mountain biking in the brexit borderlands pt.1
The constant buzzing of the M1 motorway can be heard throughout Ravensdale. The arterial route that links Dublin and Belfast, the main crossing point from Ireland into Northern Ireland, and the UK. In fact, the Ravensdale forest occupies parts of both The Republic and Northern Ireland. The constant buzzing is a comfort though. A peaceful white noise that contrasts the sounds of the past. This area of Ireland has been home to more haunting, dangerous and vicious noises throughout history.
In Irish mythology, the Táin Bó Cúailnge took place in this area. An epic battle between Queen Medb of Connaught and Fergus mac Róich of Ulster over the bull, Donn Cuailnge. Only the legendary Cú Chulainn was able to bring an end to the war and peace to the area.
In more recent, and real times, this area has been associated with The Troubles and The IRA. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of hills, trees and trails out here. It was the ideal place for the IRA to train, stockpile weapons, murder and even hide bodies. Some of whom have yet to be found. One of the most notable claims regarding Ravensdale from The Troubles is that Robert Nairaic is hidden somewhere in the hills. Nairaic was accused by some of orchestrating The Miami Showband Massacre. He was reportedly undercover when he went missing from a pub in nearby Dromintee. He was never seen again.
During this time there was a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. You knew you were getting close to the border as you could see the lookout towers appear in the distance. As you got closer you could see the army helicopters circle above. Next, you’d catch glimpses of camouflaged snipers hiding in the hedge alongside the road as you slowed for the checkpoint. Soldiers armed with machine guns then knocked on the drivers' window. Flanked on both sides, I’ll never forget them. My parents hushed us kids in the back and explained to the soldiers that we were only going to the shops in Newry.
The Good Friday agreement thankfully brought an end to all this. The border was opened, the checkpoints removed and now the first signs of crossing the border is when speed limit signs change from km/h to m/h. Ravensdale then became a place for families instead of terrorists. The forest is now for kids to play hide and seek, rather than criminals hiding bodies. The hills are busy with people running, training for marathons rather than war. And the trails are full of mountain bikers.