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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK
Border bridge reunites communities
In the run-up to this week's European election, BBC Northern Ireland's Dublin correspondent, Shane Harrison, visits an EU-funded project to see how it brought long-separated communities together along part of the Irish border.

The small bridge at Aghalane over the picturesque Woodford river, part of the Erne-Shannon waterway, may not look all that impressive.

Aghalane Bridge
The bridge has turned a 12 mile journey into just two
But to local people on the Cavan-Fermanagh border, it's special - and not just because it has an artwork beside it celebrating peace.

The bridge, which opened in 1999, was 75% paid for by the European Union.

It replaced another one blown up in 1972 by loyalist paramilitaries.

Until then, people on the Northern Ireland side of the border shopped two miles up the road at Belturbet in County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland.

There they met friends and traded cattle.

But once the bridge was bombed and not replaced, a 'mini iron curtain' came down separating the two communities in the two counties leading to a major loss of contact.

That is because what was once a two mile journey then became a 12 mile trip, with the likelihood of further delays caused by security check-points.

'Not a bit slow'

So, people like Joan Bullock, whose family farm is just on the Fermanagh side of the river, largely turned their back on the south and started shopping in Northern Ireland.

For her, the new bridge is very welcome, not least because it is helping to bring the long-separated communities together again.

"Some of the shopkeepers have changed and they would not be a bit slow about asking you who you are," she says.
Joan Bullock says bridge reunited long-separated communities
Joan Bullock says bridge reunited long-separated communities

"And whenever they'd hear the name Bullock, they'd say: 'Ah, yes, you're from Aghalane.' So, we're picking up the threads again."

Without its Northern Ireland shoppers, Belturbet went into a sharp decline with many businesses having to close.

Anthony Vesey, a local shopowner, remembers all too clearly the economic devastation.

"No northerners were coming to shop. And they weren't coming to sell cattle, to do any of the normal things, banking, things that you do on a daily basis. All this ceased," he says.

But times have now definitely changed for the better, according to Raymond Johnston, a Belturbet butcher. And he says it is mainly thanks to the EU.

"The new bridge, sure that brought a new lease of life around. It's so easy getting access down there and them up here."

The EU may not always get a good press, but at least the people in this small border area are grateful that it has helped reconciliation with its bridge over what were once the troubled waters of the Troubles.

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