In the communities that straddle the divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic, anxieties about a hard border are becoming very real. Many business owners fear for their livelihoods, while local people warn of a return to the days when IRA smugglers ruled ‘bandit country’

Mervyn Johnston sips his tea while sizing up the pristine-looking 1957 Mini Cooper that has come in for repairs from across the border. As the UK’s historic decision to quit the EU plays out, it doesn’t take much for the softly spoken 78-year-old and five-times rally-driving champion to cast his mind back to the days when customs posts and army checkpoints brought life in the picturesque village of Pettigo to a halt.

“We had about half a dozen incendiary bombs before the big one,” he says, tilting his chin to the other classic-cars garage across the road, now run by his son. “That blew the garage right into the river.”

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