Some big news last week was that new research found that two-thirds of people in the Republic say they have no friends in Northern Ireland – and over 50% said that they haven’t travelled across the border in the past five years. Meanwhile, more than half the people in the North say they, too, have no friends in the Republic of Ireland. But just 25% of Northerners say that they haven’t travelled south in the last five years.

There were lots of other questions asked, too, and the conclusion drawn was that partition had become a fact. The research was carried out for The Irish Times and ARINS (Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South), who have examined other topics in 2022 as part of the North and South series.

I was in the car when I heard these research findings. I was immediately cross at the unnecessary labelling of people, which – I suspect – is unfair.


Friendship is a spontaneous thing, and a beautiful result of people being interested in each other – maybe because of circumstance or a hobby that brought them together. People come together because of beliefs or belonging to various organisations. They might have studied together or even grown up together and remained close because of their shared experience.

I began to think of our friends around the country. To be a real friend, I have to feel safe in their company. I have to know that my problems, joys, fears or successes will stay shared between us. A real friendship means you can probably call to visit and maybe stay over. You might even holiday together. The bottom line is the friendship experience is enjoyed by both parties. As I thought of my friends, I realised that there were quite a few counties where I had no friends. That doesn’t mean that I chose to stay out of that county. Our lives change and evolve. There were also friends that I hadn’t visited – or vice-versa – for the last five years and more.

The focus on travelling North or South in the last five years is very distorting to the whole question. We’ve been in and out of lockdown while living in the shadow of a global pandemic for almost three of those five research years. It has done untold damage to friendships and it will take time to build it all back.

Some people are anxious and cautious as a result of their particular experience and have been reluctant to travel. I believe that this type of negative research focus can only give a negative result and, consequently, will make people uneasy and do damage to North-South relations. It feeds into political negativity, which is very fragile and fractured at present.

Tim and I have travelled to the North over the years. We journeyed through some of the northern counties in 2021 and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. We have some strong acquaintances and farming colleagues in the north and we’d be happy to have them visit us.

The Troubles

The Troubles ran for a period of almost 30 years, all in my lifetime. During that time there was understandably little interaction or traffic between the south and the Northern Irish counties. I know my family wouldn’t have dreamt of venturing northwards. People were genuinely fearful. We will never understand what the people of Northern Ireland went through. A piece of research that focuses on negativity is not helpful. It tends to indicate that there’s blame to be attributed and that is no foundation for new friendships.

A positive research project looking at how friendships could be rekindled would be far more beneficial. People did lose touch over the duration of the Troubles. Families moved away in order to keep themselves safe. I had a great friend from Belfast who I lost touch with because of the Troubles.

While I was pondering all of this, Tim came in for his lunch. “I was in the jeep listening to the radio and they were talking about people not travelling to the North. There are [other] counties that we don’t travel to and don’t have friends in,” he said. Tim was also annoyed. We went through the counties and the friends and, yes, we have lots of friends, but we drew a blank in quite a few! Food for thought indeed.

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