The Taoiseach and the Egg
Belturbet is a quiet border town spliced by the river Erne. It has around 1900 inhabitants and 22 bars. It has 6 churches, a GAA football and hurling ground, a 9-hole golf course and a boatyard where the Emerald Star hire cruisers are berthed. It is the farthest you can sail up the Erne. Three miles downstream is the border between the north and Eire, the river forming part of the border from Teemore Lough. The Erne then flows through County Fermanagh into Upper Lough Erne, through Enniskillen into Lower Lough Erne then down to Ballyshannon where it enters Donegal Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Belturbet used to be the main thoroughfare between Cavan and Enniskillen until the road was blocked. The road is shortly going to be restored at great cost. At the moment to get to Enniskillen you have to either go east towards Newtownbutler via the Wattle Bridge checkpoint, or west towards Ballyconnell via the Swanlinbar checkpoint. There is a customs house at Swanlinbar but as many times as I have crossed the border I have never been stopped or seen neither hide or hair of anybody.
Until 1975 you could drive from Belturbet to Enniskillen via the bridge over the Woodford River at Aghalane. However there was a bit of cross border smuggling going off and the British suspected it was being used as an arms route. They were probably right as well. One night there was an almighty explosion and the next day revealed a pile of stone where the bridge used to be and a massive crater on the north side of the bridge. The British Army had blown the bridge up as part of the security of the realm. The province they were protecting was Ulster. Cavan and Monaghan were part of the original province of Ulster but now had a border between them and the rest of their historic province.
At least everyone knew who had blown the bridge up. There was no secret about it. The perpetrator of a second explosion shortly after the bridge had gone after was less clear-cut. A caravan was parked outside the Post Office, next to the Railway Bar in the Diamond (Town Square). The bomb went off causing massive damage to the Post Office and the Railway Bar which was mercifully empty at the time. Nobody ever claimed responsibility for the explosion and even to this day nobody, with the exception of the person who planted the bomb, has a clue as to who did it or why. Everyone has their own theories of course along with their own version of events.
One notable happening during the explosion occurred in the Diamond Bar on the other side of the square. It seemed the draught of the explosion went in the direction of the Diamond Bar. The barman was blown off his feet from his side of the bar ending up in with the customers on the other side of the bar. He was shaken and apart from a few broken bones lived to tell the tale. He was very fortunate. Happily nobody else was injured except from a few cuts from flying glass.
It was the last bomb to go off in Belturbet. Nothing much too exciting ever happens in Belturbet these days. However you cannot be complacent. Charles Haughey the Taoiseach found that out one particular day. He was standing on a soapbox addressing a crowd at election time, representing the Fianna Fail party. Now, Belturbet and Cavan have traditionally leant towards Fine Gael and in 1997 a Sinn Fein candidate was elected to the Dail. Poor old Charlie, he took a direct hit from an egg, slap-bang in the middle of the forehead. Like the old trooper he was, he just carried on regardless trying to get his point across. The next day the photograph of him with egg on his face was plastered all over the Irish Times, The Independent and The Anglo-Celt.
The link between Belturbet and Enniskillen is to be rebuilt. The bridge at Aghalane is to be restored at a cost of over IR£1 million. Roads are to be carved through the countryside to the west of Belturbet. The town relies a little bit on the passing trade between Cavan, Monaghan and Ballyconnell so the new bypass could well hit the prosperity of the town. There is a mixed reception towards the plans from the townsfolk from what I gather. Many of them have relatives who live in the north and at the moment there is a 15-20 mile detour to get to the north through the existing checkpoints, so this renewal of the Derrylin road will make travelling much easier.
The 1996 IRA cease-fire was the catalyst leading to the reconstruction of the bridge. It had been talked about for years but this gave the Cavan planners their chance and they took it with both hands. Even when the cease-fire was called off in the IRA’s usual friendly manner, plans were so far developed that the bridge was going to be built anyway. It is a very costly project with no immediate financial gain but in the long term the road could become the second busiest road into the north after Dundalk to Newry, and it would be by far the easiest road from Dublin to Derry. Should the troubles escalate for some obscure reason the bridge could be manned at both ends, with the RUC at one end and Gardai at the other. It could be called Checkpoint Charlie after Charles Haughey. I’ll get me coat….