The Guardian

Talk of a united Ireland is rife. But is it a fantasy?

Brexit has placed Irish unification firmly back on the agenda, but there are still plenty of dissenting voices
The all-Ireland hockey team advances to the World Cup semifinals – casting a feelgood glow over the whole island. Photograph: Tim Ireland/AP

To sense true yearning for a united Ireland in Dublin you used to have to run your fingers over words written long ago and etched in cold, grey stone. “No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no further’.”

So declared Charles Stewart Parnell in 1885 in an exhortation engraved in his granite monument on O’Connell Street. Quotes pining for nationhood from other nationalist leaders adorn similar monuments around the city.

Most predate Ireland’s partition in 1922 but they resonated as aspirations to unite the 26-county south with the six counties of Northern Ireland – aspirations which southerners, as decades passed, espoused with dwindling conviction. There were other priorities: emigration, jobs, the economy, the health service. And in any case a united Ireland was never going to happen.

Until it was.

These days you open a newspaper, turn on the television, perch on a bar stool and the topic bubbles up not as history but as a looming existential choice, the forsaken dream dusted off and glimmering as possible – even inevitable.

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