Thomas Keeley (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Walking, Reading, and Writing the Irish Border

The Irish Border runs 310 miles from Lough Foyle to the Irish Sea, and has divided the six counties of Northern Ireland from the Republic since 1921. Its sinuous route stems from 17th-century county boundaries, the irregularities of which are heightened due to the unique relationship between architecture, history, geography, and politics in these islands.

With the “Irish Question” remaining relevant to UK politics for more than 200 years, and now once more due to Brexit, this research uses lessons of the border to produce a public architectural history that looks forward and looks back. It views the contested spatiality of the Irish borderlands through three historical periods and in three acts: walking, reading, and writing the border.

Each period has been chosen to reveal the history of the border in different states of permeability: architecturally, culturally, and politically. These reflect its creation, its militarisation, and its subsequent deconstruction, each seen from the present. These are:

  • 1921–25: From Partition to the final report of the Boundary Commission.
  • 1969–73: From the beginning of ‘The Troubles’, through the closing of the border in 1971, to the last referendum on Irish unification.
  • 1993–98: From the creation of EU Single Market to the Good Friday Agreement.

This thesis relates these ‘periods’ and ‘acts’ to the ‘hedge school’: an 18th and 19th-century Irish pedagogical precedent used to develop a practice-led approach to history in three key sites along the border. Public events will ‘walk, read, and write the border’ to draw on the shared knowledge of locals and invited experts. The content and format of these events will derive from, and relate to, the specific histories of key sites along the border where the school takes place.

The research questions how the sites of the Irish Border tell the history of its past, present, and future condition. The timing of this is critical; conducted as the centenary of Partition in Ireland approaches in 2021, and as the UK exits the EU. It tests a way of practicing and producing a public architectural history that takes research beyond the archive and the academy, and responds to the specific geographies and histories of the border, as well as the daily practices around it.

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