Have you noticed the increase in southern cars on our roads? All summer long, it’s been unmistakable. (I’m thinking here of people visiting the north for leisure purposes as distinct from shopping trips - elsewhere on
this page are a few thoughts on cross-border shopping.)
Back when the war was in full swing, southerners avoided this place like the plague. Southern cars were as rare as holy water in an Orange Lodge. Only regular visitors from Donegal ventured across. For them, famili-
arity had bred complacency in spite of the troubles. Isn’t that the way life works? Fear increases irrationally when it involves travelling into the unknown.
So, for instance, when things were really bad here, we always thought they were far worse in Belfast. People who lived in Belfast always thought things were far worse here.
Perception mattered as much as reality. A Belfast man came here with a sense of trepidation early in the troubles. On his first day in Derry a friendly local asked where he had come from. “Belfast,” he replied. “You must be glad to be out of there,” said the Derry man!
So it was that we could hardly blame people from the Republic for not visiting us. It was one of the ironies of the long war. A struggle to unite the people of Ireland kept us apart. Of course, it also worked the other way
round. Some people were equally reluctant to go to the Republic. I heard of a northerner graduating from Trinity College, Dublin. His parents had no connection with the police or the army but they felt it wouldn’t be safe to attend a post-graduation celebration.
Now the barriers are breaking down. It’s down to peace. It’s hardly due to the weather or to favourable exchange rates! If you have any doubt about the trend, look around. The increase has been particularly marked in the
case of Dublin-registered cars. They’re like flowers appearing after a long winter, or in this case maybe more like flowers appearing after an ice age. They’re a sight to gladden
It’s obvious that a fair percentage of the Dublin cars are being hired at Dublin Airport but it’s equally good that tourists are now coming north. Experience is the antidote to ignorance and suspicion. Travel can broaden
the mind. So, may holiday traffic flow in ever increasing torrents but not, of course, literally. We’ve had enough of that.
There are signs that the changed political environment in the North is now delivering more visitors from the Republic.