The former railway station in Augher is now a coffee shop with the best valued Ulster Fry for miles around. The waitress is blessed with the quickest of Ulster wit and a wealth of local knowledge; a far remove from the sulky surliness of the metropolis.
The walls have reproductions of posters for excursions to Bangor (including eight hours at the seaside) and the races at Tynan. A map at one end shows the routes run by the local trains; trains that ceased to run before the Second World War. A number of black and white photographs show Augher in its railway days: one of them seemed to have a poignancy about it two local men stand in the company of a local policeman, the three smiling at the camera. The policeman has a cigarette in one hand and there is a mood of relaxation, a mood in which there is no sense of anticipation of the times that were to come.
Driving the road from Newry to Markethill and thence to Armagh city and Aughnacloy, the brilliant blue skies gave no hint of the weather there had been. The River Blackwater was full to overflowing and ‘road closed’ signs remained from the previous night’s deluge. A soccer field to one side of the road declared its presence by only the crossbars of each goal remaining above the dark flood waters.
Each place was as neat and well maintained as the previous one; it was hard to imagine that these towns and villages had once been names on the BBC news headlines; hard to imagine that the people, who are amongst the warmest and friendliest one would meet anywhere, were once caught in the centre of years of bloody conflict.
Time was when our Dublin number plate would have been reason not to have parked in certain places, but now there would hardly be a thought about where not to leave the car.
There is a moment to look again at the policeman and his companions? Is his uniform that of the old RIC? Did he know what future lay ahead for these townlands and counties?
Driving back on a dark evening, there is a road swinging south at Augnacloy, the border is crossed in an instant, without awareness that an international frontier has been crossed. A few miles later, the road passes by Clontibret.
“Wasn’t there something to do with Peter Robinson here one time?”
“There was. Wasn’t there a march or something?”
“I don’t know. What was it about?”
“What was it about? What was any of it about?”
What would the three men at Augher station have answered?