hidden europe 62

Beating the border: the Catholic dioceses of the island of Ireland

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The Roman Catholic cathedral in Armagh is the hub of a diocese that now spans the outer edge of the European Union (photo © Anna & Piotr / dreamstime.com).


The boundaries of ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes often show scant regard for secular administrative boundaries. We discover a French Roman Catholic diocese where the bishop’s pastoral responsibilities extend to parishes on both sides of the Atlantic. And in Ireland we see how, since the UK left the European Union in early 2020, there are now Catholic parishes which are bisected by the outer edge of the EU.

The UK’s referendum in June 2016 on that country’s future relationship with its European neighbours threw a range of issues relating to the Irish border into sharp focus. With the British decision to quit the cooperative project of European integration, everyone was chatting about borders and backstops. Villages like Pettigo, split by the inner-Irish border, suddenly found themselves playing host to journalists and camera teams keen to understand how everyday life might develop if one half of the village remained in the European Union and the other part was wrenched away from the Union as Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the UK, made a decisive split with the EU.

The answer of course was that no one in Pettigo, nor indeed anywhere else along the 500-kmlong inner-Irish border, could give the curious visitors any hint about how cross-border affairs might be managed in the post-Brexit era. Though the most widely reported comment from residents living on or close to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was the quintessential Irish formulation: “We’ll manage, to be sure. We always do.”

One hundred years on from Irish partition, a national pragmatism ensures that life continues despite the border. The trains still run from Belfast to Dublin, and thankfully the days are long gone when terrorist threats could play havoc with cross-border rail services.

Many Irish institutions operate in a sensible cross-border fashion. There are of course few institutions which are more Irish than the Roman Catholic Church.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 62.
Related article

Focus on fish

Many a coastal community, and even one or two inland spots, have realised that there's no better way to promote trade and tourism than through a colourful display of freshly landed fish and other seafood.