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Photography

What might Britain’s E.U. withdrawal mean for the Irish border? A photo essay.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

In September, I took a road trip with photojournalist Louie Palu along the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, which is not. It meanders some 310 miles through idyllic countryside and picturesque towns. As we drove southeast from one end, in the city of Londonderry (also called Derry), to the other, in Newry, it was hard to comprehend the sectarian conflict that this partition once incited.

Louie Palu/Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Border checkpoints first appeared shortly after the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, cutting through towns and choking some local economies. This “hard” border remained through the three decades of conflict between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists that began in the late ’60s known as the Troubles. British military checkpoints were also established along it in an attempt to contain the violence. More than 3,600 people died during the Troubles, and thousands more were injured.

Louie Palu/Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

An old customs post in Northern Ireland faces a farm in County Armagh heading toward the Republic of Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 ended the conflict and led to the removal of this infrastructure, creating the “soft” border that is traveled so freely today. Approximately 270 public roads crisscross it, and on some, you can’t always tell exactly where.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

The subtleties can be as simple as a contrast in the pavement, as seen in the first photo on the road from Londonderry to the village of Muff in the Republic of Ireland. In Belleek, there is a gas station situated in such a way that when you walk through the front door, you’re in the Republic of Ireland, but when you exit out the back, you’re in Northern Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

All this makes it difficult to imagine restoring checkpoints and customs controls, which the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union could require. What to do about that winding line between the two Irelands has become a sticking point in Brexit negotiations.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

There could be other consequences, too. This past year, attacks on police, the killing of a young journalist and a bombing in a border village were attributed to Brexit stoking relatively dormant sectarian tensions. It is unclear if political leaders will figure out a solution by the time the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. What is clear, though, is that they run the risk of endangering a hard-won peace that the creation of the European Union helped secure.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A dog and horse on the Northern Ireland side of the River Fane. The trees in the background on the other side of the river are in the Republic of Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Standing in Northern Ireland just outside the Republic of Ireland, on a road heading into the town of Clones. If you drive on this road for seven miles, you will reach Clones in just over 10 minutes — and cross the border four times.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A former official flag of Northern Ireland — known as the Ulster banner — flies in the Protestant enclave of the Fountain, which is surrounded by mostly Catholic communities in the border city of Londonderry (also called Derry) in Northern Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A sign in Londonderry opposing internment by remand, a practice used during the Troubles, in which the British held Irish republicans for years without charging them.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A small shop in Clones, which is in the border region and has been designated for economic development by the Irish government. The majority of roads into Clones lead to Northern Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Beer kegs behind a pub in Clones, a small town in western County Monaghan, in the Republic of Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

The rear door of a gas station in Belleek, Northern Ireland, that is split by the border. You enter the front door in the Republic of Ireland and exit the rear door in Northern Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Coal, gas canisters and produce are sold out of a trailer along the side of a road west of Londonderry, adjacent to the border with the Republic of Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A railway bridge on the River Belcoo that was blown up by the British Army in the 1970s, as seen from the Republic of Ireland.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A long ditch just over 300 yards crosses a field with farm animals, cutting through a snaking section of the border five times. This ditch extends from a rural road and a highway that runs between Dublin and Belfast.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Low tide on the Northern Ireland side of the River Newry, which functions as a border with the Republic of Ireland. It is adjacent to Narrow Water Castle, where the Irish Republican Army launched one of the most catastrophic attacks, known as the Warrenpoint ambush, on the British Army in the late 1970s during the Troubles.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©

A border fence disappears into Lough Vearty, a lake in an agricultural area southeast of Donegal.

Louie Palu/ZUMA Press ©