twin authorities of Religion and Governance and has been primarily focussed on contested territory and authority. In recent history 'peace' has opened up the possibility for local communities along the 360km border to expand the limited narrative of that space..
As I walk with the club I bear witness to the rituals of hiking – shared car rides, a uniform of waterproofs, a pace set, silences, breathing, stopping and looking, loosing oneself in thoughts, a pause to drink, a story volunteered , bird naming, landmarks noted, a pause to listen to histories recounted, the sound of wind, rush of blood in ears, falling in and out of couplings, the grounds solidity shifting, rows formed, stepping into footprints, nose runs, the linger of rain, warm innards on a steep climb, lights dim and brighten, trees roaring in the wind, the long high panoramic view, stretched calves, the leaders whistle, directions followed, hills and terrain noted, body strains….
In this liminal space I have experienced a ritual of ‘knowing’ evolve.
Co. Monaghan has the longest International county boundary in Europe, touching counties Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh in Northern Ireland. 'The Border' is the only international border in the world that is not physically marked at road crossings. A huge network of roads crisscross along its length and locals will tell you they know they’ve crossed the border because road markings and signage are different on each side. Even now, though I grew up in Monaghan a few miles from the Armagh/Monaghan border, I still use the road markings, the thickness of the white line, the colour of road signs, to get my bearings, to orientate myself – north or south.
In 1973 there were one-hundred and four road crossings connecting County Monaghan to the Counties it touches in Northern Ireland; Armagh, Tyrone, Fermanagh. In 1974 there were six. Ninty-eight crossings were closed by the British Government in that short time.
Since the peace process all of the crossings have been reopened, meaning that generations of border people have developed a ‘sense of place’ of their home that has been altered and re-altered. The shifting ‘sense of place’ in this location is rarely explicitly considered.
Yi Fu Tuan in his theories on Space and Place raises the relationships between mobility and a sense of place, and the relationships between time and mobility. Tuan asks us to consider how long does one take to change an experience of a place from ‘knowing about’ to having a ‘feel’ for a place. He proposes that time spent in contact, experiencing the place at some level, is necessary to make that transition.
'Peace' has opened up the possibility for local communities along the 360km border to expand the limited narrative on that space.
Emerging from the research carried out to date with the hikers through hikes, meetings and workshops, I would suggest that broadening the Border discourse requires this transition from ‘knowing about’ to having a ‘feel’ for a place, and that the border region hikers have achieved this within their own community through their particular intimate, slow interactions with geography. I am interested in their re-articulation of place and the possibilities that the articulation offers within this art project.
This project seeks to broaden discourse to include intimate versions of the place, to investigate the possibilities for new articulations by means of critical cartography and the phenomenon of a slow contemplative, reflective move through natural and urban geography. The act of walking along the borders length crisscrossing is visualized by the hikers as, 'blurring' the line. To 'blur' is to push the dominant narrative out of focus, to offer alternatives and to shift the focus from delineation and control to embodied moments that exist liminally.
Received the Arts Council of Ireland's, 'Artist in the Community' Scheme, Phase One: Research and Development fund & Arts Council of Ireland's, 'Artist in the Community' Scheme, Project Development fund.