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Here's to bandit country: the Irish border, writing's new frontier

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Once overshadowed by Dublin and Belfast, the border regions are finally being recognised for inspiring some of Ireland’s best writing – and it’s not all about Brexit

Ask anyone where they think about when they think about Irish writing and they’ll probably say Dublin or Belfast. When it comes to writers from the border regions, they may mention Brian Friel or Seamus Heaney, but for most people, the border between the republic and Northern Ireland is usually regarded as an area whose existence is contentious, where terms are unfavourable and the writing is characteristically unfeminine. It is an area that Labour’s former secretary of state for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees referred to as “bandit country” in 1974, and perceptions have been slow to shift.

Yet the region has catalysed some of the country’s finest writing and never more so than today. Since the Good Friday agreement, the border region is no longer the insular, provincial place you’ve read about. These days it’s the setting for hit TV comedies about teenage friendships, Michael Portillo train documentaries, pioneering city of culture bids, and parody Twitter accounts. Suddenly the border seems the whip-smart, funny and sophisticated breeding ground its inhabitants always knew it was. It’s also become a political centre of attention again, thanks to Brexit, and its writers and artists are no longer willing to relinquish control of its narrative.

There’s me at the Brexit negotiations. pic.twitter.com/sVuFOahZ3o

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