When you cross from the Republic into Northern Ireland you notice a couple of changes: the accent is different, the road signs are in miles, and the prices are in pounds sterling. But there’s no border checkpoint, no guards, not even a sign to mark the crossing point – the two countries are in a customs union, so there’s no passport control or customs declarations. All of a sudden, you’re in the UK.
Dragged down for decades by the violence and uncertainty of the Troubles, Northern Ireland today is a nation rejuvenated. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement laid the groundwork for peace and raised hopes for the future, and since then this UK province has seen a huge influx of investment and redevelopment. Belfast has become a happening place with a famously wild nightlife, while Derry has come into its own as a cool, artistic city, and the stunning Causeway Coast gets more and more visitors each year.
There are still plenty of reminders of the Troubles – notably the ‘peace lines’ that still divide Belfast – and the passions that have torn Northern Ireland apart over the decades still run deep. But despite occasional setbacks there is an atmosphere of determined optimism.