It is always good to read a walking book that is written by a well-educated person who is happy to share their thoughts with readers, and Garrett Carr easily falls into this category. A lecturer in Creative Writing at Belfast University, he writes in a fluent style easy to read and manages to sustain the readers' attention.
The book takes us on a journey along the Irish border from Carlingford Lough right through to the Fermanagh lake country before it turns north through the writer's native Donegal. There is a blend of personal experience of encountering people and places and history, with a little Geology as background, all expressed in the clear language that is the trademark of an accomplished writer. Eschewing the romanticising of Ireland that bedevils some people, he gives a "warts and all" view of the places that he has visited. He is ready to speak of gun battles and murders that have occurred, and he is prepared to tell you when the terrain through which he walks is difficult and boggy and hard to cross. Yet he balances the accounts of the difficult bits with some powerful writing which opens up the landscape to readers.
Several stretches were travelled by canoe with a companion, including one of my favourite lough, Upper Lough Macnean on the borders of Fermanagh, Cavan and Leitrim. Indeed, it was the prospect of making a literary journey through my old haunts that drew me to the book.
The book can be read for leisure, but in the present febrile climate of the United Kingdom it has an undertone of immense significance. Put simply, the foolish British nationalists who have misled the people into voting to leave the European Union did not take into account the problems that leaving would cause on the still vulnerable Irish border. Or did they care? Probably not. The locals have become used to crossing the border without checkpoints, and all are thriving in this peaceful regime which gives strength to the Good Friday agreement. But with the hard exit from the EU favoured by the right, border controls will have to be erected again, and they will be countered by the traditional Irish pastime of smuggling. The Rule of the Land tackles this issue through the personal experience of the writer, and he does it well.
The border people whom he meets en route strike you as very ordinary and mostly friendly folk, and it is their voices and histories that we hear when Carr recounts their speech. We discover their fears and hopes for a peaceful and safe future, and as a border dweller for a short time I share their fears of a return to violence.