Wednesday, January 08, 2020

'The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide' - Max Heslinga (1962)

With all the clamour about Brexit's hard border, soft border, technological border, blah blah blah, I've heard nobody talking meaningfully about the cultural differences within the island of Ireland. It's all jurisdictions, administrations, bureaucracy, talks, parties, elections, border polls and politics.

But without an understanding of cultural values, traditions and their holistic expression within communities, all that politics and elections do is give those communities some little say once every four years or so as to who rules them and how they are ruled. Democracy isn't always empowering, or stabilising, for the demos.

The late Dutch academic geographer Dr Marcus Willem (Max) Heslinga's book was once well-known, but is hardly ever mentioned today. He travelled around Ireland from 1959–1961 - even the structure of the contents pages show a mastery of the subject. He saw the concept of the border as a reflection of cultural difference, a 1920s outworking of many centuries of cultural formation, but one which had broken the British Isles and not just Ireland.

He talks about the 'land boundary' and the 'sea boundary' - from the back cover blurb '...the Irish land boundary could be interpreted as a cross-channel extension of the Scottish border...'.

The foreword by Estyn Evans' is about as concise and clear as it's possible to be, and even though it's an academic publication this is 210 pages of accessible, well-reasoned and highly recommended reading, a fascinating pre-Troubles cultural study. And he uses the term Ulster Scots with ease.

Whatever the political future might be, culture and community matters more.