Monday 30 January 2012

Drawing the line

Given our precarious position in a place that is not even half a centimetre wide (even though it is 360 kilometres long), the Frontier Post is extremely sensitive and vigilant on matters of historic and geographic accuracy as it pertains to partition.
We were irked therefore to read the following in the Irish Times on Saturday (Loose Leaves column, Arts & Books, Weekend Review, 28 January 2012, p. 12):
William Carleton
‘A poignant but celebratory commemoration will take place (in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin) tomorrow when a wreath will be laid on the grave of the cross-Border writer William Carleton (above). Born in Clogher, Co. Tyrone, Carleton was from a small farm background and was educated in hedge schools, one of them in the Emyvale area of Co. Monaghan. A convert to Anglicanism, who wrote widely about the issues of his time, he died in Dublin in 1869.’
While delighted that Carleton is recognised and honoured through the sterling work of Michael Fisher, Jack Johnston and others, we are quite sure the great Tyrone novelist would be astonished to see himself described as a ‘cross-Border writer’ in Ireland's 'newspaper of record' since the frontier was not established until more than 50 years after his death.
If the reference is not to his having attended school in the neighbouring Clogher Diocese parish of Donagh East, then it might be to his having moved to Dublin which, of course, was and remains outside the province of Ulster and within the Pale.
It does seem rather fickle however, to allude principally to Carleton's natural migration from the Irish countryside to the city with a mere passing reference to his move from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism.
Yet retrospective affirmation of the Border by extending its longevity back into the mists of time is not unusual. Nor is the increasing predilection of Dublin-based media to reduce the status of those beyond the Border to secondary status (if even that) in the Irish nation. This was most manifest in the recent presidential election when so many commentators seemed to believe that Ireland ceases to exist at Carrickarnan on the northbound lanes of the M1 motorway (i.e. the cross-Border M1).
Nor is it confined to journalists writing to tight deadlines, as might be argued for the Irish Times blooper above. Consider the following:
‘The paternal family of the poet, John Worthington Johnston, had farmed south of the border in County Monaghan from King William’s time, until in the 1860s, as a result of some skulduggery by the landlord and his steward, who wanted the prosperous farm for himself, they had to move. In the Clogher Valley, Johnston’s grandfather started afresh and turned unproductive land into a fertile farm…’
Ruth Dudley Edwards
The coincidence of ‘cross-Border’ moves between Tyrone and Monaghan and references to the 1860s, is probably no more than that. However, the latter quotation comes from Ruth Dudley Edwards (above) in her 1999 paean to the Orange Order, The Faithful Tribe (pp. 33-34). As well as being a writer, columnist and commentator, Dudley Edwards presents herself as a historian (UCD and Cambridge).
Little wonder, therefore, that the Frontier Post regards with growing alarm this pervasive ignorance of history and geography by writers and their sub-editors/copy editors. Even without reference to the political nature of partition, it should be basic knowledge that the Border could not be crossed until after its 1921 establishment under the Better Government of Ireland Act and subsequent 1922 acceptance by the Dáil majority of the Free State as outlined in the Anglo-Irish Treaty. 
Even today, the vast majority who cross it on a regular basis have difficulty accepting the Border as a legitimate frontier! It remains a subject that requires precision and care by those who write and edit.
The Great Gageby
So although he could be described more accurately as a ‘cross-Border writer’ – even though he too was born before its establishment –  the legendary editor of the Irish Times (and previously of the Evening Press) Douglas Gageby (1918-2004), above, was a stickler for accuracy in such matters.
A Belfast Protestant whose identity and vision encompassed all Ireland and beyond, the great Gageby always followed up errors or carelessness on issues related to partition with stern admonitions of his staff. 
Standards have slipped in the migration of the Irish Times from Dublin's Fleet Street to Tara Street, no doubt. So one suspects that those who turned up for yesterday’s William Carleton wreath-laying at Mount Jerome Cemetery may have noticed some disturbance in the adjacent grave of Douglas Gageby.

1 comment:

  1. And yet there are records of references to 'the Border' made in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (e.g the Catholic Association's "invasion" of Ulster in the 1820s). See 'Borderlands', by O'Sullivan and Gillespie (eds)